The Absolute Best Ways To Use Leftover Tofu

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Tofu has long been a matter of conflict that has divided people into two groups. Some think of tofu as nothing more than a bland, squishy, and soggy protein that is hard to work with, while others swear by it. Considering you're here looking for ways to use up your leftover tofu, congratulations — you're no stranger to the wonders of this plant-based protein, and chances are, you even know your way around it. But now that you've made that tofu recipe and are left with extras, what exactly do you do with the leftovers?

As with most food items, tofu has a shelf life. Unopened and stored correctly, tofu can be used even beyond its sell-by date (via Eat By Date). But once that package is open, the race to use up the tofu begins. An open package of tofu will only stay fresh for three to five days in the refrigerator when stored properly covered in water inside a closed container. This means you have to use those leftovers, and you have to use them fast — you don't want all that goodness to go in the bin, do you?

Luckily, tofu is extremely versatile and can be used in pretty much any meal of the day — breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, snacks, and even in drinks! Whether you want something that is quick and easy or are open to more adventurous ideas, this list has all the best ways in which you can use up that leftover tofu.

Make a stir fry

One of the easiest ways to use up leftover tofu is to stir fry it. Simply throw whatever tofu you have left in a pan, load it up with lots of veggies, sprinkle some seasonings or sauce, and a quick and nutritious meal will be ready in a jiffy. However, there are a few things to bear in mind when stir-frying tofu.

The best tofu for stir-frying is extra firm (via Well Plated). Extra-firm tofu contains the least amount of liquid in it compared to its soft or silken counterparts. This kind of tofu will give you that crisp texture and a lovely golden color upon stir-frying. Even with extra firm tofu, it's best to press it first and get rid of as much of the liquid as possible because the lesser the moisture, the crisper your tofu will be.

If you want your stir-fried tofu to pack in even more flavor, The Minimalist Baker recommends adding one other step to your cooking. Dry the tofu first, pop it in the oven to bake at a high temperature, remove it, let it dry some more, and then stir fry the tofu. Adding these steps before stir-frying will make the tofu more porous, which helps it soak up more sauce. This is the trick to giving tofu loads of flavor and a firmer texture that resembles meat.

Blend it into a smoothie

When you think of all the delicious ways you can put that leftover tofu to use, blending it into a smoothie is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Although the exact amount of protein that tofu contains depends on the type of tofu you're using, Healthline points out that a 3.5-ounce serving of firm tofu contains about 17 grams of protein. Also, adding tofu to a breakfast smoothie will give you a boost of protein in the morning which may help keep hunger pangs at bay, allowing you to be full till lunchtime.

Its healthiness aside, adding tofu to smoothies can significantly improve its texture too. Because you're adding tofu with a ton of other fruits and veggies in your smoothie, you won't even be able to notice the taste of tofu at the forefront (via The Endless Meal). Instead, the smoothie will take on the flavor of the fruits you're using, and the tofu will only add a slightly nutty flavor while making it much creamier. The Endless Meal even compares the texture of a tofu smoothie to that of soft-serve ice cream.

Smoothies are best when your leftover tofu is the soft or dessert kind. These tend to be the most neutral in flavor, whereas medium, firm, or extra-firm tofu has a stronger flavor, making it difficult to mask. 

Get creative with your desserts

Not only are desserts an ingenious way to use up leftover tofu, but there are several reasons why you might want to specifically start adding tofu to all your desserts from now on. According to Wise Geek, tofu can be used as both the main ingredient in a dessert and as a plant-based substitute for dairy in vegan recipes. It's also a wonderful ingredient for low-fat and low-cholesterol desserts.

Depending on the type of tofu leftover in your refrigerator, tofu can be used in a wide array of desserts. Although on the more delicate side, silken tofu is ideal for desserts. Silken tofu adds a smooth and creamy texture to desserts, and because it lacks a strong flavor of its own, no one will be able to tell that there's tofu in the dessert either! Tofu can replace cream cheese in cheesecakes and is also a great ingredient to use with dairy-free milk and flavorings to make nondairy ice creams.

Use it as an egg substitute

While tofu can be used as a substitute for certain dairy-based ingredients in desserts, it can also be used as an egg substitute, especially in baking. If you're trying to make a batch of brownies egg-free or seem to be out of eggs at the last minute, that little bit of leftover silken tofu from last night is your savior.

According to PETA, although tofu does not fluff up the way an egg does, its texture makes tofu an excellent substitute for the latter in any dish that requires several eggs — think custards and quiches. Also, The Pioneer Woman, too, vouches for this substitution and adds that tofu works well as a source of moisture or as a binder in baked goods that already have a leavening agent (baking soda or baking powder).

