How do you feel about tofu? For me, it has never been a favorite. I have eaten a mostly plant-based diet for about three years now, but I have never been super fond of meat replacements or “fake meat”. I have tried tofu in restaurants and at home, but other than in my miso soup or mixed into a smoothie I really have not experimented with cooking it. In my opinion, it’s all about the texture which I think is really spongy when cooked, and just in general really grosses me out. But this recipe for crispy tofu tacos totally changed my opinion on tofu!!!
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How I discovered the joy of tofu
This semester I took my last nutrition/cooking-oriented class on my way to receiving my degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. The class, Experimental Foods, focused on how alterations to recipes effect the flavor, texture and overall liking of particular foods. One of our activities during the semester was to prepare a tofu dish for an in-class cooking competition. Because tofu is not one of my favorites, the thought of cooking and tasting all that tofu was not appealing in the least. However, that all changed when the team I was working with selected a recipe for Crispy Tofu Tacos as our dish for the competition. I love tacos so I thought maybe this will finally be a way I will enjoy eating tofu.
The Obesity and plant-based diet connection
Here in the United States, obesity is still on the rise and it has been for quite some time. It is estimated that in some areas of the US the obesity rate is over 39% and that number is projected to increase by 5% a year. Also, obesity leads to a host of other medical issues such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. However, lifestyle and dietary habits play an important role in the development of obesity and its complications. Therefore, making changes in these areas, such as increasing activity or making dietary changes may decrease weight and improve associated health risks.
Furthermore, research indicates that plant-based diets are associated with a lower BMI and less likelihood of obesity. The difference can be as much as 2 BMI points lower for men and women. Plant-based eating is on the rise, and it certainly has health and sustainability benefits. The national dietary guidelines (www.choosemyplate.gov) define a typical healthy plate of consisting of ½ plant foods (non-starchy fruits and vegetables), ¼ whole grains and ¼ protein.
Eating fruits and vegetables in the US
My experience with meals here in the US is that protein, often in the form of meat, actually makes up way more than ¼ of the plate along with starchy foods. We often add fruits and vegetables to meals as an afterthought rather than taking up the most space on the plate.
Certainly, we can all benefit from eating more fruits and vegetables, and limiting processed foods. Despite studies showing the benefits of plant-based diets, many of us here in the US are hesitant to give up meat. Maybe making a commitment to eat a plant-based meal once or twice a week or even for an entire day is not too difficult. Especially if you can find great recipes to try!!
What is tofu and why eat it?
Tofu is prepared by curdling fresh soy milk which is then pressed into a block – the process is similar to that of making cheese. First, tofu is considered to be a complete protein meaning it contains all the essential amino acids the body needs to derive from food. Next, it is lower in calories than both cooked chicken breast or black beans, and it provides 9 grams of protein per 100 gram serving. Also, it is also a good source of calcium providing 201 mg of calcium per 100 gram serving. Finally, the best quality of tofu is that it is virtually tasteless which means it absorbs the flavors of whatever seasoning or sauce it is cooked in.
The end results
Most importantly, my group won the competition that day in class, so I feel as if we did develop a real winning recipe. Of course, the extra credit we earned didn’t hurt either. I think the key here in our preparation was that we cut the tofu into small pieces. As a result, when it was coated in corn meal and cooked, it had a crunchier rather than spongy texture than I had experienced before. Plus, there are lots of flavors going on in the recipe – the flavor of the marinade, the breading, the sauce – together they created a winning combination.
Though there were a few other dishes in class that day that I also enjoyed and look forward to trying. For me the key to cooking tofu is in the actual preparation of the tofu or other meat replacements to get the best results. I also believe it helps to find ways to incorporate tofu into your favorite dishes and with the flavors you really love to create successful and tasty meals.
What did I learn?
- Be willing to try new things and to experiment. You may experience some failures but you won’t know unless you try.
- Be open to learning from others with more experience. So ask people you know who are vegetarian and eat tofu or other meat replacements for suggestions or recommendations.
- Tofu isn’t all that bad and when prepared correctly can create a winning meal.
Updates to recipe
To this day, this recipe for crispy tofu tacos remains one of my all-time favorites. I decided that it needed a little refresh. I made some slight changes but also updated the photos and added a video.
In the two years since I first posted this recipe, I have experimented more with tofu. Thus, I added the step at the beginning to press the tofu. This step helps to remove more water in the tofu. In the end, I felt it resulted in a slightly firmer and crispier final product. Also, it can be longer than 20 minutes so if it’s easier for you to do overnight or during the day while you are work you can certainly wrap it up and press it in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook it.
The only other changes that I made were to add a bit of lime juice to tofu marinade and some nutritional yeast and smoked paprika to the crust.
Other great preparations with tofu can be found in this post for using tofu as a ground beef substitute. The texture is fabulous and works great to replace ground meat in a pasta sauce or other tacos!!
Crispy Tofu Tacos with Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
- One 14 oz. package extra-firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tsp lime juice
- ¾ cup fine cornmeal or instant polenta*
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
- ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon pepper
- 2 T canola oil
Lime Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
- 2 T scallions chopped
- ¼ cup plus 2T cilantro chopped separated
- 1/2 cup 2% fat greek yogurt
- 1 T fresh lime juice
Fresh Tomato Avocado Salsa
- 2 medium tomatoes
- ¼ cup red onion diced
- ½ jalapeno finely diced remove seeds if you don't want to spicy
- 1/2 avocado diced into small cubes
To serve tacos
- 8 corn tortillas
- Lime wedges for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
- Remove tofu from package and pat dry with paper towel to remove some of the moisture. Wrap it in paper towels, tea towel or cheesecloth. Place it on a pan with a heavy plate or book on top. Let it sit for 20 minutes. This step works to squeeze more water from the tofu. Cut the tofu into ¼ – ½ inch cubes.
- Combine the Sriracha, honey and lime juice in a bowl, add tofu and gently toss the tofu in the mixture.
- In a shallow bowl or pie plate, combine the cornmeal, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, smoked paprika and nutritional yeast salt and pepper.
- Toss the tofu in this dry mixture until well-coated.
- Heat 1 T of oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. When heated, add ½ of tofu and cook on each side until light brown. Remove from heat and place on a lightly sprayed sheet pan. Heat remaining 1 T of oil and repeat cooking the second half of tofu.
- When all the tofu is on the sheet pan place pan in oven and cook tofu for about 20 minutes or until crisp. Move the tofu around on the pan halfway through the cooking time.
Cilantro Yogurt Sauce
- Combine yogurt, ¼ cup cilantro, green onion and 1 T lime juice and blend until smooth. I prefer to do this in a food processor or blender so the consistency is nice and smooth. Salt as needed.
Fresh Avocado Tomato Salsa
- Finely chop tomatoes, avocado, 2 T cilantro, red onion and jalapeno. Mix together. Add lime juice and salt as needed.
- Wrap corn tortillas in foil and heat just until warm.
- Top tortillas with crispy tofu, avocado tomato salsa, yogurt sauce, Garnish with lime wedge.
If you liked this recipe for Crispy Tofu Tacos, check these recipes out next!!