Easy Baked Balsamic Tofu
This easy baked balsamic tofu recipe is my favorite way to enjoy tofu – crispy outside, tender inside, and layered with flavor. Eat it on its own as a snack, add it to salads or mix with whole grains. Tofu is typically found in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, either in the produce section, near the cheese section, or in the health food area.
Baked Balsamic Tofu
Preparing or cooking tofu incorrectly is what leads many people to write it off as too mushy or too bland. It isn’t that cooking tofu is difficult, but one bad experience is all it takes to convince someone they don’t like tofu. My baked balsamic tofu has the power to convert even the most committed anti-tofu eater.
Marinating is essential for tofu because its natural flavor is quite neutral. This neutral flavor makes it extremely versatile for different flavors and types of cuisine. Think of tofu as a sponge, able to soak up whatever flavors you add to it. For my baked balsamic tofu I use a marinade of olive oil mixed with garlic, Mediterranean spices (thyme, sage, basil, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes), lemon zest, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, and a bit of maple syrup. I recommend soaking the tofu in the marinade for at least three hours so it can absorb all the wonderful flavors, but you could also prepare everything the day before and leave the mixture with tofu soaking in the refrigerator overnight. Make sure you are delicate with the tofu when mixing into the marinade as even firm or extra firm tofu can crumble.
Tackling the issue of tofu texture aversion is easy. In order to impart maximum crunch to my baked balsamic tofu, I turn every piece over halfway through the baking process. This gives each side an equal opportunity to crisp.
The Many Ways to Use Tofu
As I mentioned, the flavor of tofu is quite neutral. This quality and the varieties of textures available in stores makes it a great addition or swap in many different dishes.
Uncooked tofu is soft and creamy, but can also be drier and crumblier, which makes it a protein-packed swap for softer mozzarella in Italian Caprese salads, ricotta in lasagna, or firmer paneer in Indian dishes. While I don’t recommend these swaps because I think cheese is “bad,” I am a big believer in variety. If you find yourself using cheeses often in different dishes, sometimes it is nice to switch things up. It is also a great swap if you are looking to add more plant-based protein.
Tofu can also be used in sweet dishes like my vegan chocolate pudding or my strawberry banana smoothie. If you are sensitive to dairy, tofu can impart the same smooth texture without the lactose that causes some people discomfort.
How is Tofu made
Tofu is essentially made from soy milk solids that are compacted into a block.
First soy beans are soaked in water, then ground and mixed with water into a soup. Special filtering machinery separates the soy milk from soy solids (or perhaps cheese cloth if you are making your own). At this point the soy milk is heated and curdled using a reagent like magnesium chloride. The resulting curds are strained and pressed as described above. This is the same process used to make mozzarella from cow’s milk!
Tofu is sometimes confused with tempeh, which is also a soy bean product. The main differences are that tofu is made from soy milk where tempeh is made from whole soy beans. Also, for tempeh the beans are fermented and can contain other grains, seeds or seasonings (not always gluten-free). Both have a place in my diet!
Which Tofu should I buy?
Tofu varies based on its level of moisture. Softer forms have more water while firmer forms have less water. Beyond that, there are two main types of tofu: silken and regular. Both are available in different textures, but it is more likely you will find soft, medium, firm, extra firm, and super firm versions of regular tofu.
Ultimately the type of tofu you want to buy comes down to (1) why you are buying it, (2) what type of texture you prefer or how much work you are willing to put into removing water, and (3) how much flavor you want to pack.
Some recipes will call for a specific type of tofu. Generally, if you are using tofu in desserts or as substitutes for dairy in recipes you will want to use silken tofu. On its own as a scramble or baked like in my balsamic tofu, you will likely want to use a firmer form. I mention in my ingredient list for baked balsamic tofu that firm or extra firm are both fine variations. As I mentioned above, some people dislike tofu because of its “mushy” texture, but I would venture to guess that these people have not tried extra firm or super firm varieties. Lastly, keep in mind that tofu with higher water content is going to soak up the most seasoning.
Can I freeze tofu?
Absolutely, yes! And as a bonus I will throw in a lesser-known tip. If you freeze tofu you plan to marinade, it will soak up the flavors more readily. Simply defrost before you marinade and the final product will be chewier and more flavorful. I would recommend cutting into cubes prior to freezing rather than after defrosting.
In the past few years, most concerns around tofu and soy-based products have had to do with genetic modification and hormone interference. Research shows that genetically-modified foods are generally safe for human consumption, but if you are concerned, just opt for non-GMO tofu. In most cases, the price is the same as conventional.
Soy does contain high levels of isoflavones, a type of plant estrogen which can bind to other cells in the body much the same way human estrogen can. The way it affects different people, whether estrogen-promoting or estrogen-blocking, can vary widely, still researchers conclude that its benefits outweigh any possible concerns.
Benefits of Tofu
When compared per calorie, tofu contains more protein than either meat or cheese. Tofu is also lower in fat than meat and cheese, and contains high levels of calcium, iron, B vitamins, fiber, potassium, and magnesium.
Looking for more tofu inspiration? Try my Vegan Chocolate Pudding.
- Nicolia A, Manzo A, Veronesi F, Rossellini D. An overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research. Crit Rev Biotechnol. 2014;77(88).
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Straight Talk About Soy. The Nutrition Source 2019; https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/soy/.
Baked Balsamic Tofu
- 16 ounce package extra firm tofu drained and patted dry, cut into 1-inch cubes
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce or gluten free tamari
- 3 cloves garlic grated
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon dried sage
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- Optional: ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- In a bowl or resealable gallon bag, whisk together oil, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, maple syrup, zest, basil, oregano, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Add tofu and mix gently. Place in refrigerator and marinate 30 minutes up to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Place marinated tofu on the baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning over halfway through, until slightly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside