At some point along the way, tofu got an undeserved bad reputation. Tofu enthusiasts know the truth -- this ingredient is a master of disguise, easy to season and quick to cook. Baking tofu is one of the easiest preparations. From start to finish, your tofu entree can be on the dinner table in less than 30 minutes.
Packed with protein and calcium, tofu can easily take the place of meat or seafood as the star of your meal. The ingredient comes in a few levels of firmness. Firm or extra-firm tofu is the best choice for baking, as soft or silken tofu may fall apart when cooked. A block of tofu traditionally comes packed in water. Pierce the plastic covering and drain the water before removing the tofu. It should smell slightly sweet or have no odor; any unpleasant odor is a sign that the tofu has gone bad. Set the block in a bowl and cover it with a few paper towels. Leave a heavy pie plate or can of vegetables on top of the tofu for 15 minutes to press some of the liquid out. Slice the tofu into strips or cubes.
Season plain tofu before baking or it will end up flavorless and a little rubbery. Use any marinade you'd use on poultry or fish; Asian flavors especially complement the flavor of tofu. Mix up a marinade of soy sauce, minced garlic, peanut oil and fresh ginger, or make a smooth peanut sauce. Coat tofu cubes or strips with a favorite barbecue sauce, or turn them into imitation mozzarella sticks by dredging them in beaten egg and seasoned bread crumbs. Brush the pieces with a mixture of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or if you'd prefer to let the tofu's mild flavor take center stage, simply season it with olive oil and salt before baking.
Tofu can be eaten fresh out of the refrigerator, so there's no minimum cooking time required to make the dish safe for consumption. Bake tofu long enough to give it a crispy crust and cook the ingredients in your marinade or topping. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit while arranging the prepared pieces in a baking dish with a lip or sides; tofu can be slippery, especially when wet, and may slide around while baking. Flip the pieces after about 15 minutes in the oven and let them cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, checking them often. The tofu is ready when its edges start browning -- or if your tofu is coated in bread crumbs, when the crumbs are golden brown.
Firm tofu should hold its shape during baking, so it's an attractive -- and tasty -- topper to a bowl of rice or a big green salad. Add tofu baked in a marinade of Asian flavors to a stir-fry of vegetables, or mix it with cooked broccoli and fresh snow peas for a protein-packed side dish. Layer slices of balsamic-marinated tofu in a sandwich with pesto and roasted vegetables, or tuck barbecue tofu pieces into a roll with caramelized onions and your favorite cheese. Breaded tofu sticks have a few uses. Dip them into marinara sauce and enjoy them as finger foods, or use them as the base for a vegetarian version of chicken Parmesan. Layer the slices in a casserole with marinara and mozzarella and return the dish to the oven until the cheese browns.
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