A bit of chopping and up to ten minutes in the pan is all you need to make this tasty quick spicy silken tofu recipe. Serve hot with steamed rice to soak up the luscious sauce.
This recipe is a copycat version of my favorite dish at our local Chinese restaurant. It’s hard to find spicy food here in Spain so I love this and always order it when we are eating out. It’s simply called Do Fu con salsa china (Tofu with Chinese sauce) but it is so simple and oh-so-tasty.
I spent quite a while experimenting to recreate it, and now you guys can enjoy it too (and I can stop spending a fortune on takeout every time I get a silken tofu craving).
Why you’ll love it
- It has a salty spicy addictive broth.
- It’s super quick to make, especially if you use a food processor to do the chopping.
- It’s much healthier than takeout.
- It’s high in protein yet low in calories.
- It’s dairy-free and egg-free (vegan) (watch which type of sugar you use for those readers in the US).
- It’s gluten-free (just make sure the north and cornstarch are both GF).
- You can tweak the spiciness or substitute your veggies of choice to make it your own.
Ingredients and substitutions
I’ve got all the ingredients I used laid out in the image below so you can take a look and make sure you’ve got the right ones, then I discuss which ingredients can be omitted or substituted if you’re missing something.
Note that although I talk about changes you can make depending on your personal preference and what ingredients you have available, I always recommend following the recipe and instructions as closely as possible as that’s how I’ve made it and tested it.
Carrots: I use carrots, mushrooms, green bell pepper, and onion because that’s what is in the original dish from my favorite Chinese restaurant, but you can mix things up and change the vegetables if you fancy. Just make sure the tofu is still the star of the show so try to keep to similar amounts of veggies.
Mushrooms: I use shiitake mushrooms as they really add a ton of flavor. You can use fresh ones, or rehydrate some dried ones and use them instead. If you don’t have any shiitake mushrooms you can substitute with portobello, but I don’t really recommend using other mushrooms as they’re not as flavorful.
Garlic: I love the mild hit of garlic in the sauce, but if you don’t like garlic you can just omit it.
Bell pepper: I use green bell pepper because as I said above with the carrots, that’s what the restaurant adds to their version, but you can use any color you want.
Sesame oil: I use just a touch of toasted sesame oil to add extra flavor and luscious mouth-feel, but if you don’t like it you can omit it.
Onion: Don’t omit this, just use a regular yellow onion, you can also use the white parts of a large spring or green onion.
Chilli garlic sauce: Do NOT omit or substitute this, it’s essential and really adds a lot to the sauce. If you have never had chilli garlic sauce then you’re in for a treat. It doesn’t taste just like chilli and garlic, it tastes quite like a good salty spicy Indian-style pickle. I use Lee Kum Kee chilli garlic sauce and that’s the one that I recommend.
Rice vinegar: If you don’t have rice vinegar you can use any mild vinegar instead, e.g. white wine vinegar.
Soy sauce: I use light soy sauce to just add a touch of flavor. If you don’t have light soy sauce, you can substitute it with half the amount of regular soy sauce or an equal amount of tamari. Do not substitute with dark soy sauce, which can be quite overpowering.
Silken tofu: The star of the dish, please don’t substitute this ingredient! Use high-quality firm or extra-firm silken tofu (not soft tofu, keep that for desserts) that you like the taste of. I use seventeen ounces in this recipe, which is about the size of the larger containers you get in Asian food specialty stores.
Oil: Use bland flavorless oil here like sunflower oil or canola oil.
Vegetable stock: Use high-quality tasty vegetable stock. If you don’t have any stock to hand you can make some up with a vegetable stock cube or bouillon granules and hot water (check the package to see what the ratio of stock cube/bouillon is to water) or worst-case scenario, just use water.
Cornflour/cornstarch: Cornflour makes the sauce thicker and more restaurant-style. If you don’t have any cornflour, then tapioca starch, arrowroot powder, potato starch, or rice flour can be used (but you’ll need to adjust the amount depending on what you use – check this useful guide to see the ratios). Note that cornflour is a UK and Ireland term, it’s called cornstarch in the US and is a white fine powder for thickening.
Sugar: A little sugar perfectly balances the flavors here, so don’t omit it.
Salt: This recipe really benefits from being well-salted to taste. I add up to a teaspoon, a quarter teaspoon at a time and I taste the sauce immediately after adding.
How to make it
This is a super simple recipe, which basically consists of chopping up the veggies and tofu, stirfrying the veggies, whisking the sauce together, and adding the tofu and the sauce to the pan to cook.
I’ve included in-depth instructions and process photos here because I know that sometimes what seems obvious to me can be confusing to other people, especially beginner cooks, or that sometimes you can doubt yourself and checking against photos of the process can help reassure you that you’re on the right track.
To get started, I recommend getting all your ingredients together, chopping what needs to be chopped, and measuring the sauce ingredients into a bowl before you start cooking.
Once things get hot in the pan, this is a very quick recipe to cook so you don’t want to be stressing out trying to measure things or your food might get burnt.
Make sure to chop your vegetables small dice, apart from the shiitake mushrooms which you should wipe clean with a damp cloth, cut in half, and then slice thinly (image one below). Dicing everything small into half-centimeter pieces will ensure that the vegetables cook quickly and evenly.
If you have a good food processor (I love my Ninja), just quarter the peeled carrots, skinned onion, and pepper (having removed the seeds and insides), and pulse until everything has been chopped into small pieces.
The tofu should be drained (not pressed) and cut into half-inch cubes or roughly one-inch rectangles. It may crumble a little when chopping or gently mixing in the pan later but that’s fine, silken tofu (even firm silken tofu) is quite delicate.
