Crispy, Spicy Baked Tofu
Since I try to eat six servings of protein each day, it's essential to include a variety of protein sources. I eat eggs, cottage cheese, and yogurt pretty much every day, and usually two servings of either meat or fish. Protein bars and shakes are also a go-to option for at least one serving each day because they're quick and don't require much planning or prep. But I recently decided to give tofu another try.
I went through a vegetarian phase years ago and eventually determined I just feel better when I eat meat. But during that phase, I never really learned how to prepare tofu so it wouldn't be bland and flavorless. In deciding to add it back in to diversify my protein options, I thought back to one time I had tofu in a restaurant and it was out of this world delicious.
When I was living in Providence, my favorite restaurant there, Julian's, had a wealth of vegetarian options on the menu that were so delicious they wouldn't be anybody's second choice. Even though I wasn't a vegetarian at the time, I decided to get a salad that included tofu just because I liked the combination of other ingredients that was on it. Years later, I don't remember anything else on that salad—except for the tofu. It came in spicy, crispy cubes that were crunchy and light without the gumminess and chewiness that tofu can often have—almost like croutons, but made of tofu. If I could just recreate that magical tofu, I'd have a recipe I'd never get tired of.
The hunt for a replica led me to the recipe I share with you here, which takes preparation methods and tips from a variety of recipes I tried and adds my own spice blend. You can use any type of pre-blended spices or a blend of your own favorites. I recommend experimenting with different spices and different kinds of tofu available in stores near you (always choose organic and non-GMO when it comes to tofu) to get the flavor, heat level, and crispness your heart desires!
CRISPY, SPICY BAKED TOFU
1 package (usually 14 or 16 oz) firm or extra-firm tofu
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp cardamom
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp cornstarch
Drain your tofu for at least 15 minutes (up to several hours) before making it into cubes. I do this by placing a double paper towel on a plate, placing the block of tofu on top, then placing another double paper towel on top of that, with a cast iron skillet on top of it all. You can also wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel, and any heavy object will work to help it drain when placed on top.
When you are ready to begin making the cubes, preheat your oven to 400º F. Spray a cookie sheet with nonstick spray (preferably olive oil) or line it with parchment paper.
Remove the tofu from the towels and place it on a cutting board, then chop it into cubes.
Combine the spices in a small bowl and mix them with a fork to blend.
Transfer the tofu cubes to a large bowl. Toss with olive oil, cornstarch, and spice blend until the tofu is evenly coated.
Place the tofu cubes on the baking sheet and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Make sure the tofu cubes are distributed in a single layer; if they are stacked on top of each other, steam will be trapped and some of the cubes will become soggy. Opening the oven door briefly every 10 minutes can help the tofu cubes get crunchier by letting the moisture (steam) out of the oven.
Once cooled, the tofu cubes can be enjoyed in salads or even in a stir-fry (although if they are cooked with foods that have moisture, they'll lose their crispy texture). For best results, eat them right away. They will still be good for a few days if refrigerated, but they won't be as crunchy!
If the crunchiness isn't as important to you, you can omit the cornstarch, since the purpose of the cornstarch is to pull the moisture out of the tofu cubes.
You can also adjust the heat level of the spice mixture by reducing or omitting the cayenne pepper. Feel free to experiment with different spices and proportions until you find one you like, or use a pre-mixed spice blend from the store to save time!