Tofu has been a staple food in Asia for over 2,000 years, but due to the health craze of recent years, it's enjoyed a surge of popularity in the Western world. Derived from the milk of soy beans and typically coagulated by calcium or magnesium salts, tofu can be found in consistencies ranging from extra-soft or silken to extra-firm. Based on which firmness you prefer, there are a myriad of ways to prepare your tofu for consumption.
But the best part about tofu is its chameleon-like ability to slip into many different dishes in unexpected ways. With tofu, you can literally have your cake—and eat it without guilt, too. You can ditch the giant vats of protein powder and still inject your smoothies with plenty of protein. Tofu is an amazing healthy food hack, and we've found 12 fantastic ways to incorporate it as a substitute in your daily cooking or baking regime.
Silken tofu has the highest content of liquid compared to the other types of tofu and therefore slips easily into smoothies and shakes, giving them that extra punch of protein that gets us going in the mornings. Dana from Minimalist Baker has a great recipe for a Vegan Detox Smoothie that only uses five ingredients.
Ground meat often relies on its fat percentage to keep itself from being tough and flavorless. For example, a hamburger patty, meatball, or dumpling needs some percentage of fat to both flavor the meat when it renders and to keep the meat from being packed too tightly; tightly-packed meat is tough and not appetizing. When you mix soft tofu in with the ground meat, however, the tofu fills in the spaces between the ground meat and keeps the meat both tender and moist. Jen from Tiny Urban Kitchen has a great recipe for dumplings using this combination of ground meat and tofu.
It's hard to believe that this decadent-looking dessert has tofu in it, but this is just another example of how versatile tofu can be. By substituting 1 egg with ¼ cup of silken tofu, you can enjoy your favorite desserts without the cholesterol. Katie from Chocolate Covered Katie has a fantastic healthy chocolate brownie recipe that is worth a look.
Silken tofu has yet another coat it can put on when necessary—it makes a great substitute for heavy whipping cream. Just blend the tofu until it becomes a thick liquid, then use it as a 1:1 ratio substitute. Courtney from The Fig Tree has a lovely pumpkin spice latté mousse recipe just in time for fall.
You're probably starting to see a dessert trend, and you'd be right on the money—because of its creamy texture, silken and soft tofu are easily incorporated into many different desserts. In this instance, tofu can be used as a fantastic substitute for cream cheese. This recipe by Alisa of Go Dairy Free is the direct substitute for cream cheese if you'd like to have a general amount, and the recipe for the amazing tofu cheesecake (topped with chocolate avocado cream and raspberries) pictured below is by Claudia of Food with a View.
Okay, let's venture out of dessert territory for a little bit and look at how we can add tofu to savory dishes as well. As I mentioned earlier, tofu is a fantastic substitute for heavy cream; tofu has twice the amount of protein per serving and only 1/8th of the calories! Kristy from The Wicked Noodle has a delicious version of creamy tomato soup that uses silken tofu, just in time for the colder weather ahead.
I've mentioned time and time again on this list that silken tofu is the great chameleon of ingredients, but firm tofu has a few tricks up its sleeve as well. With a little marinating, firm tofu becomes a clever and healthy substitute for feta cheese. The recipe for the marinade by Simple Vegan Blog is here, and the Greek salad recipe that uses the tofu feta cheese can be found here. (If you want to learn more about tofu marinades—and marinades in general—check out this great guide.)
If you have lemon, garlic, and salt in your kitchen, then you have all of the ingredients necessary to turn tofu into everyone's favorite condiment: mayonnaise. Cheryl from 40 Aprons has a recipe for tofu mayonnaise that is quick, easy, and requires the few ingredients I mentioned above.
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Silken tofu can be used as an egg substitute in baking, but firm tofu can be used in lieu of eggs as well: in this case, as a great version of scrambled eggs. Just crumble the firm tofu and season it as you would for a scrambled egg recipe. If you're looking for inspiration, Katie from Veggie and the Beast has a yummy garlic bell pepper tofu scramble that sounds amazing.
Silken tofu strikes again: with a few added ingredients, tofu can be turned into a savory pasta sauce that can be enjoyed by anyone—vegan or no. Deb from Saving the Crumbs has a great step-by-step picture tutorial on how to make your own tofu Alfredo sauce for a fan-favorite pasta dish: fettuccine Alfredo.
Salad dressing has a bad rap for making a salad less healthy. With the use of silken tofu as a salad dressing, however, feel free to eat as much dressing-drenched salad as you'd like. Joy from Joy the Baker has a fresh, herb-based vegan dressing recipe that will knock your socks off.
There's no way I'd be able to end this list on anything other than a sweet note, and what a sweet note it is: tofu can be seamlessly added into any cream-filling pies, such as key lime, banana, or in this case, a luscious chocolate peanut butter cream pie, courtesy of Cristina from Begin Within Nutrition.
At this point, you're starting to wonder what tofu can't be substituted for... and I can honestly tell you that this list is just a small introduction to all of the creative and innovative ways that folks have been inserting tofu into unexpected places. I can't wait to try using these recipes at home—I'll bet that no one will be able to tell the difference.
If the clever substitutions of tofu were interesting for you, we have a great list of baking substitutions you'll enjoy. And speaking of healthy substitutions, eating healthy without fuss is easy when you've got the world's easiest salad dressing recipe under your belt.
Maybe you'd like to make cheesecake, but want to use traditional ingredients; here's a helpful troubleshooting guide that will hopefully keep your cheesecake nice and moist. If you'd like to try the tofu substitution for ground meat with a hamburger, read why it's important to smash your burger for more flavor.
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