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Tofu, which is made from soybeans, is considered by many dietitians to be a healthy way to add lean protein to the diet, and is a common component of many Japanese, Chinese, and Korean dishes. Cooking with tofu is relatively easy, although there are several tips to get the best taste and texture from the product. Picking the right kind of tofu for the recipe is essential, as is storing it properly. It is also necessary to remove excess liquid from tofu before it is added to a dish. Using oils and sprays properly when cooking with tofu is also a must.
Cooking with tofu requires understanding the four different types. Extra firm and firm tofu are best for stir fries, grilling, soups, and generally any recipe that calls for it to hold its shape. Soft tofu is best used as a replacement for eggs or to mimic the texture of certain types of cheeses. Silken tofu, the softest of the four, is typically reserved for drink recipes, to add creaminess to a dish, or as a replacement for up to half of the fat in baked goods.
In order to maintain the texture, flavor and edibility of tofu, it needs to be stored carefully. Cooking with tofu is best done immediately after the package is opened. If some is left over, it needs to be stored in an airtight container, covered with water, in the refrigerator. As long as the water is replaced daily, tofu can be used for up to five days after the package is opened. For dishes that use it as a meat replacement, it is best to freeze tofu before using it. Freezing changes the texture of the product, making it resemble meats more closely than the fresh variety.
On its own, tofu has little to no flavor. In order for tofu to absorb the flavors of the recipe it is in, it needs to have the majority of the moisture pressed out of it. This can be done by wrapping the tofu in paper towels and placing a baking sheet on top of it. Heavy items, such as canned goods or bricks, are then placed on top of the sheet and left for 30 to 40 minutes. This allows for the packaging liquid to be released, thus making room for more flavorful ingredients.
When cooking with tofu, it is important to remember that oil and water do not mix. Many recipes, especially grilled and broiled tofu dishes, require marinated tofu. Any marinade that is used for tofu should not contain any oil. Even after it is pressed, there is still enough water inside to cause the oil to remain on the surface, thereby inhibiting any other flavors from penetrating. When cooking with tofu, use a generous amount of cooking spray to prevent sticking or to encourage browning; standard oil can leave bare spots in a pan, allowing the tofu to stick.