This Sesame Garlic Tofu is a delicious and easy-to-make vegetarian recipe that is perfect for any night of the week. Made with crispy oven-baked tofu tossed in a sweet and savory sesame garlic sauce, this flavorful dish is a great source of plant-based protein. Serve it with noodles, rice, or steamed vegetables for a healthy and satisfying weeknight dinner. Vegan-friendly.
Looking for a vegetarian dish so flavorful and delicious that even your meat-loving friends will be raving about it?
Well, this sesame garlic tofu recipe may just be exactly what you need!
In this recipe, seasoned tofu is baked to crispy perfection, then tossed with a sweet and savory glaze made from soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and garlic. Mix it all with some sesame seeds and serve it over noodles, rice, and vegetables for the ultimate vegan dinner.
>> Make it a meal. Serve this sesame tofu recipe over these Teriyaki Udon Noodles with a side of steamed broccoli.
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What Is Tofu?
Tofu is a plant-based source of protein made from pressed soybean curds.
Popular in Japanese, Chinese, and Southeast Asian cuisine, tofu comes in a range of different firmnesses. From silken tofu to extra firm tofu, each type is best suited for specific dishes. While tofu on its own is not very flavorful, it is versatile because it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce or seasoning you cook it with.
When cooking with extra firm tofu, such as in this recipe, you need to press it before you use it. Tofu is packed in water so that it stays fresh and does not dry out. But, this water prevents tofu from crisping up nicely.
To remove the excess water, either use a tofu press or place the tofu between clean towels and stack a few heavy books on top.
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Flavorful- You won't be able to get enough of the sticky, sweet, and savory sesame garlic glaze.
- Vegan- This recipe is vegetarian and vegan-friendly. Perfect for those following a plant-based diet or those who do Meatless Mondays.
- Good Source of Protein- Each serving contains 15 grams of plant-based protein.
- Versatile- Pair this garlic sesame tofu with rice, noodles, or steamed vegetables for a delicious and healthy dinner.
- Make-Ahead Friendly- The sesame garlic sauce can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
Here are some notes on the key ingredients. For the full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Extra Firm Tofu- Firm or extra firm tofu is best for recipes where you want the tofu to be crispy and hold its shape. I prefer crumbling my tofu, but you can also cut it into cubes. Just be sure to drain and press it for at least 30 minutes before cooking.
- Soy Sauce- The base of the sesame garlic sauce. Soy sauce adds a salty, umami flavor to this dish. I prefer to use low-sodium soy sauce.
- Sesame Oil- Nutty and earthy in flavor, toasted sesame oil is used to give the sauce its sesame flavor.
- Apple Cider Vinegar- A splash of vinegar balances out the salty and sweet flavors of the sauce with a little acidity.
- Brown Sugar- Provides a sweet, caramelized flavor to the sauce and makes it slightly sticky.
- Garlic- Freshly grated garlic is the garlic part of the sesame garlic sauce. A little garlic powder is used to season the tofu as well.
- Ginger- A bit of ginger powder brings a little warmth to the sauce.
- Cornstarch- Used to thicken the sesame garlic sauce. It's also used in the tofu batter to make the tofu super crispy.
- Sesame Seeds- These little seeds are nutty in flavor, but their flavor is mild compared to the rest of the sauce. I like to use them mostly for appearance. So, feel free to leave them out if you don't have them on hand.
Step by Step Instructions
Here is how to make sesame garlic tofu.
Make the Baked Tofu
Step 1: Press and crumble tofu. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the tofu, cut it in half lengthwise, and press for approximately 30 minutes. Crumble the tofu into bite-sized pieces and add to a large mixing bowl.
Step 2: Make tofu batter. While the tofu is being pressed, prepare the tofu batter. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, and garlic powder to a small mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to form a thin batter.
Step 3: Bake the tofu. Pour the cornstarch batter over the crumbled tofu and mix until the tofu is well-coated. Spread the tofu out evenly on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 25-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The amount of time it takes depends on how much water was removed from the tofu, how large the pieces are, and how crispy you like it.
