If you’re a peanut lover, you will love Tofu With Peanut Sauce. Even if you don’t like tofu. The spicy peanut-y little pillows are packed with flavor and delicious in veggie bowls and appetizers.
My husband scrunched up his face – not in a good way – when I told him I was trying something with tofu. Until he tried the tofu with peanut sauce appetizer I made. “This should go on your blog. What is it?” He seemed to not realize (or forget?) the tofu thing. My guests the next night loved it too.
I’m trying to explore ways to eat less meat these days. Tofu, originating from China, is a food with good nutritional value made of condensed soy milk pressed into solid white blocks. It’s low calorie (120 calories for 4 ounces), low carb and contains a good amount of protein, iron, calcium and other nutrients. And it’s gluten-free and vegan (with the appropriate ingredients). Sadly, it’s not low fat 🙁
I spent some time researching what type to buy and how to cook it before experimenting with this recipe. I’ve shared a few good tips below and some good tofu resources at the end of the recipe. You’re welcome beginners. You will have no problem nailing this recipe.
To flavor the tofu, I used my own super easy go-to peanut sauce which I’ve used many times before in our recipes for rice stir fry, dumplings, etc. But feel free to use your favorite. I’m always surprised to hear people ask “you made your own peanut sauce?” Little do they know it takes about 3 minutes and just a few ingredients.
While there are a few tricks to cooking tofu, it’s pretty easy. I’ll definitely be doing more of it.
Tips for How To Cook Firm Tofu
- Type of tofu to buy: For baking, frying or grilling, use an extra firm or firm block of tofu. Most come in 14-16 ounce packages, packed in water. Here’s a great article by Kitchn on types of tofu for different uses.
- Drain the tofu: If you want soft and chewy or crispy tofu that doesn’t fall apart, you have to extract the water. This takes at least 20 minutes for a block. Wrap the block in many layers of paper towel or a tea towel. Lay a heavy skillet on top, weighed down by cans or anything heavy. Walk away. Most of the water will soak into the paper or towel.
- Coat the tofu: Before baking or frying, to ensure some crispiness, toss the tofu lightly with 2-3 teaspoons of cornstarch. You just need a light dusting. Arrowroot starch is fine too.
- Seasoning: Tofu has no taste so it needs a marinade or seasoning. In this recipe, the tofu is tossed before serving with a very flavorful sauce. So all you need for the initial step is a bit of salt.
Tailor To Your Taste
Here are several variations or adjustments you can try.
- Sauce: I used peanut sauce for this recipe, but many other sauces would be great. Teriyaki, Thai, curry and taco-flavored are some good examples. You can add more flavor to the peanut sauce if you like with fresh ginger, garlic or a splash of soy and sesame oil. And vary the heat with more or less sriracha (or none). I gave quantities in the recipe, but it’s best to taste and adjust as you see fit.
- Cooking method: The tofu can be baked or pan fried as per the instructions in the recipe. Baking takes about 15 minutes longer, uses a touch less oil, needs less hands on time and has no fry smell. The tofu tastes the same in this recipe with either method so choose what you’re more comfortable with.
- Serving options: Here’s where you can get creative. Use the tofu in peanut sauce in veggie bowls with quinoa, rice, avocado, veggies, mango or whatever you have on hand. I used it in an appetizer, filling endive cups (as pictured) or lettuce cups.
- Garnish: some good ones are chopped cilantro or parsley, lime/lemon zest, pomegranate seeds (pictured), sesame seeds, chopped peanuts or water chestnuts. Or whatever you like!
- Instead of making the peanut sauce, buy a good brand at your local store.
- Some Asian stores sell tofu already fried, ready to be mixed with a sauce. The ones I’ve tried, though, tasted too oily to me.
- Instead of fresh garlic and ginger, use frozen cubes or garlic and ginger that comes in a jar.
Make Ahead Tofu with Peanut Sauce
- Except for the final few minutes to combine the tofu and peanut sauce, you can make everything ahead. Draining/pressing the tofu, baking or frying the cubes and making the sauce.
- Leftovers are great cold, too, if you have any.
Tofu With Peanut Sauce
- 1 block extra firm (or firm) tofu packed in water 14 - 16 ounces
- 2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot starch
- kosher salt
- 1 tbsp canola, avocado or grape seed oil or other vegetable oil
- 5 tbsp smooth peanut butter
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 3 tbsp sweet Thai chili sauce Note 1
- 1 tbsp lime or lemon juice (about 1/2 a lime or 1/4 of a lemon)
- sriracha hot sauce to taste start with 1/2 tsp, taste and adjust
- optional: 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp soy sauce
Options for Garnish or Fillers (choose 1 or more)
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds,
- 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley or cilantro
- 1/2 cup chopped water chestnuts
- 1/2 cup chopped peanuts
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- drizzle of balsamic reduction
- DRAIN AND PRESS TOFU: You can cut tofu block in half horizontally for this step if you want. Wrap tofu block(s) in a couple of layers of paper towel (or a tea towel). Lay on counter. Place heavy pan or plate over it with cans or other heavy objects to weigh in down. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. 30-60 minutes even better. This will extract most of water from tofu.
- MAKE PEANUT SAUCE: While tofu is draining, combine all peanut sauce ingredients in a small bowl or measuring cup. Whish until smooth. Taste and adjust to how you like it.
- PREPARE TOFU: Cut tofu in cubes. For appetizers, use small cubes (1/2 inch). For main course, tofu can be in larger cubes or rectangles. Here's a video on how to cut tofu. Toss gently with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 2 tsp cornstarch until lightly dusted all over.
- PAN FRY TOFU (Note 2 for baking instead): Heat non stick skillet to medium high. Add tofu cubes. Flip and shake pan as needed until all sides are lightly browned - about 12-15 minutes. If starting to burn, lower heat a bit.
- ADD PEANUT SAUCE: Add sauce to pan reserving, 2 tbsp if desired for extra drizzle at serving. Stir gently to coat tofu evenly. Cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens, browns a bit and coats tofu well.
- SERVE: For appetizers: spoon portions into endive cups or lettuce cups. For main course, place portions into bowls along with rice, avocado, vegetables, etc. Garnish with 1 or more of suggested garnishes or any others you choose. Serve warm or at room temperature.
- Substitute for sweet Thai chili sauce: Instead, use a combination of garlic chili sauce (or sriracha) and maple syrup or honey.
- To bake tofu (instead of pan-fry): Note this method takes an extra 15 minutes than pan frying. Heat oven to 400F. Place tofu cubes in a bowl, sprinkle with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp ground pepper (and a pinch of garlic and 1 tsp sesame oil is optional). Toss gently to coat evenly. Spread onto parchment lined pan so pieces aren't touching each other. Bake for 15 minutes, flip, bake another 15 minutes until crispy and golden brown.
- Make Ahead: Except for the final few minutes to combine the tofu and peanut sauce, you can make everything ahead. Draining/pressing the tofu, baking or frying the cubes and making the sauce. Leftovers are great cold, too, if you have any.
Other easy vegetarian appetizers you might like: