Why make tofu scramble instead of scrambled eggs? I used to think of eggs as the perfect food… but that was until I really explored the wonderful world of tofu. Tofu, in its different textures, can mimic many different egg preparations, with an advantageous nutritional profile: fewer calories, a little less fat (with none being saturated), a little more protein, and abundant calcium. Plus, tofu lends itself to a broad range of dishes, and is never contaminated with salmonella. Aside from enjoying tofu straight up – an experience akin to that of fresh cheese – one of my favorite ways to eat it is as tofu scramble.
In this post, I will explain the theory and practice of making tofu scramble. Who needs a tofu scramble recipe when they understand the general process of making one? Because of its versatility, a tofu scramble is a great opportunity to use leftover produce, making it one tactic in our battle against food waste.
What is tofu scramble for?
Because we have been so conditioned to associating eggs with breakfast and brunch, the first meal of the day seems like a perfect fit for tofu scrambles. Personally, however, I am usually too busy getting people ready for school in the morning to enjoy the luxury of a freshly-cooked meal. (I have overnight oats instead.) Here are some other uses:
- Weekend lunch before going grocery shopping (so you aren’t hungry when shopping and you have cleared the produce drawer before stocking up)
- Perfect in sandwiches and wraps
- Burrito filling
- On top of toast, perhaps with avocado
- Add leftovers (if any!) to a bowl
What tofu is best for tofu scramble?
Every tofu scramble recipe out there suggests using extra-firm tofu that has been pressed dry. I disagree. Just like I preferred my scrambled eggs to be just cooked, on the edge of runny, I like to have some creaminess in my scrambled tofu. That’s why I choose to use medium tofu instead of firm or extra firm for this purpose.
If you preferred dry, fully cooked eggs, then get the firmest tofu you can find.
Whether you pick medium, firm, or extra-firm tofu, you’ll still want to remove the excess liquid. I find that simply cutting the block into slabs and pressing the pieces between the folds of a clean tea towel does the trick. No fancy press required. Any excess water will evaporate during cooking.
Choosing your skillet for tofu scramble
Cast-iron is my material of choice when it comes to cookware, and tofu scrambles are no exception. My 10″ cast-iron skillet is the perfect tool for this task… as long as it’s given at least 10 minutes to warm up first, on medium-to-medium-low heat.
Stainless steel will also work great but I do not have much personal experience with that material. It should also be preheated for even cooking, albeit for a shorter time.
I personally do not recommend cooking in non-stick cookware, if only because it’s unnecessary if you remember to deglaze your pot while it’s still hot.
Choosing veggies for your tofu scramble
I love tofu so much that I am perfectly happy with a simple scramble of tofu with only a few pinches of spice. However, tofu scrambles are a great opportunity to get more veggies onto my plate, so I usually just open the produce drawer and pick as many as I have time to chop.
There are some vegetables I always have at hand, and many of them are a great fit for tofu scrambles:
- Onion, preferably red (because it’s milder and more nutritious). For a whole block of tofu, I will use a full, medium onion.
- Garlic: I just mince a couple of cloves.
- Carrots: grating one is quick and reduces cooking time, and it adds great color. Grating part of a sweet potato would work as well, but will impart a sweeter taste to the tofu scramble.
- Bell peppers make for a classic ranchero-style tofu scramble. Just dice them really small.
- Mushrooms are my personal favorite in scrambles. I just slice them very thin so they release their water quickly.
- Other veggies: Other veggies will work as long as you chop them into small pieces. A chunk of leftover cauliflower. broccoli, or cabbage would be perfect, for example.
- Kale, spinach, or some other kind of green: Chop into strips and add near to the end of cooking. If your kale has stems, slice them finely and add at the same time as the onion.
- Fresh herbs: So nutritious, and so often wasted! Whatever you have in the fridge will make a great addition to your tofu scramble. Just chop finely – stems included.
Tofu scramble seasoning profiles
Most cooks like to add turmeric to their tofu scramble – for that yellow color – and sprinkle with nutritional yeast at the end for extra umami (although personally I prefer not to).
For that sulfuric impression reminiscent of eggs, a small amount of black salt (kala namak, which is actually pink!) is recommended.
The typical tofu scramble recipe includes common Western scrambled egg seasoning, such as cumin, paprika, and herbs like oregano.
You may venture into a more Asian flavor profile, with a nod to the Japanese omelette (tamagoyaki), by using different seasonings: a piece of nori seaweed (thinly sliced) and some chives, plus a dash of mirin or rice vinegar, and/or soy sauce.
Because tofu is naturally less salty than eggs, you may want to add a half teaspoon of salt to your spice mix.