The best part? You only need a quarter cup of pureed tofu to substitute each egg. The only word of caution, according to the YouTube channel Make It Dairy Free, is that you should use tofu as an egg substitute only if what you have leftover is unflavored silken tofu. Real Simple also adds that tofu tends to make bakes more dense and so, is best used in things like breads, brownies, and cookies that aren't meant to be airy.

Fire up the grill

Firing up your grill for a nice cookout in the sunshine? Give your leftover tofu a flash of heat on there! Tofu may have a bad rep for being a difficult protein on the grill because it tends to stick to the grates, but it's no problem a nifty kitchen trick or two can't solve. Serious Eats says that the culprit in the tofu-stuck-to-the-grill scenario is the grill, not the tofu. Chances are, not cleaning your grill the correct way or not oiling the grill before cooking is what's stopping your tofu from getting those lovely char marks.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to not treat tofu like meat on the grill. For tofu that is crisp and flavorful, you should cook it covered and in the cooler part of the grill. This creates an oven of sorts that dries out the tofu and makes it crisper. To infuse more flavor into the tofu, make sure to brush it with a marinade before and after it is done grilling.

You could eat the leftover grilled tofu as a quick snack or serve it with other grilled veggies on a platter too. Besides, who knows, you might even end up considering buying packs of tofu specifically for grilling next time you're hosting a barbecue.

Add tofu to dressings, marinades, and sauces

A couple of years ago, chef Bryant Terry made waves in kitchens across the world when he published an astounding recipe in his cookbook "Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World of Vegan Recipes." The recipe in question was asparagus with a lemon pepper marinade (via Food52). So what's so surprising here you ask? Well, Terry used a little bit of silken tofu as the base for his marinade! Testing the addition of tofu in Terry's lemon-vinegar-mustard marinade, Epicurious found that the protein gave this bright and pungent recipe a creamy texture and a quality similar to ranch dressing. Terry gives the option of replacing silken tofu in his marinade with a medium or firm one so as long as you're blending it well and only using an eighth of the silken tofu that needs replacing. 

Tofu is also the secret to the cheese-like creamy texture of the pesto sauce in this tofu pesto pasta. Another example is from cookbook author Elizabeth Andoh who told Serious Eats that she likes to add a touch of miso paste to her tofu dressing, which masks the flavor of raw soy in her sauce. Serious Eats also finds that you can turn the sauce into a silky spread or a thicker dipping sauce depending on whether you're using soft or firm tofu. 

Make a warm soup or a spicy stew

Leftover tofu is an excellent opportunity to make a nourishing batch of soup for dinner. While you can use both firm and silken types of tofu in soups, the soup you make will depend on the kind of tofu that you need to use.

According to Leaf, soft and silken tofus tend to soak up flavors better than their firmer counterparts and so, work well in broths where the flavors are more nuanced. They also happen to be more delicate, requiring you to be more gentle when stirring unless you want broken shards of tofu floating about. Firm and extra firm varieties of tofu, on the other hand, tend to hold their shape much better and you could use them as a protein-rich substitute for noodles in soups like chicken noodle soup.

There's also the option of trying one of the many traditional Korean stews that use tofu too. There's kimchi soondubu jjigae made from kimchi, sliced meat, and soft tofu, as well as haemul soondubu jjigae made from soft tofu and seafood. These stews, however, do require comparatively more tofu and are best prepared when you have lots of leftovers. If not, there's always the option of making some hot and sour soup with a cup of soft tofu!

Use it to make spreads and cream cheese

Did you know that you could turn leftover tofu scraps into cream cheese or a savory spread? That's right, you could spread that nutrient-dense tofu onto your bagels for a healthy and dairy-free breakfast on the go! Tofu, The Full Helping says, can be blended into smooth cream cheese in a food processor and eaten plain or flavored with mix-ins. With the addition of nutritional yeast, you won't miss the cheesiness of the usual dairy-based cream cheese either. You don't even have to stop there, tofu can be blended with veggies and spices to make a nutritious spread which you can then slather onto sandwiches and wraps (via Plant Based Jess)!

It's best to only make spreads and cream cheese if it's extra firm tofu that you have leftover. While silken tofu is ideal for smoothies and desserts, its high water content will make your spreads and cream cheese more runny than thick. Tofubud also points out that it's very important that you get rid of as much water from the tofu as possible to make the spread thick and creamy.

Scramble it

Tofu not only works as an excellent plant-based substitute for eggs in baking, but it can also work as an alternative in another breakfast classic: egg scramble. Over the last few years, tofu scramble has become an increasingly common find on restaurant and cafe menus as the vegan option for an egg scramble. So it only makes sense that you, too, can use whatever little tofu you have leftover with a side of toast the next morning!

