Sesame tofu bowls are a healthy, hearty, and satisfying meal that’s easy to get on the table and perfect all year round.
So I’m ready. I’m ready for apples and cozy sweaters, mugs of tea and warm autumn colors. Hell, I might even be ready for pumpkin. Perhaps surprisingly, fall is my favorite season. I mean, what’s not to love – cool nights, turning leaves, and delicious comfort food.
This fall I intend to revisit lots of old classics (hello bowls of mashed potatoes for dinner) and try my hand at a few new ones that have caught my eye as well. There will surely be lots of butter, carbs, sugar, cheese, and other fun stuff making its way onto the blog and hopefully onto your dinner table. But (wo)man cannot live on buttery, cream cheese frosted, bread alone.
Sesame Tofu Bowls
Which is where today’s recipe comes into play. Sesame tofu bowls are a great weeknight dinner perfect for the transition of barely there summer meals to over the top, butter-laden fall ones. They manage to be light yet satisfying and healthy but substantial. They’re also endlessly riffable – a crucial element for any weeknight dinner IMO and can be on the table in under 30 minutes.
So when I said I was absolutely ready? Maybe I meant I’m ready to get ready? Don’t worry though I’ll be drowning in a bowl of cream cheese frosting any day now.
What You’ll Need to Make Sesame Tofu Bowls
Well duh. But if you’ve ever perused the tofu selection at your local grocery store, you know that there are a lot of options, and while options are great to have, they can also present a challenge. No worries though, here are the only things you need to keep in mind when buying tofu (like 99% of the time).
– When sauteing, frying, or baking tofu – go for the firm or extra firm.
– When cubing up for soup or some more authentic Sichuan dishes (like mapo tofu) use soft or medium.
– When blending into a dessert use silken.
Making rice can flumox even the most experienced home cook. But it doesn’t have to make you pull out your hair or cry alone in your bathroom. Just make it like pasta. For this recipe I use a longer grain like jasmine or basmati. Then I bring a generous amount of water to a boil and pop the rice in there. No rinsing, no nothing. Then lower the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer and leave it uncovered for about 11 minutes. Your rice might be drier than mine though, so feel free to pluck a grain or two out a couple minutes shy and taste it for doneness. The beauty of this method is that no cover means no mystery.
Once the rice is just about done (it’s ok if it’s just a hair under) then drain it and put it back in the pot. Then slap the cover on it to steam for a few minutes while you finish getting the rest of dinner together. Bonus? A pot of hot rice with the lid on can be set aside for about 30 minutes before it starts to cool off in any meaningful way. So make this first and then move on with the rest of your meal, if you’re not into multi-tasking so much.
This sauce couldn’t be easier. Whisk up some ingredients in a bowl and when your tofu is crisp and sizzling, pour it in and watch things go from soupy and thin to glossy and saucy in a matter of seconds. Seriously, it’s that easy. But it is helpful to know what’s going in there and why.
- Soy sauce – this is for color, flavor, and that meaty without being meaty something – umami. Feel free to substitute tamari (which is just soy sauce made from mushrooms) if you’re looking for a gluten free experience.
- Sugar – I know I know, sugar is the devil, but in this you really need something sweet to temper all the savory goodness going down. A touch of sugar not only lends balance to the sauce, but also gives you that clingy, glossy consistency that everyone loves so much. Feel free to substitute honey here, but it won’t be quite the same.
- Toasted sesame oil – This stuff is a real flavor bomb, and a little goes a long way. But you absolutely cannot skip it. One, because then you couldn’t call these sesame tofu bowls, and two because you’re not cray. I always have a bottle hanging out in my fridge (because nut oils tend to spoil quickly at room temperature) and toss anywhere from a few drops to a couple teaspoons into anything that needs a deeply nutty, savory kick.
- Sambal or Sriracha or something HOT – These aren’t really spicy, and this stuff is to your taste, but in the ultimate and ongoing quest to balance out our flavors, a little spice is just the thing.
- Rice vinegar – We’ve covered salty, sweet, and hot, but to round everything out we need a little punchy acid. A splash of vinegar, squeeze of lime, or wedge of lemon can literally change an entire dish, so please, if you take only one thing away from this diatribe of narrowly sane food prose, please let it be that acid should be somewhere in nearly all of your food. I like rice vinegar here because it’s mild, clean tasting, and doesn’t bring much else to the party. Acceptable alternatives would be white vinegar or lime juice.
- Cornstarch – A little bit of this stuff when dissolved into the mix and brought to a low simmer will transform that runny, drippy thing you just whisked up into a luscious and glossy sauce which perfectly coats every bit of that crispy tofu. So don’t leave it out! Some workable alternatives would be arrowroot powder or tapioca starch.
