This 20-minute dish tastes just like the sesame tofu that is served in U.S. Chinese restaurants. Sesame oil and seeds add lots of sesame flavor and honey, rice vinegar and red pepper flakes make it sweet, sour and spicy.
If you enjoy spicy Asian recipes, you might also like this Asian Noodle Salad. It’s fresh, spicy and full of flavor.
My husband is a real master in the art of tofu-making so I am lucky to often find a delicious, large brick of it in the fridge.
Sometimes I make a stir-fry with it but my favorite way to prepare tofu is this sweet and sour sesame dish. It tastes just like the sesame tofu that is served in U.S. Chinese restaurants, which I always find to be one of the most delicious items on the menu.
For this recipe I like to cut the tofu into cubes and roll them in all-purpose flour before frying. The flour gives the tofu a nice and crispy shell after it’s fried.
What is sesame tofu?
Sesame tofu is a main course made with fried tofu that is served with a sweet, sour and spicy sauce. The dish gets its name from the fact that the sauce is usually made with sesame oil and sesame seeds, among other ingredients.
- Sesame seeds have a high oil content, which is what makes them so delicious, but that also causes them to go rancid after a few short months so be sure to store them in the refrigerator.
- If fresh ginger is not available, you can substitute ½ teaspoon dried ground ginger.
- I find that the level of spiciness in crushed red pepper flakes can vary from batch to batch. Because of that I recommend that you start with a little bit, then taste the sauce and add more if you like it spicier.
- Sesame oil is a cooking oil extracted from either raw or toasted sesame seeds. Sesame oil from raw seeds is almost colorless while oil made from toasted sesame seeds has a deep amber color. You want to use toasted sesame oil in this recipe because it gives this dish a nutty, strong sesame flavor.
Recipe notes and tips:
- Use a cast iron or non-stick pan to fry the tofu, otherwise the cubes will stick.
- Add the tofu cubes in a single layer. If the pan you’re using is too small for all the tofu to fit comfortably, fry the tofu in batches.
- Measure the sesame oil right before the honey and use the same tablespoon measure (without rinsing it) for both. Since the spoon measure will still be coated with oil, the honey will easily glide out of it and won’t stick.
How to make it (overview with photos):
There are only four simple steps involved in making this dish:
- Cut the tofu into cubes and roll them in flour.
- Fry the tofu cubes in vegetable oil.
- Whisk together all sauce ingredients.
- Cook the sauce.
How to serve it:
Serve the tofu with rice, drizzle the sauce over it and sprinkle chopped scallions on top for some freshness.
Commonly asked questions:
This recipe is not gluten-free but you can easily modify it to make it gluten-free with two alterations:
1. Instead of rolling the tofu in flour, roll it in corn starch and then fry it.
2. Substitute gluten-free soy sauce because regular soy sauce contains wheat.
This recipe is not vegan because the sweet and sour sauce is made with honey.
More Asian-inspired recipes:
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For the tofu:
- ½ pound firm or extra-firm tofu
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ~3 tablespoons vegetable oil for frying
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root*
- 1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed through a garlic press
- ½ tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil**
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, more if you like it spicier***
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 4 scallions, chopped
- Cut the tofu into ¾-inch cubes and dry with a paper towel. Roll the tofu cubes in the flour, making sure to coat them on all sides.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron or non-stick pan until shimmering. Fry the tofu cubes in a single layer in the hot oil until golden brown on all sides (a few minutes on each side). Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, honey, red pepper flakes and corn starch to a liquid measuring cup and stir well until fully combined.
- Pour the sauce ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a full boil, whisking continuously. Keep boiling the sauce until it becomes translucent and thickens. Take off the heat. Serve the tofu with rice, drizzle with the sauce and sprinkle chopped scallions on top.