Though tofu often gets a bad rap in this country, it's so much more than a bland substitute for meat. Its mildness makes it an incredibly versatile ingredient, and, in many East Asian dishes, like mapo tofu, it's often combined with pork or beef for an intriguing interplay of flavors and textures. Nevertheless, it's true that tofu's nutritional profile and the sturdy consistency of some of the firmer varieties make it a natural choice for those eschewing animal products—so, if you're following along at home with Kenji's fifth annual Vegan Experience, you're undoubtedly gonna end up making heavy use of it this month.
When prepared correctly, extra-firm tofu browns and crisps up beautifully into slabs for stuffing Vietnamese banh mi or adding substance and protein to a vegan stir-fry. It's also an essential building block in making more complex vegetarian meat replacements, like our vegan chorizo. Softer or silken tofu varieties, meanwhile, pair well with meat in Chinese-style dishes. Keep reading for 14 tofu recipes, both meaty and non-, that are bound to be a hit even among skeptics.
Spicy Warm Silken Tofu With Celery and Cilantro Salad
Firm block tofu is quite useful, especially for those just getting comfortable with the idea of the stuff. But, with a little more tofu experience, you'll come to appreciate the soft, almost custardy texture of silken tofu for its own sake. In this super-simple recipe, we warm up the tofu in the microwave and dress it with a blend of tahini, soy sauce, Chinkiang vinegar (available in Asian groceries), and chili broad bean paste. A simple salad of celery, scallions, and cilantro adds brightness and crunch.
The Best Vegan Mapo Tofu
Mapo tofu is a Sichuan specialty, typically made with tofu, various aromatics, oil, broth, and beef. The last two ingredients are meaty, sure, but do they have to be? After some experimentation, we realized that we could make a vegan version that's just as satisfying. The key adaptations are replacing the meat-based broth with a soy-and-mushroom concoction and subbing a mix of fresh and dried mushrooms for the beef.
Mushrooms and Tofu With Chinese Mustard Greens
A vegan spin on a Lunar New Year favorite, this dish combines sharp, pungent Chinese mustard greens—bok choy is a good substitute if you can't find them—with firm tofu, mixed fresh mushrooms, and dried shiitakes. The tofu is first blanched, then pan-fried until crisp and golden, while the shiitakes (plus their soaking water) lend plenty of rich, deep flavor.
Sichuan-Style Asparagus and Tofu Salad
Asparagus may be nowhere near a Chinese ingredient, but it works wonderfully when treated with Sichuan flavorings in this salad. We blanch fresh, grassy asparagus spears until they're just tender, retaining plenty of snap. Then we toss them with tofu matchsticks and dress it all in a Sichuan-inspired vinaigrette made with homemade chili oil and Chinkiang vinegar. The result is not exactly authentic, but still totally delicious.
Grilled Tofu With Chipotle-Miso Sauce
For grilling, your best bet is firm, non-silken tofu that comes in block form. The keys to getting flavorful grilled tofu that's deeply browned and crisped: Cut it wide, dry it thoroughly, season it with a thick marinade that contains sugar (watery marinades tend to inhibit browning, while sugar helps it along), and cook it slowly on a well-oiled grill. To add more flavors, play with the ingredients in the marinade—here, we combine salty, fermented miso and smoky chipotles in adobo for a mixture that's both marinade and sauce.
Grilled Lemongrass- and Coriander-Marinated Tofu Vietnamese Sandwiches (Vegan Banh Mi)
Banh mi, or Vietnamese-style sandwiches built on baguette loaves, is one of those areas in which the vegan version can stand proudly alongside the meat-filled ones—a well-made vegan banh mi feels nothing like settling. Here, we marinate firm tofu in a Thai-flavored mixture heavy on garlic, cilantro, soy sauce, and bright lemongrass—be sure to apply the marinade both before and after grilling for maximum flavor penetration. Vegan mayonnaise keeps the sandwich totally egg-free. You can make your own or use store-bought (we're fans of Hampton Creek's Just Mayo).
