Microdose #009: Incorporate More Tofu into Your Diet
Replace animal protein with this nutritional powerhouse.
BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):
Beef, pork, and poultry increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer, and obesity. Reduce the amount you consume by finding opportunities to swap meat with plant-based options. While there are many new meat alternatives coming to the market, most are heavily processed and high in saturated fats. Tofu is a healthy and extremely versatile food that, once you learn how to use it, can easily fit into your existing recipes and repertoires.
In The Plan we’ll show you some fast, easy, and delicious ways to cook with this healthful ingredient.
Heart health, greenhouse gas emissions, rainforest protection, animal welfare: The list of reasons to eat less meat continues to grow. According to a recent study, if everyone in the country reduced their consumption of beef, pork, and poultry by just a quarter, we’d save about 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. It’s not easy to change your diet, especially when it comes to comfort foods, stressful days, and being less than adventurous in the kitchen. The upside to reducing animal protein intake does not stop at the environment, the benefits to overall health cannot be understated when it comes to the substitution of plant-based alternatives (research below).
Additionally, some men believe that they should avoid soy because of the phytoestrogen, but this is untrue. Although soy contains isoflavones (phytoestrogen), the science tells us that dietary consumption causes little to no effect on testosterone.
- Better satiation: A study done in 2006 shows that the satiety levels with mycoprotein (like that found in the Quorn products) and tofu are higher than those with chicken, and caused people to eat less over the course of the day when eaten at lunchtime. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16364496/
- Less risk of major illness: A large analysis (475,000 people) of men and women showed that on average those who ate meat regularly (three or more times weekly) had more adverse health results than those who consumed meat less regularly. The major illnesses they were investigating included heart disease, gallbladder disease, and diabetes (among 21 others that showed adverse effects). https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-021-01922-9
- Weight loss: A study done over the course of five years, with the purpose of tracking weight gain, showed that those who had transitioned to eating more plant-based (to clarify, these people were not becoming vegan or even vegetarian, solely lowering intake), had the smallest mean annual weight gain of any group. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16534521/
Better for greenhouse gas emissions: The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) recommends a move toward more plant-forward eating to combat the devastating effects of climate change on our planet, indicating that they present “major opportunities for adaptation and mitigation while generating significant co-benefits in terms of human health.” https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/chapter/summary-for-policymakers/
Replace the protein in two or three meals a week with delicious and nutritious tofu!
Learn about tofu:
Legend has it that tofu was discovered 2,000 years ago when a chef accidentally curdled soy milk with seaweed. Needless to say, a food this old has many uses and techniques abound for cooking with it. Despite its long history, tofu has a reputation as a “hippie food” in the Western world. Some people find it to be an intimidating ingredient, maybe even assuming that it will turn out bland.
The first step in understanding and cooking with tofu is learning that there are different types, and that they have different applications. For protein replacements, you are going to want to stick with a firm or very firm tofu. Other types including silken (add to smoothies for a protein boost) and soft (makes a delicious pudding, if you are avoiding dairy) are also fantastic and have many uses in the kitchen.
Prepping and pressing tofu
The secret to delicious tofu is getting as much water out of it as possible before marinating and/or cooking it. Here are a couple of ways to do this:
- Wrap the block in a paper towel (or a dish towel), place between two plates, and put something heavy on top (a couple of cans, a pot, etc.,). Make sure to press for at least 30 minutes, changing the towels as needed.
- Alternatively, you can buy a tofu press, which will use a spring to exert pressure on the tofu, and extract even more water out of it. We highly recommend buying a press if you plan to make tofu regularly.
- If you have a bit more time, you can freeze the tofu, let it thaw in the fridge, then freeze and thaw it again, before pressing it. This will give it an even denser texture, similar to that of meat.
Preparation 1: Crispy Tofu - use as a replacement for traditionally fried or breaded proteins
This is Alex’s favorite method for cooking extra firm tofu. It is easy, quick, tasty, and virtually fool-proof.
- Press a block (16 oz.) of firm or extra firm tofu, using one of the methods shared above.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut the pressed tofu (firm or extra firm) into 1” cubes
- Toss tofu in one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of soy sauce. Once well coated add one tablespoon of cornstarch (for a less processed option, sub in arrowroot powder) and toss. This will create a very light coating that will make the tofu crispy.
- Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
This method of baking tofu can be used in many different applications: Rice bowls, on top of soup, in tacos, on top of noodle dishes, and in sandwiches (by cutting the tofu into larger pieces).
Preparation 2: Seared Tofu - use as a replacement for traditionally grilled proteins
This is Frank’s favorite method for using tofu as a meat replacement. It takes a little bit of practice to get the hang of, but is extremely versatile.
- Press a block (16 oz.) of extra firm tofu, using one of the methods shared above.
- Slice the tofu into half inch slices, then cut those slices in half horizontally, to make about 16 square slices, each a half inch thick. (This does not need to be exact, but the pieces should be roughly uniform.)
- Marinate for 30 minutes in a grilling sauce of your preference. Teriyaki sauces, marinades made for chicken or pork, and steak sauce all work very well. Look for options with low amounts of added sugar. If you don’t have a premade sauce, you can heat a half cup of soy sauce or coconut aminos in a small saucepan, with some date syrup and garlic, to make a quick teriyaki style marinade.
- Lightly oil a heavy pan (preferably cast iron or enameled cast iron) and place over medium-high heat. Allow the pan to fully come to temperature, but be careful not to let the oil smoke.
- Place your marinated slices of tofu on the hot pan. They should sizzle as they touch the cooking surface.
- Cook for 5 minutes, then flip carefully with a thin spatula. It is easy for the tofu to tear at this stage.
- Carefully pour 1 to 2 tablespoons of the marinade onto the tofu.
- Cook for an additional 3 minutes.
This preparation is a great replacement for grilled chicken or pork. Try serving this seared tofu with roasted sweet potatoes and a small salad.
Alex - The thing that most people seem to dislike about tofu is my absolute favorite thing about it. It’s subtle soybean-y flavor is not the strongest, but it’s texture is the perfect sponge for picking up whatever flavor you want. When I make my crispy tofu in the oven, I usually serve it with a huge grain bowl of brown rice, edamame (soy on soy!), avocado, and some buttery soft lettuces or shredded carrots. The sauce can be whatever your preference is, I like either a peanut sauce or a tart black vinegar based sauce. Once you realize how simple it is to cook delicious tofu, you’ll never go back!
Frank - I used to think that tofu was spongy and bland, and tended to avoid it. It wasn’t until I learned how to press and prepare tofu to achieve a denser texture, that I started to appreciate just how great this ingredient is. I eat tofu at least 5 times a week. I might be obsessed. I highly recommend trying to find a local, small-batch producer of tofu, and buying a good tofu press.