Spicy Warm Silken Tofu With Celery and Cilantro Salad Recipe

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Yeah, a big hunk of browned meat can look great, but a warm bowl of seasoned tofu can be just as sexy, dontcha think?

This recipe is about as easy as it gets, but complex in its flavors, with a balance of heat, sweetness, and bracing acidity from chili oil, sugar, and Chinkiang vinegar. That vinegar, which can be found at pretty much any Asian grocer, is absolutely essential to the flavor of this dish. Chinkiang vinegar has a fruity, almost sweet complexity akin to balsamic vinegar, with plenty of acidity, but not the harsh hit of white vinegar or a European-style wine-based vinegar.

So emulsify the dressing and get it thick enough to stick to the slick silken tofu, I use a bit of tahini. If you choose, you can grind sesame seeds yourself in a mortar and pestle for even better tasting results. In a pinch, a touch of peanut butter would work in its place.

The salad on top consists of celery, scallions, and cilantro. Soaking them in ice cold water will help plump up their cells, making them extra crisp and crunchy—a really great contrast to the soft, warm tofu underneath.

Note: Chinkiang vinegar, broad bean paste, and chili oil can all be found readily in Asian grocers.

Recipe Facts

Active: 5 mins
Total: 5 mins
Serves: 2 to 4 servings

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  • 1 stalk celery, cut into thin 2-inch matchsticks
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 3 whole scallions, sliced into thin slicers at an acute bias
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted whole cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon sesame paste (such as tahini), or peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons fermented chili broad bean paste (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup Chinese roasted chili oil (see note)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, finely minced (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1 (19-ounce) block soft silken tofu
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. Combine celery, cilantro, and scallions in a medium bowl and cover with ice cold water. Add 4 to 5 ice cubes and set aside.

  2. Combine peppercorns and cumin in a mortar and pestle and roughly grind. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add sesame paste, soy sauce, vinegar, chili bean paste, sugar, chili oil, and garlic. Whisk to combine and set aside.

  3. Spoon tofu into a serving bowl and microwave until barely warmed through, about 1 minute. Cover with dressing. Drain celery, cilantro, and scallions carefully and add to bowl. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Special equipment

mortar and pestle