I’ve always been proud to be called an adventurous eater. My partner, Evan, not so much. He wasn’t exactly picky, but when we first started dating ten years ago, he didn’t even eat cooked fish, let alone sushi. Slowly, I’ve acclimated him to some of my favorite dishes, but one area where he wouldn’t budge was tofu. He didn’t grow up eating a lot of foods with slippery or squishy textures (which I love), so regardless of how he felt about the flavor of mapo tofu or stir fry dishes, the texture was a non-starter.
Still, I’ve been cooking with tofu more often to reduce our meat consumption (because, y’know, climate change), but I had a hard time finding dishes that we both could enjoy. I tried incorporating it into my favorite childhood recipe and while he was happy to try something new, he still wasn’t jumping to replace any of the meat-based meals with tofu in our weeknight rotation.
That was, until I found this recipe for tofu tacos with black beans last summer. When he went for a second helping, I was so shocked that I texted his mom to celebrate my victory. The trick? Crispy edges, and one secret ingredient: nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast seasoning is a staple ingredient among vegan home cooks to help add Vitamin B12 to their diet. It’s made using the same yeast that is found in bread or beer, which is dried and pasteurized, which kills the yeast and adds a toasty, nutty flavor and aroma. The resulting ultra-thin sheets of yeast are broken into tiny shards to create a seasoning that has a savory, almost cheesy flavor -- almost like the powder you'd find on Doritos. Since it’s fortified with nutrients and gluten- and salt-free, I find that it's healthy enough to sprinkle on just about anything. The tallboy-esque bottle may be daunting at first glance, but it should keep for up to two years in a dry, dark cabinet, and if you use it as often as I do, you’ll probably run out well before then.
Since making my initial discovery, I’ve also made crispy tofu nuggets with nutritional yeast and even used it as a substitute for breading in tofu katsu curry, all of which my partner happily will cook and enjoy with me. You can also use the ingredient to make surprisingly convincing vegan “cheese” dips, and I’ve taken to sprinkling it on freshly popped popcorn, because it adds a salty theater popcorn taste without any actual salt. Some vegans swear by it as a substitute for grated parm on pasta as well and if you’re making your own stock, you can also cheat your way to slow-simmered flavor with a couple dashes of this seasoning.
If you’re ready to start incorporating more plant based meals into your rotation, here’s my favorite brand of nutritional yeast, plus a few other accessories and tofu staples.
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This is my preferred nutritional yeast. The flip top makes it easy to sprinkle the flakes on just about anything, and is pretty easy to screw open when I need to measure larger quantities.
Nutritional yeast + home-popped popcorn = the perfect movie snack that’ll make you feel like you’re back at a theater, minus the suspiciously sticky floors.
Not all tofu is created equal. I especially like this firm tofu from Hodo Soy Beanery because I feel like it holds its shape really well when baked or fried, and it doesn’t require a ton of pressing to fry up or absorb a marinade.
This tofu is my go-to for making “egg” scrambles and the aforementioned tofu tacos. It ferments right in the packaging and isn’t packed with a ton of water, so it’s easy to crumble straight into a marinade without needing to be pressed. That said, I do find it harder to cut into perfect squares because it’s slightly more difficult to get it out of the packaging unscathed. Don't let that deter you, it cooks up like a dream and is way more cost-efficient than picking up tofu at the grocery store.
Many tofu recipes require you to squeeze out excess water out of the blocks with paper towels, but this press is a much more eco-friendly option if you cook tofu a few times a week (and less messy).
Another great tofu press. This one uses a twist crank to apply pressure to the tofu instead of elastic bands.