Make the Sesame Garlic Sauce
Step 4: Combine the sauce ingredients. While the tofu is baking, prepare the sesame garlic sauce. Add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, grated garlic, and ground ginger to a small saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves completely and bring to a gentle simmer.
Step 5: Thicken the sauce. Whisk the cornstarch together with ½ tablespoon of water in a small mixing bowl to form a cornstarch slurry. Slowly pour the cornstarch slurry into the sesame garlic sauce while whisking the sauce continuously. Simmer the sauce until thickened, approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame seeds.
Step 6: Mix the baked tofu with the sauce. Once the tofu is done baking, add it to the saucepan with the sesame garlic sauce. Stir together until all of the tofu is well-coated. Garnish with additional sesame seeds and chopped scallions, if desired.
Tips for Success
- Don't skip pressing the tofu. One of the key steps in this recipe is pressing the tofu for at least 30 minutes. This allows most of the excess water to be removed, which is essential for achieving deliciously crispy oven-fried sesame tofu.
- Use heavy household items as a makeshift tofu press. Don't have a tofu press? No worries! I don't either. I typically use heavy books or cast iron cookware to press my tofu. Simply place the tofu between clean kitchen towels or paper towels and stack whatever you have on top.
- Crumble the tofu. I prefer to break my tofu up by hand into irregular, bite-sized pieces. It gives the tofu more texture and allows it to get super crispy in the oven. The pieces should be about ½ to 1-inch in length.
- Whisk continuously when adding cornstarch slurry. To prevent ending up with a lumpy sauce, slowly pour in the cornstarch slurry while whisking continuously.
- Make the sauce ahead. The sesame garlic sauce can be made up to a week ahead. Then, just rewarm it in a saucepan and mix it with the baked tofu.
Substitutions and Variation
Here are a few ways you can try customizing this sesame garlic tofu recipe to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Extra Firm Tofu- If you can't find extra firm tofu, firm tofu can also be used. You can also pair this sauce with just about any protein if you or your family members are not fans of tofu.
- Soy Sauce- Substitute soy sauce for tamari if you need a gluten-free version of this recipe. Liquid aminos or coconut aminos can also be used.
- Sesame Oil- Sesame oil is truly unique in flavor so there is no real substitute. However, you can swap it for canola oil or olive oil in a pinch, but the recipe will not have the exact same flavor.
- Apple Cider Vinegar- Rice wine vinegar, white vinegar, or even balsamic vinegar can be swapped for apple cider vinegar in this recipe.
- Brown Sugar- Replace the brown sugar with granulated sugar, maple syrup, or honey in a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Garlic- Swap the freshly grated garlic in the sauce for ½ teaspoon of garlic powder.
- Ginger- Use one tablespoon of freshly grated ginger in place of ground ginger.
- Cornstarch- Use all-purpose flour in place of the cornstarch, if necessary. Alternative starches, such as arrowroot powder, potato starch, or tapioca starch, can also be turned into a slurry and used to thicken the sauce.
- Sesame Seeds- If you don't have sesame seeds in your pantry, simply leave them out.
- Gluten-Free- Swap the soy sauce for tamari, liquid aminos, or coconut aminos to make gluten-free sesame garlic tofu.
- Spicy- Add a tablespoon of sriracha, sambal oelek, or chili garlic sauce to the sesame garlic sauce to give it some kick.
- Reduced Sugar- Use only one tablespoon of brown sugar for a reduced-sugar version of this recipe.
What to Serve With Sesame Garlic Tofu
- Noodles: Ramen Noodles, Soba Noodles, Lo Mein Noodles, Rice Noodles, or Udon Noodles (Try these Teriyaki Udon Noodles)
- Rice: Sticky Rice, Sushi Rice, White Rice, or Brown Rice
- Vegetables: Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, Pea Pods, Green Beans, Mushrooms, Bell Peppers, Eggplant, Edamame, Water Chestnuts, and Bean Sprouts
- Salad: Soba Noodle Salad, Cabbage Slaw, Seaweed Salad, or Edamame Salad
Storage and Reheating
How to Store
- Refrigerator- Store leftovers in an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.
