These spiced up Southwestern Style Baked Tofu Steaks are assertive in the flavor department, hearty like meat – and easy to make for any home chef.
Southwestern Style Baked Tofu Steaks
Cooking tofu used to stress me out.
Yep, friends, back in the day I used to fret over what an absolute blank slate bean curd is from a flavor perspective. You see, even unspiced meats and vegetables tend to have flavor elements of their own, regardless of what you decide to do in the cooking process.
Tofu, on the other hand, is one of those things that typically relies on whatever flavor-elements you decide to marry it with. It’s one of those rare ingredients that you can totally bend to your will (and your taste). That said, it better be good, right?!
These days, the very thing that used to stress me out about tofu is the thing I love most! That blank slate allows me unlimited power in the kitchen. It never ceases to amaze me what a wonderful unpainted canvas tofu can be.
These punched up Southwestern style baked tofu steaks are assertive in the flavor department, hearty like meat – and a totally satisfying kitchen project to undertake as a home chef.
Packed with assertive Southwestern flavor
The flavor in question for this baked tofu recipe is due, in large part, to a spice blend. Loaded with cumin, chili powder, garlic and paprika (among others), this spice blend is mixed with a little olive oil and water and spread on the tofu steaks.
It’s not quite a marinade, and not quite a dry rub – although there are elements of both.
Think of it as a southwestern spice paste that you leave on for about 30-45 minutes before cooking that pulls extra duty in the flavor department!
While most of my tofu recipes usually land firmly in the Asian flavor camp, this baked tofu steaks recipe skews full-on Southwest. And part of that is due to an assertive dipping sauce / dressing. While it’s totally optional for this tofu steaks recipe, I’d say that once you taste it, you’ll be glad you spent the extra five minutes whipping it up!
To make – or not to make – the optional Creamy Lime Dressing
At first I set out to create a creamy, cooling dressing that might level out some of the smoky sting from the spice mixture.
However, once I started to experiment, I realized that making this dressing presented yet another option to introduce big and bold flavors to the tofu steaks canvas. The more I played around, the more I wanted this to be a key player in delivering a well rounded bite.
It’s not often that a creamy dressing has an almost salsa-like flavor. I attribute that food anomaly to the mayo (you can also use vegan mayo if you’d like) being cut and counterbalanced by the acidity of lime juice and red wine vinegar.
Cilantro and jalapeño bring a verdant kick of herby heat. And my secret weapon for imparting sweetness without becoming cloying – maple syrup – makes a cameo as well.
OK – the more I think about it, the less ‘optional’ this dressing seems. I’d say: make it! You’ll be happy you did 🙂
So, what is tofu?
Tofu is made from dried and ground soybeans. Water is added to produce soy milk. Then the milk is heated and a coagulant is added – which causes curds to form. These curds are pressed into blocks which form the tofu we find in the square containers at the grocery store.
You’ll hear tofu referred to as bean curd pretty regularly – and considering the process in which it is made, that isn’t so surprising!
High in protein and calcium, tofu has been a long running staple in Asian diets. It has also become super prevalent in Western vegetarian and vegan diets over the past few decades.
The stuff at the store usually runs the gamut, texturally speaking, from silken to firm.
And pretty much like it sounds, firm is on the harder side of things. It also happens to be the tofu this delicious Southwestern style baked tofu steaks recipe calls for.
But it doesn’t end there. Nope! There are also fermented tofus, smoked tofus – and even noodles you can make from tofu skin (yuba)!
What does tofu taste like?
There’s an assumption that tofu is going to taste like whatever you cook it with. And, for the most part, that’s pretty accurate.
No – it doesn’t taste like a mushy, wet sponge on it’s own. However, most of the time, there’s not a whole lot going on except for tofu’s variable textures.
OK, to be fair, it’s totally possible to order a high quality, house-made silken tofu in a Japanese restaurant that is so delicate and nuanced you’ll probably only want to lightly touch it with a tiny bit of soy sauce or some ground ginger.
Most of the stuff (like, probably 99%) we find in our local grocery store, however, is a little more like the blank slate I have been talking about.
Typically, there isn’t very much going on in the flavor department with tofu until we get into the kitchen and start creating our own flavors. And that’s what I find so exciting about tofu from a home chef’s perspective. It is mine to mold flavorwise!
How to cook tofu
Every time I open a container of tofu, I like to drain away the excess water. I usually opt for either using a tofu press – or just using paper towels – but this can be done in any way that works for you.
The reason for this is that a waterlogged tofu block won’t absorb flavor from a marinade very easily. And a spice rub won’t stick so well unless it’s drained.
After a good draining, you can go wild in the cooking department.
Tofu can be deep fried, as done in this Japanese agedashi tofu recipe. If you’re making tofu dengaku, fire up the broiler. It can be served raw or fresh off the grill, pan fried or even stir fried. Basically, it’s your world – and tofu has the versatility to be cooked in almost any way you can imagine.
Tofu en papillote? Ha! Sure – why not?! 😉
These delicious Southwestern style baked tofu steaks spend about 30 minutes baking in the oven before they are perfect and ready to be served.
As I mentioned before, tofu is loaded with protein and calcium. But it also delivers good amounts of iron, zinc and potassium as well.
However, not all tofu is created equal!
I like to steer clear of the heavily processed stuff. Soy protein isolate? Genetically engineered soy foods? No thanks!
There is a ton of information out there about the possible health benefits – as well as the possible health detriments – of eating bean curd. This isn’t that article. I’m most certainly not a doctor or a nutritionist, so please take my words as those of a home chef.
However, I’d never feed my family or myself something I personally believed was unhealthy. I take my stance on moderate tofu intake from the Asian cultures that have used it in their diets for ages and tend to fare pretty well in the old age department!
When it comes to food I wholeheartedly advocate doing due diligence in the form of research – and then eating accordingly. The big hope is always that the information you find happens to line up with what your taste buds like!
Make it a baked tofu steaks bowl – and lunch like a pro!
Many healthy baked tofu recipes focus pretty heavily on the bean curd only. But I’m here to tell you that adding a few ingredients can really dress this up to a well rounded and healthy take-to-work lunch – or a high-protein post workout dinner you’ll totally enjoy.
When I made this at home, I whipped up quinoa as a hearty, nutty base for my smoky baked tofu steaks.
Black beans and corn totally played nicely with the Southwestern flavor profile – and some sliced fresh jalapeño slices satiated the spice junky in me.
I tore into my healthy baked tofu quinoa bowl without guilt – and a renewed faith in tofu being one of the best blank canvases a home chef could hope to paint on!
How about you? What’s an ingredient you love that allows you the leeway to experiment with your skills in the kitchen? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!
Other delicious and easy tofu recipes:
- The Ultimate Vegan Mapo Tofu (麻婆豆腐)
- Honey Sriracha Tofu
- General Tso Tofu
- Tofu and Vegetable Poke Bowl
- Agedashi Tofu – Deep Fried Tofu With Dashi Broth
Did you like this Southwestern Style Baked Tofu Steaks Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!