MasterClass says that tofu has a consistency that is similar to eggs and the fact that it is inherently flavorless on its own means that it can soak up any flavors that you add to your scramble very easily. Don't hold back on carbs, veggies, herbs, sauces, and spices to add heaps of flavor to your tofu scramble. But if you want your vegan scramble to really mimic the taste, smell, and appearance of actual eggs, add some turmeric and black salt (via One Green Planet)! The only thing to keep in mind is that making a scramble out of tofu works best if you have firm or extra firm tofu leftover because it tends to crumble up far better than its softer varieties.

Try the tofummus

A spicy dish from the Sichuan province of China, mapo tofu is one dish that could turn meat-loving folks into fans of tofu. Mandy Lee in her cookbook "The Art of Escapism Cooking: A Survival Story, with Intensely Good Flavors," uses the flavors of mapo tofu and turns it into a creamy hummus (via Food52)! This recipe, appropriately titled tofummus, takes what Lee says is "the least popular" popular of all varieties of tofu and turns it into a smooth and spicy hummus. Firm tofu is blended to a silky consistency and topped with a layer of spicy mapo sauce made from Sichuan peppercorns, doubanjiang, gochugaru, Shaoxing wine or sherry, and ground pork or beef.

While Lee's recipe calls for a pound of tofu, it's meant to make enough for four appetizer-sized servings. You could always tweak the recipe depending on the quantity of tofu that you have leftover and make a smaller serving of tofummus. Vaimomatskuu, however, finds that only using firm tofu in Lee's recipe can make the hummus a tad too thick and prefers a combination of half parts silken tofu and half parts firm. If you have a little bit of both kinds of tofu leftover, this tofummus is a great way to use up both in one spicy recipe!

Roll it into a vegan sushi

Even though vegetarian and vegan versions of sushi are not uncommon, it's hard to imagine the Japanese dish without seafood. Thrillist even goes so far as to suggest that sushi, by its very definition, should contain fish. Thanks to the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets, however, that little scrap of tofu you couldn't squeeze into last night's dinner can now be turned into sushi!

Depending on the time and effort you're willing to put into your sushi, you could plan ahead and marinate firm tofu in a miso-sake-mirin sauce overnight for a punch of flavor. All Recipes also suggests frying tofu if you want it to resemble the crunchy texture of tempura in the sushi or pan-searing it if you want it a bit creamy. Tofubud strongly suggests sticking to only firm or extra firm tofu here because these varieties are less delicate and won't fall apart when you get on to rolling your sushi. Chefs also tell Thrillist that since tofu is soft, you want to add a contrast of texture by adding crunchy vegetables as well as playing with salty and sour pickles in the sushi.

Turn it into an izakaya-style appetizer

Whether you're missing your favorite izakaya from a Japan trip or want to recreate the experience at home without an actual trip, an appetizer made from that handful of leftover tofu cubes is a good place to start.

Agedashi tofu, or agedashi dōfu is an appetizer made from deep frying cubes of tofu that is often served in Japanese izakayas (via MasterClass). Silken tofu is the ideal type preferred here because of the creamy texture it develops upon deep frying. If it's your first time making agedashi tofu however, you could also use firm tofu. The light crunch comes from a coating of potato starch, garnishes like dried bonito flakes, ginger, and daikon radish add flavor, and a hot tsuyu sauce made from mirin, dashi, and soy sauce is poured on top to complete the dish.

While dashi used in the tsuyu sauce is usually made from a base of fish, Tofubud says that agedashi tofu can be made entirely vegan if you swap the fish-based dashi with one that is made from mushrooms. Additionally, if you have a lot of tofu leftover to make agedashi, you can turn the appetizer into a complete meal with the addition of some veggies and grains to go with the crispy tofu!

Fry it or bake it

If making elaborate desserts, spreads, sushi, and stews are too much of a bother, the simplest thing to do with leftover tofu is bake or fry it. You can then use these crisp nuggets of tofu in pretty much anything that needs the addition of a crunchy texture or an extra boost of protein — think Thai curries, salads, and fried rice (via Cookie + Kate).

When you're frying or baking tofu, however, nailing the crisp texture is paramount. For this reason, One Green Planet says that the firmer the type of tofu you're using is, the lesser its water content will be and that means one thing: crisper tofu! Make sure that you spend time pressing the tofu to get rid of as much water as you can. Another important step is to coat the tofu in spices, seasoned flour, or some form of starch like cornstarch or arrowroot powder for an added crispiness. Alternatively, you can even dip your tofu in a batter before you fry or bake it to make the tofu crisp.

It's also possible to have tofu that is crisp by simply pan-frying it. When you're pan-frying however, be sure that you're not overcrowding your pan with too much tofu and giving the protein enough time to brown and crisp up!