Tasty Tofu

Tofu Planks with Chinese Barbecue Sauce

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto



One of my favorite foods for a meatless dish is tofu, and I’m not alone – tofu is the most widely used soy food in the world (Reference 1).   In East Asia, tofu is as important as meat and dairy products in the western world.


Tofu, soymilk coagulated to a cheese-like curd of varying textures, is a blank canvas, ready to absorb whatever flavor profile I’m craving.  I prefer it in Asian recipes, and below is a favorite, Tofu Planks with Chinese Barbecue Sauce because it’s so easy to prepare ahead of time.

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto



In Asian cooking, tofu finds its way into recipes from soups to desserts.  I learned about tofu possibilities when I worked for Chinese Chef Martin Yan, whose many books are filled with appetizing recipes for braising, stuffing and stir-frying tofu in recipes from China, Japan, Thailand and other parts of Asia.


This simple, humble food has a long history. The first written record of tofu dates to about 950 AD in China, where tofu likely originated, and 1182 in Japan.  Humans were probably enjoying it long before then.  There are various theories about the origin of tofu; one, the Accidental Coagulation Theory, is similar to thoughts about the origin of cheese. (See Reference 1 for a description of the theories.)


Over the years, research has looked into the role of soy to lower blood cholesterol, prevent heart disease, prevent or treat some cancers and to reduce hot flashes and the risk of osteoporosis.  An American Heart Association scientific statement published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association in 2006 (References 4 & 5) reviewed recent research and concluded that soy in the diet or from nutritional supplements has little or no effect on the risk factors for heart disease, and the role of soy to prevent or treat cancer or treat women’s health issues remains inconclusive.  Taking supplements of soy isoflavones (plant estrogens or phytoestrogens in soy) is not recommended.  Soy research continues, however it looks like the best use of tofu and other soy foods is in the kitchen, rather than the medicine cabinet. 


Tofu is an excellent meat substitute because it’s a source of high quality protein equivalent to that of meat, milk, fish, and eggs. It’s low in saturated fat, rich in polyunsaturated fats and cholesterol-free. It contains iron, and is an excellent source of calcium when the mineral is used in the coagulation process.  Some tofu has B vitamins and other nutrients added (References 2 &3). 


Tofu packaged in water should be kept refrigerated until used.  Handle it as you would any perishable dairy product and check the label for a “Use by Date.” Once opened, any unused tofu can be stored in the refrigerator covered in water. Change the water at least every other day (Reference 3). I usually purchase firm tofu because it holds its shape well in stir-fry and other dishes. 



Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Tofu Planks with Chinese Barbecue Sauce

Adapted from the American Soy Association. To streamline preparation, blend the sauce ingredients, drain and brown the tofu early in the day (or the day before).  I don’t usually take time to weight the tofu to remove excess liquid, but if you do, it will brown more quickly.  


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

2 packages (14 ounces each) firm tofu, drained and weighted to press out excess liquid if desired*

1 tablespoon grape seed or canola oil    


Chinese Barbecue Sauce:

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

2 tablespoons catsup

2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger

1 tablespoon sodium-reduced soy sauce

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated

1/2 teaspoon chili oil

1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt



Thinly sliced green onion, chopped fresh cilantro or a combination


Combine all ingredients for sauce; cover and chill if prepared ahead.   Drain tofu and slice each block lengthwise; then slice each block crosswise, making 8 rectangles from each package (16 total).  Weight as described below or place on a clean kitchen towel or several paper towels, and press to remove as much liquid as possible.  Heat oil in a large nonstick pan over medium or medium-low heat; add tofu slices (cook in two batches, if needed) and cook until light brown, turning once. Remove to a 13-x-9-inch or other large baking dish. Spread sauce on tofu.  (Bake immediately or cover and chill until ready to bake.) Preheat oven to 350°.  Cover baking dish with foil and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbling; remove foil and return to oven for 3 to 5 minutes or until brown.  (Don’t overcook as sauce can burn.) Serve with brown jasmine rice, fried rice or noodles.  Makes 4 servings.


*If you have time, weight the tofu for an hour or so in the refrigerator to press out moisture: Top a large plate with a folded clean kitchen towel or a couple layers of paper towels.  Place blocks of tofu on the towel and top with a small cutting board.  Place a couple of cans on cutting board to add weight.  Cover and chill for 1 hour or longer. Pat dry , slice and proceed as directed above.


Nutrition Information (4 servings):  285 calories; 17 grams fat (2 grams saturated fat; 2 gram mono; 4 grams poly) ; 18 grams protein; 16 grams carbohydrate; 463 mg sodium; 39% Daily Value (DV) calcium; 16% DV iron. 



1. Soy Information Center http://www.soyinfocenter.com/HSS/tofu1.php


2. Soy Foods http://www.soyfoods.org/nutrition-health/soy-and-performance


3. Soy Foods  http://www.soyfoods.org/soy-information/soy-fact-sheets/tofu-fact-sheet


4. Circulation  http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/113/7/1034.full


5. AHA  http://newsroom.heart.org/pr/aha/soy-protein-shows-little-effect-228038.aspx



Copyright © Lorelle S Del Matto 2012

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.


  1. Suzanne Wiggins-Ackerson says

    This recipe looks wonderful but I couldn’t find it on the website…can you give it to me. I LOVE tofu and use it frequently.

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