This 3-Ingredient Tofu Marinade Is Easy as Can Be


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I used to cook tofu in just two ways. I’d blitz a block into a velvety noodle sauce or coat cubes in cornstarch and air fry them until audibly crispy. Those were my textural extremes. Now I’ve embraced a third chewy dimension: marinated tofu. 

In the belly of a Boeing 747, I met my muse. Instead of frantically buying a bag of cheese popcorn at the airport, I planned ahead and grabbed a sandwich at Carlucci’s Italian bakery in Salt Lake City. The forearm-size baguette harbored a TSA-approved lineup: sprouts, lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomato, and fat slices of baked tofu draped in melted mozzarella. 

I was flying to LA for a friend’s surprise engagement, but the real love story that weekend was between me and the tofu. The edges were firm and springy, while the insides retained tofu’s iconic squish. Each bite released a jolt of salty, tangy, and deeply savory marinade. “Garlic?” I said to my snoring seatmate. “Definitely. And vinegar?” I ate the sandwich in four minutes flat. 

As soon as I arrived home, I messaged the bakery on Facebook, begging them for the marinated tofu recipe. Owner and head baker Therese Martin seemed amused. “I have tried, a couple of times now, to take it off the menu and run a different vegetarian sandwich,” she told me over email. “Every time I did, I received major backlash.” Thanks to its passionate Utahn supporters, the tofu melt has held strong for 21 years. 

From the soft baguette to the crunchy vegetables, I love everything about this sandwich; no notes. But the tofu is the star. To make the marinade, the bakery combines peppy garlic, umami-rich soy, and a zippy, house-made balsamic vinaigrette—and lets the tofu soak for a couple days. In our home-cook-friendly riff, we subbed in store-bought balsamic dressing and cut the marinade time to suit a busy schedule.

This tofu shines bright well beyond the confines of a sandwich, perfect for any sort of meal prep. Crumble it and throw it in a salad (dressed with an extra drizzle of tofu marinade) or load up some tacos with tofu and veggies. Lay fat slices on a grain bowl. Pile cubed tofu atop a bowl of noodles or add them to a stir fry. Or be like me and stand over the sheet pan popping still-hot cubes into your mouth like tater tots.

Here’s how to make balsamic-soy-marinated tofu: 

Heads up: The prep time is minimal, but it does need to marinate for several hours, so plan ahead. 

In an airtight container, stir together your marinade ingredients: ¾ cup store-bought balsamic vinaigrette (or equal parts balsamic vinegar and olive oil), 3–4 Tbsp. soy sauce or tamari (depending on how salty the dressing is), and 3 minced garlic cloves (or a heavy sprinkle of garlic powder or onion powder). Feel free to add a spoonful of herbs, such as dried Italian seasoning or fresh cilantro, and a splash of maple syrup or a dab of brown sugar if you prefer a sweeter marinade.

Drain 1 (14- to 16-oz.) package of extra-firm tofu. (Do not substitute something softer like silken tofu—it’s too fragile here.) If you have a tofu press, feel free to use it, but there’s no need to press tofu here; just bundle it in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, and gently squeeze it to get rid of excess water. Use your hands to break the block of tofu into craggy hunks (about the size of strawberries). Or grab a cutting board and cut it into slices or cubes if you prefer a uniform shape. 

Drop the tofu pieces into the marinade and gently stir to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a lid, then refrigerate for 12–48 hours. (The smaller the tofu pieces, the less total time you’ll need to marinate.) The top of the tofu might poke out of the marinade, so give it a shake every so often to make sure each piece is thoroughly soaked.

When you’re ready to eat, preheat the oven to 375°F. Use a fork or slotted spoon to transfer the marinated tofu to a baking sheet. For easier cleanup, you can line the pan with parchment paper, but it works either way. (Save that leftover marinade to dress salads.) Evenly spread out the tofu pieces. Bake for 30–45 minutes, shuffling the mixture halfway through for even cooking, until the tofu is deeply golden brown. 

To reheat leftover tofu, pan fry it over medium to medium-high heat in your favorite cast iron, toss it in an air fryer, or zap it in the microwave.

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