Next, add the plain flavorless oil (I use sunflower oil) to a wok or large pan and heat on high until smoking hot.
While the oil is heating, add all the sauce ingredients except the cornstarch (vegetable stock or broth, light soy sauce, rice vinegar, chilli garlic sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and pressed garlic) to a bowl, whisk together, and leave to one side (image two above).
When the oil is smoking hot, add all the vegetables to the pan and stir-fry for three minutes until softened. You should only be stirring enough as needed to coat the vegetables with a little of the hot oil at the start and to prevent them from sticking and browning.
Next, add in all the sauce and the tofu and gently mix (see image three below). Keep the heat high and when it comes to a boil, let it cook for three minutes.
While the sauce and tofu are cooking, add the cornflour to a small bowl and add in about a quarter cup of cold water. Note that the water must be cold, not warm, or it won’t combine well with the cornstarch.
Whisk until all the cornstarch has left the sides of the bowl and you have a milky-looking suspension.
When the three minutes are up, test the carrots to make sure they are cooked enough – they should be tender but still have a slight bite, you don’t want mushy carrots. If they’re not soft enough for your taste, which can depend on how small they were diced, you can let the sauce cook a little longer until done to your preference.
Now add the cornstarch water mixture and quickly stir to incorporate it into the sauce, trying not to break the tofu. Leave on high and when it comes to a boil, allow to cook for two minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent the tofu and vegetables from sticking to the bottom.
Your sauce should be thicker and glossier (see image four above).
Take off the heat and grab a teaspoon and carefully test the sauce for salt, and add up to one teaspoon to taste. This recipe is what I would say is a mild-medium spice level, if you like it even hotter add extra chilli garlic sauce at the end.
Done! You can serve as is with hot steamed rice or fried noodles for a delicious healthy restaurant-style experience. To dress it up a little you can add some red pepper flakes and chopped spring onions as garnish. Enjoy!
For me, it’s a mild-medium spice level, for my family it’s a solid medium. If you’re not sure about your spice tolerance, try adding just one tablespoon of chilli garlic sauce to the sauce initially, and then when finished add to taste. If you’d like it even spicier, add more chilli garlic sauce to taste. If you use a different chilli garlic sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee) keep in mind that it may be cooler or hotter.
Once cooled to room temperature, leftovers can be stored in a sealed container in the fridge for up to five days. Keep in mind that the sauce will get slightly spicier the longer it sits. It can be frozen but I don’t recommend it because freezing silken tofu gives it a very different honeycomb-like texture – I like it, but it’s definitely very different from the original product.
Just zap (covered) in the microwave or heat in a non-stick pan on the stovetop until warm.
Did you make this recipe? Let me know how much you loved it with a star rating ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐, review, and/or comment below.
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Spicy Silken Tofu in 20 minutes
Custardy smooth silken tofu with vegetables and a super umami spicy sauce, this tofu dish is a great healthy takeout alternative and comes together in minutes.
- 1½ Tablespoons sunflower or canola oil
- 1 medium carrot or 2 small
- 1 yellow onion
- 6 shittake mushrooms (130g)
- 1 green bell pepper
- 17oz firm or extra-firm silken tofu (500g)
- Salt to taste (½ teaspoon - 1 teaspoon)
- 2 cups vegetable broth (480ml)
- 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons chili garlic sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 clove garlic, pressed
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch (UK cornflour)
- Small dice the carrots, onion, and green pepper. Wipe the shiitake mushrooms clean with a damp cloth, cut in half, and then slice thinly.
- Whisk all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl, apart from the cornflour which you will add later.
- Add the sunflower or canola oil to a wok or large pan and heat on high. Drain the tofu (don't press it) and slice into 1/2 inch to 1-inch squares or rectangles.
- When the oil is smoking hot, add the vegetables and stir-fry for three minutes.
- Add the whisked sauce and the tofu and gently mix. Keep the heat high and when it begins to boil, set a timer for three minutes.
- Whisk the cornflour with 1/4 cup of cold water and add to the pan when the three minutes are up. Mix in quickly and carefully, when the tofu and sauce start to boil again, set a timer for two minutes.
- When the two minutes are up, take the pan off the heat. Salt to taste, I add between three-quarters of a teaspoon to a full teaspoon as this sauce really needs to be salted well, but this will depend on the stock and chilli garlic sauce you used.
- Serve hot over steamed white rice. Enjoy!
You'll find the larger 17oz packs of silken tofu in Asian specialty stores, they're usually much cheaper than the smaller packages you can find in regular supermarkets.
Serving Size1 main serving
Amount Per Serving Calories 175Total Fat 11gSaturated Fat 1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 9gCholesterol 0mgSodium 728mgCarbohydrates 11gFiber 2gSugar 6gProtein 10g
Saturday 9th of July 2022
Simple, delicious, and easy. I followed the recipe exactly, and it was a huge hit with everyone. Will definitely make again.
Saturday 9th of July 2022
I'm so glad you enjoyed it Mariolina, and thank you so much for taking the time to leave such a lovely comment!
Thursday 16th of June 2022
I really enjoyed the simplicity and how quickly this recipe came together! I made too many substitutions going with what I had on hand rather than me going to the store. I did use silken tofu and it crumbled into pieces which worked well for my dish. I will get the garlic chili and the vegetable broth for next time. I had a wonderful time chatting on the phone while I cooked which normally does not go together. Thank you for putting this out there!
Thursday 16th of June 2022
So happy you enjoyed it Chris! Substitutions can definitely be tricky, let me know when you try it with the garlic chilli sauce and the broth.