Whether you’re a seasoned tofu lover or looking to try this vegetarian protein out, these baked tofu veggie bowls with peanut sauce are sure to please! My family loves how they hit all the taste and texture points one could hope for—sweet, savory, smooth, and crunchy—while remaining healthy and fun.
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I first started making these bowls a few months ago and since they have entered our lives, they have quickly become one of my family’s favorite tofu-based meals. We love the combination of flavors and textures, but I think more than anything the addition of the peanut sauce has been a game-changer for one of my kids who will eat tofu when asked, but has discovered real enjoyment when it is cooked in a super flavorful sauce. So, for those who are tofu skeptics, this may be the recipe that helps to turn you around! (And, if not, the peanut sauce would also be killer on chicken, pork, or beef.)
Before I jump into how to make these delicious baked tofu veggie bowls with peanut sauce, though, there are two components to this dish that I wanted to cover in more depth. The first is to go over some important things to know about tofu and cooking with tofu (these tips will take your tofu from OK to amazing). The second is the power and benefit of quickly pickling vegetables to enliven a dish.
For some people eating tofu is a regular occurrence, but for many, tofu is still an odd or even an unappealing ingredient. Most often, people complain about two things with tofu: the texture and the bland flavor. So, I want to address both of those issues in the hopes that I can help you to have a positive experience eating this wonderful, cost-effective, plant-based protein.
Different types of tofu
The first thing to note is that there are a variety of different kinds of tofu:
- Silken which is very creamy and will almost melt into a dish (think cream cheese consistency)
- Regular is also very soft, but won’t quite melt.
- Extra-firm (the version most often included in Scramble recipes) is harder and is what you have likely most often experienced in stir fries, curries, and other common tofu dishes
- Super-firm (my family’s favorite) is the hardest version is the most similar in texture to meat (think chicken or fish) and can be used in any recipe that calls for extra-firm tofu when you want a more solid texture
Improving the texture of tofu
If you are someone who does not enjoy the softer texture of tofu, then there are a few things you can do to make it more palatable. The first is to make sure you drain and press your tofu, the second is to freeze it, and the third is to make sure you are cooking it properly to get the texture you desire.
Drain and press
For both extra-firm and super-firm tofu, recipes often call for you to drain and press the tofu. This is an essential step. Doing this helps to remove the moisture that comes with the tofu being stored in water, which improves the texture immensely and also allows for any marinade you are using to be better absorbed into the tofu, thereby improving the flavor.
So, I wanted to share what I have learned about pressing tofu in order to get the best results (assuming you don’t have a tofu press, which I do not). When starting to prepare your tofu-based meal, you want to drain and press the tofu before you do anything else so that it has as much time as possible to reduce the moisture content. To do this, wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel or paper towels that will absorb the liquid. Then, place the wrapped tofu between two plates. Finally, place something heavy on top of the plates, either a heavy cookbook or a cast iron skillet will work well here. You will want to leave the tofu for at least 5 minutes, but the longer the better.
If you have the time and forethought, a trick to improve the taste and texture of extra-firm or super-firm tofu even more is to freeze it! Freezing the tofu will allow ice crystals to form inside the tofu, which will “tear” it (don’t worry, it will still be a block), which creates a more meat-like texture and allows for seasonings such as marinades to permeate the tofu even more.
To do this, place an unopened package of tofu in the freezer (it will take 12-24 hours to freeze completely). A day before you are going to cook the tofu, remove it from the freezer and allow it to defrost on a plate on the counter for about 12 hours (then return it to the fridge to stay cold).
When you are ready to prepare the tofu, drain and press it (as described above), and then continue on with your recipe.
To make this an easy process, I have friends who always keep a block of tofu frozen. That way, they don’t need to plan out days in advance.
Marinate or season heavily
There is no getting around it, tofu is BLAND. But, the good news is that tofu will act almost like a sponge when it comes to marinades (and rubs), which is why it is important to use robust, flavorful marinades (or rubs) on your tofu. These can be store-bought or homemade, but make sure to be generous with it so that the tofu can absorb as much flavor as possible.
There are two ways that I like to cook tofu, both of which allow for maximum flavor absorption and a pleasing texture.
The first method is the one we use in these baked tofu veggie bowls with peanut sauce: baking it. Baking naturally pulls moisture out of food, so when you bake tofu it will become firmer as it cooks. In addition, if you have marinated the tofu, the flavors will concentrate as it baked.
The second method is to pan-fry it. In this case, you want to use just a small amount of oil to cook the tofu in an even layer over a medium-high heat. You want to really allow the tofu to sear, so that it gets crispy on the outside, so allow it to sit in the pan for a few minutes, until it has turned gold brown on one side, before flipping.
The Power of a Quick Pickle
The other component of this recipe that you may not be as familiar with is a quick pickle. This is when you toss finely sliced vegetables in some sort of acidity, most often a vinegar or citrus mixture of some sort, and then let them sit for a little while. Doing this will allow the vegetables to still be crisp (although a little softer than when they were chopped), while adding a great deal of brightness and flavor to the dish.