I used carrots and cabbage here because that’s what I had and I like how pretty they are when you shred them up all nice. But any crunchy, fresh veg would be great here. Think cukes, radishes, celery, peppers, or anything pickled!
How to Make and Assemble Sesame Tofu Bowls
Making these is deceivingly easy. Boil up some rice, fry up some tofu, whisk up your sauce, and slice and dice some fresh veggies. Then pile it all up in a bowl and go to town. But if some of you are like “wait a tick” frying up some tofu seems like it garners a bit more instruction, well keep reading. For the rest, feel free to skip ahead to the recipe, you over achievers, you.
Tips for pan frying tofu
Cooking tofu doesn’t have to be labor intensive or fraught with anxiety. What we’re after here are crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, pieces of light, golden brown tofu. And I swear to you, it’s easy to do.
- Start with firm or extra firm tofu. The firmer the tofu is the less water it contains, and less water equals better browning.
- Cut your tofu into manageable pieces. There is NOTHING I hate more than chasing teeny tiny cubes of tofu around a hot skillet. I avoid that by cutting a standard brick of tofu into eight, equal sized planks. They look nice on a plate, cook quickly, and are SO much easier to flip.
- Dry your tofu. Lay your slices of tofu out on a layer of paper towels, then cover with more paper towels and press down to wick away as much moisture as possible, without crushing your tofu.
- Use a non-stick pan. This also works in a stainless steel or cast iron pan, but why give yourself the added stress of dinner sticking to the pan? Don’t be a hero – use non-stick.
- Cook over medium heat. High heat is for suckers – there, I said it. The circumstances when super high, searing heat is appropriate are few and far between. So lower that burner to a nice medium heat and watch that tofu coast to light, golden-brown and delicious.
Once your tofu is crisp and golden, pour your sauce right in. It will bubble up pretty quickly. Once it does, kill the heat and toss that tofu in all that glossy, saucy, love. Then pile it in bowls filled with rice and crunchy veggies. Top with extra sauce (because honestly it’s the best part) and sprinkle some scallions and sesame seeds to garnish.
Then grab two friends and get to grubbing, as it’s best when it’s hot. And if this has inspired you to rethink your weeknight dinner repetoire, check these out for some other fast, healthy, delicious meals.
- Vegan Chorizo Tacos
- Sheet Pan Steak Fajitas
- Easy Carrot and Ginger Soup
- Five Ingredient Zucchini Goat Cheese Pasta
Sesame Tofu Bowls
Sesame tofu bowls are the weeknight meal you’ve been waiting for. Healthy, satisfying, packed with flavor, and on the table in a quick 30!
- Prep Time: 15 Minutes
- Cook Time: 15 Minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: 3 Servings 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Cuisine: Asian
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
1 T sambal or sriracha
1 T granulated sugar
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 C water
2 tsp cornstarch
1 T canola oil
1 14 ounce block firm tofu, cut into 8 rectangular pieces
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 carrots, shredded
3 cups shredded cabbage
2 C cooked rice
Sliced scallions and sesame seeds for garnish
Prepare the tofu by laying the slices out on two layers of paper towels. Top tofu with an additional layer of paper towels and use gentle pressure to wick away any surface moisture. Remove top layer of paper towels and let the tofu sit for about ten minutes to air dry.
To make the sauce whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, sambal, sugar, sesame oil, and water until sugar is completely dissolved. Transfer 1/2 cup of sauce to a small bowl and set aside for serving. Whisk the cornstarch into the remaining sauce mixture and set aside,
Heat oil in a large, non-stick skillet set over medium heat. When oil is shimmering but not smoking, gently lay the tofu in one even layer. Season with salt and pepper and cook undisturbed for 4-5 minutes or until light, golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side until golden brown.
Add the reserved sauce-cornstarch mixture to the tofu. Bring to a boil and then remove from heat. The sauce should thicken very quickly. If it gets too tight, add a splash of water to thin it out.
To assemble fill bowls with rice, cabbage and carrots. Top with tofu and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve extra sauce on the side.
Purchase firm or extra firm tofu for this – anything softer will fall apart while cooking.
There is no need to dry your tofu out for 30 or more minutes, 10 should be fine.
Feel free to substitute honey or a sweetener of your choice for sugar
To cook rice easily, boil it like pasta for ten to twelve minutes, or until just tender. Drain it and then transfer it back to the pot. Cover and let steam for ten more minutes.
Keywords: vegetarian weeknight meal, sesame tofu bowls, tofu recipes