One of the best protein sources on earth, versatile tofu lends itself well to a variety of dishes and cooking methods because it absorbs the flavors of the food with which it is cooked. Also known as “bean curd,” tofu is curdled soy milk, extracted from ground, cooked soybeans, and made in a process similar to cheese. Tofu is available in two main types: regular (Chinese) and silken (Japanese). Both types come in three textures:soft, firm, and extra-firm, each of which lends itself well to various types of dishes.
Extra-firm regular tofu is the sturdiest of the two main types. The firm and extra-firm lend themselves to stir-fries and other dishes in which the tofu must retain its shape. Soft regular tofu is used in recipes where a softer texture is desired, such as in lasagna, where it functions like ricotta, but in which silken tofu would be too soft. Silken tofu, or “Japanese-style,” is used when the desired result is smooth and creamy, such as in smoothies, sauces, and puddings.
Tofu is most often packed in water-filled tubs, so, before using it in a recipe, it is essential to drain, blot, and press out the excess water. (It is not necessary to rinse it.) To squeeze tofu dry, cut the block into slabs and place the slabs on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Weigh down the slabs with a baking sheet topped with heavy canned goods and let it sit for an hour.
Regular tofu can be frozen. Its texture will become chewy and more porous, which works well for marinating or sautéing. Freezing also makes tofu easier to crumble for use in recipes such as chili. To freeze tofu, cut the drained and pressed tofu into slices and either place in an airtight container or wrap it in plastic wrap. When needed for a recipe, thaw the tofu and squeeze again to remove excess water. Once defrosted, tofu should be used within two or three days. Freezing is a good way to preserve tofu, especially as the expiration date approaches. Frozen, tofu will keep for several months.
Regular tofu is also sold as “marinated and baked” and can be used as it is without additional seasoning. You can find it in a variety of flavors, including lemon-pepper, Mediterranean, and teriyaki. It is firm and delicious and since it can be eaten right out of the package, I think of it as a protein-rich convenience food. Cube it and add to salads and stir-fries, or slice it and add to sandwiches and wraps.