Pre-mix your seasonings!
I am not a fan of mise en place when it comes to weekday home cooking, but this step is essential when making a tofu scramble because once your tofu is in the hot skillet, you want your full attention to be dedicated to cooking, not searching for ingredients.
Regardless of the flavor profile, make sure to have all your seasonings pre-mixed in a little bowl on the side before you add the tofu to the hot skillet.
Crumble your tofu by hand
Forget about potato mashers: just use your hands to break down the tofu over the skillet. Who needs to wash more dishes?
We can still be friends if you break your tofu down to smithereens, but personally I prefer bigger chunks. The process of cooking the tofu scramble breaks the big chunks down to smaller pieces, so I’d rather not start with crumbs.
My best tip for the perfect tofu scramble
Tofu scrambling isn’t for the hyperactive cook: you want to give the tofu chunks a chance to cook and brown a bit, and whatever water content that remained after pressing a chance to evaporate. So no constant stirring!
In fact, I prefer not to stir at all. Instead, I gently lift the tofu chunks with a thin metal spatula, half-flipping, half-dropping the chunks a few inches away. A plastic spatula is too thick to do this job well, and in general I don’t recommend using plastic when cooking anyway.
Bump up the nutritional benefits of your tofu scramble
While you’re eating, while not make the most of this opportunity to fuel up with nutritious food?
- Try the “chop and stop” method for onion and garlic to inhibit platelet activation.
- Deglaze the skillet with lemon juice right before removing the tofu scramble. The citrus juice will improve iron absorption.
- Don’t skimp on herbs and spices. They contain phytonutrients that promote health and fight inflammation and disease. If using turmeric (you should!), don’t forget to add black pepper to boost absorption.
What’s your favorite combination of ingredients when making tofu scramble?
Basic tofu scramble
- heavy skillet
- thin metal spatula
- 1 block tofu (medium, firm, or extra-firm) Choose medium for a runnier, creamier scramble, or extra-firm for a drier feel.
- 1 onion (red preferred) Dice small.
- 1-3 cups vegetables (chopped) Carrot (grated), bell pepper (small dice), and mushrooms are my favorites but you can use others you have at hand including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, zucchini, etc. Chop into small pieces so they cook faster.
- 2-3 cloves garlic Mince.
- 2 tablespoons spices and dried herbs For example: turmeric (1 tsp), cumin (2 tsp), oregano (2 tsp), smoked paprika (1 tsp), chili powder (1/2 tsp), black salt (1/4 tsp), and fresh ground pepper. You may use taco seasoning mix or other spices of your choice. For a more Japanese profile, a little seaweed goes a long way.
- 1-2 cups dark leafy greens (kale, arugula, spinach, chard...) If using large leaves, separate from stems. Slice stems finely and add with the vegetables. Chop leaves to bite-size pieces.
- 1/4 cup wet seasonings (optional) Some like HP sauce on their scramble, or their national favorite (like Salsa Lizano for Ticos). If aiming for a Japanese flavor profile, consider mirin and soy sauce,
- 1/2 lemon Juiced.
- 1/2 cup fresh herbs Chop finely, stems included (as long as they aren't too tough). Cilantro, basil, and chives are favorites of mine. Thyme also fits great!
- 1/4 cup sprouts (optional) Adds some crunch and even more nutrition.
- salt and pepper
- Preheat a heavy skillet over medium-low to medium heat, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the tofu from its package, draining most of the water. Cut the tofu block into thick slabs and gently press between the folds of a clean towel. Set aside.
- Chop everything and prepare your seasonings. Dry spices can be pre-mixed in a small bowl. If using wet seasonings, also measure and pre-mix on the side.
- Skillet hot? Time to proceed. If using oil, add a teaspoon or two to the skillet.
- Add the diced onion with a big pinch of salt. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add some more vegetables, starting with the densest ones that will take longest to cook. Add no more than 1 cup of chopped veggies at a time, cooking each batch for 3 minutes or until most of their water has evaporated.
- Add garlic and dry seasonings. Cook 30 seconds, or until fragrant.
- Unwrap your tofu slabs and break each one down over the skillet. Use the thin spatula to scrape the veggies off the bottom of the pan, exposing tofu chunks to more heat. Let the chunks cook for 2 minutes before flipping and mixing again.
- Repeat the process 2-3 more times, letting the tofu and veggies cook for at least a minute between each intervention.
- Add your dark leafy greens now. They'll wilt in the last minute of cooking.
- If using wet seasonings, add just before your last lift & flip.
- Spray with lemon juice right before removing from the skillet, scraping the bottom to detach caramelized bits.
- Add fresh herbs and serve.