Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety. 

Today: Gabriella shows you how to make tofu the main attraction of your dinner. 

I remember the first time I tasted tofu. I was eleven years old and my dad, on a constant health food kick, brought some home from the grocery store to top a salad with. Always a curious eater, I popped a raw cube in my mouth: it was water-logged, jiggly, and bland. I was repulsed. 

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Fortunately, I'm a firm believer in second chances. 

Over a decade later, I can't get enough of the stuff. It's the queen of cheap protein, with a package of pressed tofu (5 servings) running you about $2.50. It's versatile and loves getting dressed up. It's even inspired world-famous bands to sing its praises.  

First, you need a primer, then you can get cooking. You're not afraid of a little bean curd, are you? 

Fried Tofu

Tofu, like most foods, tastes really good when it's fried. I love what Madhuja does in this Japanese Style Fried Tofu recipe; top it with Sriracha and garlicky baby bok choy for a spicy, flavorful meal. Add it to a rich coconut curry or a lighter summer one and spoon it over rice. Rub mustard all over it and arrange it on top of your favorite vegetables. Throw leftover cubes in soup or scatter them on salad. The Kitchn has a guide that'll show you how to get your technique down pat. Now fry, fry away. 

Tofu Scramble
When I get home from work exhausted and ravenous, I turn to tofu scrambles for a quick and comforting meal. Grab a pack of tofu, drain the liquid, then smash it up with a fork. Chop and sauté whatever vegetables you're in the mood for, season them, and then throw in the crumbled tofu. Make sure you have turmeric on hand to add color to the tofu, and keep sautéing it until it starts to brown. Here's a recipe reminiscent of huevos rancheros, and another that's a little lighter. Serve it piping hot with bread or homefries, ketchup or hot sauce. Use it to replace eggs in a breakfast burrito. Eat it standing up straight from the pan with a big wooden spoon, pausing only to take swigs of beer. You get the idea. 

Baked Tofu

The ultimate sandwich filler and salad topper, baked tofu requires a little extra time to prepare. You've got to be patient; pull it out of the oven too early and you'll be missing the whole point. Here's what I like to do: slice slabs of tofu and slather them in barbecue sauce. Bake them, and eat them hot out of the oven with collard greens that have been braising while the tofu cooks. Make a whole package, because the leftovers taste great in a hamburger bun with an ear of corn on the side. 

Tell us: what are your favorite ways to prepare tofu?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Yes, my name rhymes.


AntoniaJames January 22, 2018
I recently discovered Andrea Nguyen's tip, in her banh mi cookbook, to pour boiling water over tofu in a bowl, letting it sit for 15 minutes before using, to firm it up. I tried that last night, cooking the tofu cubes without even pressing them dry, in a non-stick skillet with just a touch of sesame oil, and over medium low heat, just leaving the cubes alone for a good long while. The edges crisped up beautifully. You could actually see the moisture from the cubes evaporating, due to the change in structure caused by the boiling water soak. You get a lovely custardy, flavorful interior. In the words of the late, great Judy Rodgers, "Try this." ;o)
Irene August 22, 2013
Ma po tofu is my favorite. Recently I've discovered fried tofu, and that's a close second.
stephaniekb August 8, 2013
We eat "tofu steak" fairly regularly -- cook sliced or cubed firm tofu on a non-stick electric griddle (the kind you make pancakes on) about 10 minutes until it is crisp one one side, then flip. Serve with rice and steamed veggies and peanut sauce. The electric griddle gives a nice crunchy crust with no added oil.
Ken W. August 7, 2013
I like to steam the tofu and top it off with chilies, black vinegar-sesame sauce, and a generous amount of cilantro.
Rob D. August 7, 2013
I coat mine in goma-shio and deep fry. here's my recipe:
savorthis August 7, 2013
I have been making a version of Mark Bittman's caramelized tofu every week. I follow the freeze/thaw method which really does change the texture (plus you can keep a bunch on hand). I then melt a bit of sugar until it caramelizes, add a bit of soy and fish sauce and cook onions or shallots in the mixture until soft. Then add the tofu and lots of pepper until the sauce is absorbed. It is GREAT for banh mi or as it's own platform for avocado, cilantro and sesame seeds as a snack.
Jesse C. August 7, 2013
we love tofu in our house too! one of my favorites is this roasted tofu with pesto and angel hair: