Crank up the heat in your dinner tonight with this recipe for Chili Garlic Tofu! It’s perfect for spice-lovers and it’s so easy that you can have it on the table in just 15 minutes.
Why I Love This Recipe
Do you like some heat in your food? If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I do! I love anything and everything hot. My Buffalo Quinoa Balls and Buffalo Cauliflower Mac & Cheese are just a few of the spicy recipes I’ve shared.
Most of the time I add a small amount of heat to my recipes because I know everyone is not as hot-crazed as I am. Today, however, I have a no-nonsense, lets-get-this-spicy-party-started meal for all you heat freaks like me.
My Tofu in Chili Garlic Sauce is just a little slice of hellfire – in the best possible way, of course. For this recipe, tofu gets pan fried until golden and crispy, then tossed in a peppery sauce that’s enough to make your face sweat.
That said, if you’re not as much of a heat lover as I am, you can absolutely cut down on the spice. This is your dinner after all!
You can also customize this meal by adding some extra veggies like bok choi or broccoli to the mix. You can also omit the tofu entirely if it isn’t your favorite and use the sauce on beans or veggies.
But perhaps the best part of this Chili Garlic Tofu? It is lightening fast, clocking just 15 minutes of cook time. For all of you in search of a feisty weeknight dinner, you’ve found a clear winner.
Ingredients & Possible Substitutions
If a long list of ingredients is a turn off, you’re in luck. This yummy tofu in chili garlic sauce requires just 7 ingredients. Here’s everything you need:
A few notes about the ingredients to consider:
- Extra Firm Tofu – while I tend to reach for extra firm tofu for any kind of pan frying, you can certainly swap in firm tofu. Just be sure to press it for 30 mins beforehand to remove any excess moisture.
- Chili Garlic Sauce – chili garlic sauce can be swapped for sambal oelek or sriracha depending on what you have on hand. Read on in the next section to learn about how they are different.
- Tamari/Soy Sauce – tamari, a wheat-free soy sauce, gives this dish a distinct umami and salty flavor. If you are not avoiding gluten, you can opt to reach for soy sauce. If soy is off the table, coconut aminos will also do the trick.
- Maple Syrup – maple syrup is my sweetener of choice, but you can easily swap in agave, date syrup or brown sugar instead.
- Rice Wine Vinegar – rice wine vinegar is a lovely, light, almost sweet vinegar that I definitely recommend you keep in stock. If you don’t have it on hand, you can sub in apple cider vinegar or even white vinegar, but you may want to add a touch more maple to balance the flavors.
- Cornstarch/Arrowroot – in order to create a sauce that is viscous enough to stick to your tofu, you will need to add a thickening agent. I usually use cornstarch (which you will need to dissolve into a slurry before adding), but you can sub in arrowroot if you are avoiding corn.
What’s the Difference Between Chili Garlic Sauce and Sambal Oelek?
I used chili garlic sauce in this Chili Garlic Tofu, but you could also use Sambal Oelek for the heat. The chili garlic sauce I used is a store-bought sauce made by Huy Fong. They have 3 different kinds of sauces:
Sambal is a sauce originating in Southeast Asia and made of hot red chili peppers with some salt and vinegar. It’s one of my Vegan Kitchen Staples.
Chili garlic paste is similar to sambal oelek, with the main difference being that chili garlic paste also has – as the name implies – garlic. It’s a chunkier, spicier version of sriracha, with less sweetness and a bit more heat.
If you opt to use Sambal Oelek, I recommend that you add either 3-4 cloves of minced garlic, or up to a teaspoon of garlic powder.
Sriracha will be a bit thinner and sweeter, so you may need to add a touch more cornstarch, a little less sweetener, and about a teaspoon more vinegar.
Is Tofu in Chili Garlic Sauce Healthy?
In a word, yes. Tofu is an excellent source of (complete!) protein with a pretty low calorie count. A serving of tofu also has about 10% of your daily calcium needs! If you want to see me nerd out about tofu being amazing, check out my post on Tofu Nutrition.
The fact that this Chili Garlic Tofu is spicy also has health benefits. Capsaicin (the component of chilis that make us taste “hot”) has been associated with positive health outcomes.
In one study, capsaicin was shown to slow the growth of cancer cells. Another study indicates that eating spicy foods 6 or more times a week resulted in a lower mortality rate.
And before you get on my case about using oil to pan fry the tofu, remember that we are using heart-healthy olive oil! This is one fat that we want in our diet. For more info on healthy fats, check out this post where I discuss all the different kinds of fat.
How to Make Tofu with Chili Garlic Sauce
Step 1 – Prepare Tofu
Cut the pressed tofu into squares or rectangles. I cut it in half through the middle first, keeping the same shape but making it thinner, then I cut them into triangles.
Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan and fry the tofu on medium heat about 5 minutes. Flip tofu and cook for another 5 minutes until both sides are browned.
Once tofu is cooked transfer to a plate. Keep the skillet over heat to finish the dish.
Step 2 – Make Chili Garlic Sauce
While tofu is cooking, combine all sauce ingredients in a bowl, whisk, and set aside.
After the tofu is done cooking, add the sauce to the pan and heat on medium until bubbling.
Add fried tofu back into the pan with sauce and cook for 1 minute. Serve and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
If you are hesitant about buying an ingredient for just one recipe, know that both chili garlic sauce and sambal oelek have a TON of uses if you appreciate the heat. Try adding it to:
Basically all of the recipes on this site are intended for you to adapt to your own needs. If the sauce is too spicy, dial back on the chili garlic/sambal oelek sauce by only adding one tablespoon. The sauce will still be delicious, just less spicy!
I love this spicy sauce and want to put it on everything. To that end, this is a great dish for serving with a heaping pile of steamed veggies like broccoli, bok choy or sugar snap peas. I also love serving it with some brown rice.
If you like a bit of garnish, I recommend freshly sliced green onions (both the white and green parts!), toasted sesame seeds or some freshly chopped cilantro.
If I’m being honest, pan-fried tofu is much tastier when it’s eaten straightaway. That said, this recipe only takes 15 minutes to make, so it’s perfect for even the most hectic of weeknights!
Any leftovers can absolutely be refrigerated for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Want more spicy recipes? Check out some of my other favorite ways to bring on the heat:
- Buffalo Soy Curl Salad – a refreshing salad goes well with the buffalo sauce. If you’re not into salads, use these soy curls in wraps or eat them by themselves – they’re so good!
- Spicy Sesame Noodles – quick and tasty for an easy meal
- Buffalo Chick’n Rice Skillet – perfect for anytime you want some spicy comfort food
- Thai Curry Mac and Cheese – flavor-packed and creamy
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If you make this recipe and LOVE IT, please give it 5 stars ★★★★★!
Tofu in Chili Garlic Sauce
- 14 oz extra firm tofu in water (drained, rinsed, and pressed)
- 1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
- Cut the pressed tofu into squares or rectangles. I cut it in half through the middle first keeping the same shape but making it thinner, then I cut them into triangles.
- Heat olive oil in a non-stick pan and fry the tofu on medium heat about 5 minutes. Flip tofu and cook for another 5 minutes until both sides are browned.
- While tofu is cooking, combine all sauce ingredients in a bowl, whisk, and set aside.
- Once tofu is cooked transfer to a plate.
- Add the sauce to the pan and heat on medium until bubbling.
- Add tofu back into the pan with sauce and cook for 1 minute.
- Serve and enjoy!
Mary Ellen Valverde MS, CNS, LDN is a Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Nutrition Specialist who empowers vegans to feel confident creating sustainable habits that align with their values and health goals. She shares easy plant-powered food to nourish your body + satisfy your tastebuds. Mary Ellen’s recipes and nutrition info have been featured on Yahoo News, Parade, VegNews, LIVESTRONG, Dr. Axe, Greatist, LIVEKINDLY, Brit+Co, Well+Good, and more. She lives in NJ with her husband & two sweet shih tzus, Firenze & Sophie.