- Freezer- Store cooked tofu in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Quick Tip: Freeze your tofu! Freezing raw tofu changes the texture from crumbly to spongy, which means it absorbs sauces more easily and has a pleasant mouthfeel when cooked.
How to Reheat
- Stovetop- Coat a non-stick frying pan or wok with a thin layer of cooking oil and set it over medium heat. Add the tofu to the pan and reheat, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes or until warmed through. If the sauce starts drying out, add a splash of water.
- Oven- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the leftover tofu evenly on the baking sheet and reheat for 5-10 minutes. If the sauce seems dry, stir a bit of water into the tofu before reheating.
- Microwave- Place the leftover tofu on a microwave-safe dish and sprinkle it with a little water. Cover the dish with a lid or an additional plate. Microwave on HIGH in 30-second intervals until fully warmed through.
While I wouldn't recommend baking the tofu ahead of time, the sesame garlic sauce can certainly be prepared in advance.
Prepare the sauce according to the recipe, then store it in an airtight container for up to one week before you need it. This is helpful when you need to throw together a quick dinner on a busy weeknight.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Tofu is a nutritionally complete, plant-based protein that is low in carbohydrates. It is also rich in calcium, manganese, iron, and copper. Finally, tofu contains isoflavones, which are compounds that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory benefits.
Many sauces pair well with tofu, including the sesame garlic sauce in this recipe. Other sauces that go well with tofu include teriyaki sauce, sticky orange sauce, peanut sauce, hoisin sauce, balsamic glaze, BBQ sauce, or honey mustard sauce.
Tofu that hasn't been drained properly won't crisp up as nicely and will take longer to cook than drained tofu. Additionally, water-logged tofu will not absorb flavor as well as pressed tofu.
Yes, you can use a non-stick skillet or wok to cook the tofu on the stovetop. To make pan-fried sesame garlic tofu, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Then, cook the battered tofu until crispy and golden brown.
Yes and no. I don't recommend preparing the baked tofu ahead of time if you want it to be as crispy as possible. However, the sesame garlic sauce can be prepared up to a week ahead.
More Asian-Inspired Recipes
Sesame Garlic Tofu
- Tofu press optional
For the Baked Tofu
- 1 16-ounce block extra firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
For the Sesame Garlic Sauce
- ¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar packed
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 cloves garlic grated
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch mixed with ½ tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Make the Baked Tofu
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the tofu, cut it in half lengthwise, and press for approximately 30 minutes. Crumble the tofu into bite-sized pieces and add to a large mixing bowl.1 16-ounce block extra firm tofu
- While the tofu is being pressed, prepare the tofu batter. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil, cornstarch, and garlic powder to a small mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to form a thin batter.2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Pour the cornstarch batter over the crumbled tofu and mix until the tofu is well-coated. Spread the tofu out evenly on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 25-35 minutes, stirring halfway through. The amount of time it takes depends on how much water was removed from the tofu, how large the pieces are, and how crispy you like it.
Make the Sesame Garlic Sauce
- While the tofu is baking, prepare the sesame garlic sauce. Add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, grated garlic, and ground ginger to a small saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. Whisk until the sugar dissolves completely and bring to a gentle simmer.¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce, ¼ cup water, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, ½ tablespoon sesame oil, 2 cloves garlic, ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Whisk the cornstarch together with ½ tablespoon of water in a small mixing bowl to form a cornstarch slurry. Slowly pour the cornstarch slurry into the sesame garlic sauce while whisking the sauce continuously. Simmer the sauce until thickened, approximately 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame seeds.½ tablespoon cornstarch, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- Once the tofu is done baking, add it to the saucepan with the sesame garlic sauce. Stir together until all of the tofu is well-coated. Garnish with additional sesame seeds and chopped scallions, if desired.
- Quick Tip: Use heavy household items, such as textbooks or cast iron cookware, to create a makeshift tofu press.
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Make Ahead: Prepare the sesame garlic sauce up to one week ahead of time.