Vegan Crispy Stir-Fried Tofu With Broccoli
Even the most dedicated haters tend to fall for tofu when it's deep-fried until crispy and golden brown all over, making this a great recipe for the tofu novice. We dredge ours in a batter containing vodka, cornstarch, flour, and baking powder for the right amount of lightness. Deep-fried tofu is perfectly good on its own, but combine it with some stir-fried broccoli and a garlicky black bean sauce and you've got dinner on the table.
Crispy Kung Pao Tofu
Want an even tastier (and more crowd-pleasing) way to use that crispy fried tofu? Prepare it kung pao style. In this vegan version of the Sichuan dish turned Chinese-American standby, we infuse the oil with numbing-hot Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chilies, then use it to stir-fry leeks, celery, and long hot peppers. Add the fried tofu, peanuts, and a sauce made with Chinkiang vinegar and fermented broad bean paste, and you'll have all the hot, salty, savory, and pungent flavors of the original, hold the chicken.
Vegan Chorizo for Omnivores
Our approach to vegan cooking at Serious Eats has generally not included much faux meat, since we tend to find store-bought meat substitutes sorely lacking in flavor and texture. Making our own faux meat at home, though, is a different story. A mixture of frozen tofu, tempeh, and dehydrated lentils gives this vegan mock sausage the textural contrast of real chorizo, and a boatload of spices and other aromatic ingredients give it deep, complex flavor. Best of all, vegetable shortening lends a rich fattiness and helps it cook up just like pork chorizo would. It's a time commitment, so make plenty and freeze it—it'll keep for a couple of months that way.
Real-Deal Mapo Dofu
Not ready to give up on your meat just yet? You can still wade into the soy waters with this classic mapo tofu (or "dofu," as it's sometimes styled), featuring both tofu and beef—a surprisingly simple dish that takes just 15 minutes to put together. We cook the meat in a chili-infused oil, along with other aromatics and flavor enhancers like garlic, ginger, chili broad bean paste, and Shaoxing wine. The result is a bowlful of simmered silken tofu and beef coated in the fiery-hot oil, and it's dangerously addictive. Serve with plenty of white rice for a cooling counterpoint.
Silken Tofu With Spicy Sausage
Steamed silken tofu topped with meat and gravy is a homey Chinese comfort-food staple. While traditional preparations use minced pork that's been marinated for hours, we keep the prep time to a minimum (and add some Western flair besides) by starting instead with spicy Italian sausage, cooked in a thick, glossy sauce of shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and cornstarch.
Banh Mi Panzanella
This mashup salad creatively blends the Italian bread-based salad panzanella with the flavors of Vietnamese banh mi. Oven-dried baguette cubes and seared tofu form the base; homemade pickles and fresh vegetables add crunch and acidic tang; a sweet and savory honey-hoisin sauce dresses it; and a final drizzle of chili mayo adds heat. Note that the marinade for the tofu here contains fish sauce, but you could easily veganize your tofu by using the marinade from our grilled tofu banh mi recipe, and swap out the mayo for a vegan alternative like Just Mayo.
Khao Tom Thai Rice Soup
Flavored with lemongrass, shallots, and garlic, the broth used in this recipe doubles as cooking liquid for the rice—just dump the grains directly in the pot with the broth ingredients. Ground pork and tofu bulk up the soup, but it's the toppings—cilantro, scallions, chilies, and fried shallots—that really make it come alive.
Soba Noodle Soup With Chicken, Tofu, and Bok Choy
This soup is hefty with add-ins: shredded chicken thighs, ribbons of bok choy, diced tofu, and hearty buckwheat noodles. The broth itself, though, is simple and bright, flavored with ginger, garlic, lemongrass, and star anise. Soy sauce and vinegar give the soup some depth, and a garnish of cilantro and scallions perks it up.