Silken Tofu with Soy Sauce and Chili Oil Recipe

A simple treatment for silken tofu: gently heat and add sauces and garnishes.

An irregularly round glazed ceramic bowl holding silken tofu with soy sauce and chili oil. There are two additional bowls, one on the right periphery of the image, one on the left periphery.

Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Why This Recipe Works

  • Silken tofu is a perfect backdrop for the condiments and garnishes, which range in flavor from sour and salty to spicy and rich.
  • The best quality soy sauce will make a big difference in simple dishes like this.

This is about the simplest thing you can do with silken tofu, and also one of the most delicious.

The tofu is heated, and good quality soy sauce, chili oil, and sesame oil are poured over. To garnish, there are minced pickles, scallions, and cilantro. It's that easy. The only cooking involved is heating up the tofu, which you do by placing the whole block of tofu in a pot of boiling water.

Close-up of a tangled pile of zha cai pickles.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

You want to use these pickles, made from the stems of certain varieties of mustard greens. Look for "zha cai" in the Chinese grocery store. (The Chinese also pickle the leafy part of the greens, which are often used in stir-fries with pork.) The stems are salted, pressed, and dried before being rubbed with chile powder and left to ferment, so that the resulting pickle is salty, sour, and spicy with a crisp yet tender texture.

The preparation works best with silken tofu because it is so pudding-like. It lends itself to being treated as a canvas for other ingredients. You could, I suppose, cut the block up into squares, but I like the unevenness of scooping up slabs of the tofu.

Every time I make this I remember how good it is. Things just come together in a palette of bold colors and flavors. There's the heat of the chili oil, countered by the cooling cilantro; the richness of the sesame oil, cut through with sour pickles.

And I always use the best quality soy sauce I have on hand, because with a dish this simple, there's not much you can do in the way of disguise.

August 2012

Recipe Details

Silken Tofu with Soy Sauce and Chili Oil Recipe

Active 10 mins
Total 15 mins
Serves 2 to 4 servings

A simple treatment for silken tofu: gently heat and add sauces and garnishes.


  • 1 (12-ounce) block silken tofu

  • 4 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste

  • 2 teaspoons chili oil, or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil, or to taste

  • About 3 tablespoons minced zha cai (see notes)

  • Chopped scallions and cilantro to garnish


  1. Bring a pot of water to boil. Gently add the block of silken tofu to the water and simmer until the tofu is warmed through, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the tofu.

    A two-image collage. The top image shows a stainless steel pot holding simmering water. The bottom image shows the pot how holding a block of silken tofu.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  2. Scooping up rough slabs of the block with a spoon, divide the tofu evenly between 2 bowls, or among 4 if you are serving as an appetizer. Drizzle each portion of tofu with 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon chili oil, and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. Top with minced zha cai, scallions, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

    A small, irregularly round glazed ceramic bowl holding soft peaks of silken tofu covered with chili oil, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai


Zha cai, pickled Sichuan mustard root, can be found in most Asian grocers either in bulk in the refrigerated section, or canned. Unused zha cai can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two months.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
112 Calories
10g Fat
2g Carbs
7g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 2 to 4
Amount per serving
Calories 112
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 10g 13%
Saturated Fat 1g 7%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 299mg 13%
Total Carbohydrate 2g 1%
Dietary Fiber 0g 1%
Total Sugars 1g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 1mg 3%
Calcium 98mg 8%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 135mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)