I love to use quick pickled vegetables in rice bowls like this one and also in salads for a fun pop of flavor and color.
How to Make Baked Tofu Veggie Bowls with Peanut Sauce
Preparing these bowls requires a number of steps, but is actually quite simple once you get into the flow.
To make these baked tofu veggie bowls with peanut sauce you will need the following ingredients:
- extra-firm or super-firm tofu
- sea salt or other coarse salt
- ground black pepper
- bell pepper
- jasmine rice or basmati rice
- smooth, natural peanut butter
- peanut or vegetable oil
- white miso
- fresh ginger
- fish sauce, or use soy sauce to keep it vegetarian
- arugula, or use mizuna, baby mustard, or baby kale
Press the tofu
The first step is to drain and press the tofu (as described above). You will then just let the tofu sit there while you start the other components.
Making the pickled vegetables
Next up, is starting your pickled veggies. In a small bowl, mix 6 Tablespoons of lime juice with the salt and black pepper and stir until the salt dissolves. Add the sliced bell pepper, carrot, and radishes and stir well. Set aside.
Now it’s time to turn to the heat. First, preheat the oven to 450 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then, start your rice according to package directions.
Making the marinade
While the rice is cooking, tofu is pressing, and veggies and pickling, prepare the marinade (which will also get thinned out to make a dressing to go on top of the bowls later on).
To do this, whisk together lime juice, peanut butter, miso, ginger, fish sauce (or soy sauce to keep the meal vegetarian), oil, honey, and water. Stir until smooth and season to taste with salt.
Preparing the tofu
Now you are ready to prepare and bake the tofu!
Unwrap the tofu and slice it lengthwise into ¼-inch slices, then cut each slice crosswise to form small, thin rectangles.
Lay the tofu out in a single layer on the baking sheet and top each piece of tofu with about 1 Tablespoon of the peanut sauce. It will drip down over the tofu and coat the sides as well. Place in the oven and roast until the glaze is set and has begun to caramelize (go dark) along the edges, about 18-20 minutes.
Make the dressing
While the tofu is cooking, add the remaining lime juice and 1 Tablespoon of honey to the leftover peanut sauce to make a dressing. This is when you will also thinly slice the scallions.
Building the bowls
When the tofu is done, stir the scallions into the rice, and then assemble your bowls by placing ¼ of the greens in the bottom of each bowl, topped with rice, ¼ of the chopped vegetables, slices of the tofu, and extra dressing to taste. Or put all the bowl components out on the table and let everyone build their own bowl.
Baked Tofu Veggie Bowls with Peanut Sauce
- 2 dinner plates
- 1 Whisk
- 14 oz extra firm tofu drained, pressed, and sliced (see instructions for details)
- 3/4 cup lime juice from about 6 limes
- ½ tsp sea salt or other coarse salt
- 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 bell pepper any color, stemmed and thinly sliced
- 1 carrot peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 4 radishes thinly sliced
- 1 cup jasmine rice or use basmati rice
- 1 cup smooth peanut butter use the natural variety with no added sugar
- 2 tbsp peanut oil or use vegetable oil
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger peeled and grated
- 1 tbsp fish sauce or use soy sauce to keep it vegetarian
- 3 cups arugula or use mizuna, baby mustard, or baby kale
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drain the tofu, wrap it in a clean dish towel, place it between two dinner plates, and press the top plate down with a heavy cookbook or skillet to squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
- In a small bowl, mix 6 Tablespoons of lime juice with the salt and black pepper and stir until the salt dissolves. Add the sliced bell pepper, carrot, and radishes and stir well. Set aside.
- In a small pot, prepare the rice according the package directions. When it is finished cooking, remove from the heat and let sit until ready to serve.
- In another small bowl, whisk together 4 Tablespoons of lime juice, the peanut butter, miso, ginger, fish sauce (or soy sauce), 2 Tablespoons of oil, 1 Tablespoon of honey, and ¾ cup water. Stir until smooth and season to taste with salt.
- Slice the tofu, lengthwise into ¼-inch slices, then cut each slice crosswise to form small, thin rectangles of tofu.
- Lay the tofu out in a single layer on the baking sheet and top each piece of tofu with about 1 Tablespoon of the peanut sauce. It will drip down over the tofu and coat the sides as well. Place in the oven and roast until the glaze is set and has begun to caramelize (go dark) along the edges,about 18-20 minutes.
- While the tofu is cooking, add the remaining lime juice and1 Tablespoon of honey to the leftover peanut sauce to make a dressing. And thinly slice the scallions.
- When the tofu is done, stir the scallions into the rice, and then assemble your bowls by placing ¼ of the greens in the bottom of each bowl, topped with rice, ¼ of the chopped vegetables, slices of the tofu, and extra dressing to taste. Or put all the bowl components out on the table and let everyone build their own bowl.