Vegan Meal Plan #2: Make Friends With Tofu
Embrace the versatile superstar in 10 vegan tofu recipes from breakfast to dessert and from baked ziti to bibimbap
Photograph by Olga Ivanova
When I teach vegan cooking classes, one roadblock comes up for my students more than any other: tofu-phobia. It turns out many home cooks, even ones who are truly motivated to make more vegan meals, are so scared of these blocks of bean curd that they’ve never even tried using tofu in their kitchens. It’s a missed opportunity for great nutrition and flavor. But once I've walked them through a few simple and delicious ways to prepare tofu (and, crucially, once they've tasted the dishes), students get it. Tofu, a rich source of protein and fiber, readily soaks up other aromas and can take on a full range of textures from creamy to crunchy.
When people consider trying a vegan diet, they often wonder where they’ll get their protein. Tofu is one good answer. It’s a mainstay of plant-based diets for nutrition reasons, among many others. Compared to meat, tofu is a very affordable source of protein. It's naturally gluten-free and low-carb and keeps well in the freezer, which makes it convenient for weeknight pantry-style meals. Tofu cooks quickly and works in many types of cuisine — from Italian American to Chinese, Indian, and Korean.
You could, of course, plan a healthy vegan diet without tofu, but I wouldn’t want to.
You might be considering a vegan diet for any number of reasons. Research suggests cutting your meat consumption dramatically can help you live longer. Vegan ingredients like tofu, lentils, and whole grains boost your heart health. And eating little to no meat can benefit the planet.
This Meal Plan is designed to do for you what I do for students in my cooking classes. You’ll get really comfortable with this iconic soy food and totally overcome your fears.
This week, you’ll experience tofu’s amazing power as it transforms into an egg-like filling for breakfast tacos, a cheese doppelgänger in baked ziti, a chicken stunt double in a spicy curry, and even into a sweet and decadent dessert. As you’ll enjoy tofu every day, you’ll see how versatile it can be, and you won’t get bored.
When you’re done with this week’s Meal Plan, you’ll be a tofu pro. You may just find yourself trying to cure others of their tofu-phobia.
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This flavorful, veggie-forward quiche is an excellent example of firm tofu standing in for eggs. Seasoned with earthy turmeric (which gives the tofu its eggy yellow hue) and garlic, this dish is anything but bland. The tofu mixture is the perfect backdrop for the mushrooms, red bell peppers, and baby spinach, which complete the dish. Frozen pie crust (check the ingredients to find a vegan brand) makes this impressive tart easy to prepare. Bonus: Quiche is a great make-ahead breakfast because it tastes good hot, cold, or at room temperature.
When you want a hearty breakfast (or dinner) that gives you lasting energy, these filling tacos fit the bill. Feeling happily full from the sweet and spicy ingredients — seasoned tofu, black beans, and sweet potatoes — you definitely won’t miss meat. Go ahead and swap out the black beans for pinto or kidney beans if that’s what you’ve got in your pantry.
Tofu pureed with olive oil, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast makes an ideal replacement for rich ricotta cheese. Other than this genius sub, these baked ziti are very much like your go-to version of the comforting pasta casserole. You layer ziti mixed with flavorful tomato sauce with plenty of your fresh tofu "ricotta." You could sprinkle the bubbling pasta with your favorite vegan "Parmesan" or with panko breadcrumbs fried in olive oil for a crunchy topper.
Make your own Indian-style curry in less time than you'd spend getting takeout. This vegan meal with tofu has everything you love about restaurant korma dishes. It’s got layered spices, a kick of warm ginger and hot chili, plus an incredibly rich, creamy, and completely dairy-free sauce. The secret to the sauce is a combo of coconut milk and cashews. Tofu is the star ingredient, of course, but you could add some frozen cauliflower and peas to get in some extra veggies.
Bibimbap, the versatile rice bowls of Korean cuisine, often feature beef. Here, baked tofu provides the protein. A combination of cooked and raw vegetables creates an irresistible array of aromas and textures. The sauce comes together in a flash and brings salty, spicy, sweet, and tart flavors to this dish. The recipe calls for brown rice, though white is more traditional. You could also swap in another grain, like quinoa. Serve extra hot sauce on the side.
The union of broccoli and tofu in this Chinese-inspired Asian stir-fry is classic. You’ll coat tofu batons in cornstarch and pan-fry them until crispy. Then, in the same pan, simmer broccoli until barely tender, add a sauce made of tamari, sesame oil, and fresh ginger, then fold in the crispy tofu. A sprinkle of sesame seeds gives it flair. You’d typically serve this dish with plain white rice, but try pairing it with brown rice or quinoa for extra fiber.
Break out of the pasta night rut! A cheesy tofu mixture melds with savory tomato sauce for a hearty, satisfying change of pace. Baking creates some wonderfully crisp pasta edges, while the interior of the casserole remains tender and creamy. For an extra-special touch, top the dish with your favorite vegan "mozzarella" and garnish with fresh basil.
Extra-firm tofu can give the all-American dishes you love a meatless makeover, as this recipe proves. It’s a barbecue sandwich with all the spicy, creamy flavors you expect, including plenty of Buffalo sauce to ensure juiciness. Since the entree comes together quickly, you’ll have time to whip up an easy side dish like coleslaw or a potato salad. Serve your tofu sandwich on a whole-grain roll for more nutrients.
This 25-minute weeknight dinner is gluten-free in addition to being vegan. Rice noodles are coated in a simple yet flavorful sauce made from sriracha, tamari, agave, and avocado oil. (If you like your noodles on the milder side, consider dialing back the sriracha.) Pressing the tofu makes it extra dense and meaty. The nonstick skillet for frying the tofu cubes isn't optional — tofu, like eggs and fish, really wants to stick to your cookware.
Dessert may be the last place you’d expect to find a package of tofu, but the ingredient’s shape-shifting nature actually lends itself to a variety of sweets. Here, silken tofu stands in for heavy cream to create a light, bright twist on lemon pudding. As with the original, the secret to the refreshing flavor is a generous amount of just-squeezed lemon juice.
Keep exploring vegan recipes
Did we miss your favorite tofu dinner recipes? How about grilled tofu with miso sauce, vegetable pad Thai, noodle salad with peanut butter dressing, or tofu "lasagna"? Vegan tofu dishes are just the beginning, though, if you’re looking for plant-based inspiration. You can get many more ideas for the vegan diet with these next collections.