Ready to spice up your life (or your meal plan)?! This seriously crispy tofu is topped with a kickin' harissa sauce, making it a truly flavorful dish that you can serve all year round. This recipe provides instructions to make harissa tofu in a skillet, a grill pan, or on the grill.
Harissa is such a great alternative to regular hot sauce if you like spicy food. Plus, I love that you can easily adjust the amount of heat of the sauce by adding more or less harissa paste, thereby accommodating everyone in the family.
Key ingredients and substitutions
- Extra-firm tofu is a must for an extra crispy result. Don't substitute it with silken tofu, which is too soft for this recipe (it's more appropriate for things like scrambled tofu or tofu omelet).
- Extra-virgin olive oil makes the base of the harissa mixture.
- Tomato paste adds a beautifully rich flavor that dominates the sauce. I find that the one from ©Mutti has the best and richest flavor.
- Harissa paste is the key ingredient that provides spice. Note that different brands of harissa paste can be more or less spicy, so adjust amounts according to your liking.
- Fresh garlic really brings the sauce to life. You can substitute it with garlic powder for a milder garlic flavor if you prefer.
- Spices: Oregano, thyme, and a pinch of salt add a Mediterranean vibe to the sauce.
Elo's tofu tips
- Use firm or extra-firm tofu. They have the lowest amount of moisture and will provide the crispiest results once they are cooked.
- Press the tofu for at least 15 minutes to remove moisture.
- Method #1: the tofu press. It's very simple and convenient and even lets you press the tofu in the refrigerator overnight. I'm using this affordable tofu press all the time and love it!
- Method #2: the heavy-object method. It's the most traditional method, that doesn't require any special equipment. Place the tofu that you wrapped in paper towels in a baking dish and weigh it down with heavy objects (e.g., a skillet, canned foods, heavy books).
- Method #: the microwave method. It takes less time than the other two methods and is perfect if you forgot to press your tofu ahead of time. Simply wrap the tofu block in paper towels and microwave it for 2 minutes at 30-second increments until most of the water has been removed.
- Don't marinate the tofu. I know that sounds counterintuitive but think of it this way: tofu is like a sponge that is naturally filled with water. Even after pressing, there's still some water left. So, when we marinate it in an oil-based sauce like our harissa sauce, the oil and water repel each other, forming a barrier that keeps the flavors from seeping in. That's why you can skip the marinating step and just add the sauce after cooking to save time.
- No need to add cornstarch. The trick to getting a really crispy crust is to first sear the tofu in a really hot pan (or on a really hot grill), then reduce the heat and let it cook gently to draw out as much moisture as possible.
- Season your tofu "steaks" with a little salt and pepper to make them taste less bland.
Step-by-step instructions (with pictures)
STEP 1: Press the tofu for 15-30 minutes to remove as much moisture as possible (see different methods above).
STEP 2: Make the harissa mixture while pressing the tofu. Combine the olive oil, tomato paste, harissa, minced garlic, oregano, thyme, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
STEP 3: Cut the tofu. Start by cutting it in half through the long edge. Then, cut it into 3 or 4 planks. If you're cooking the tofu in a pan, you can also cut it into bite-sized cubes.
STEP 4: Cook the tofu on medium-high heat for a nice golden brown exterior. Add it to a very hot pan with your preferred cooking oil (I like avocado oil for its high smoke point) and sear it for 2 minutes on each side.
STEP 5: Flip the tofu and cook it on medium-low heat for 5 minutes per side for an extra crispy result. Then, remove it from the pan and transfer it to a serving plate.
STEP 6: Serve with the fresh harissa sauce. For an extra fresh feeling, you can add a squeeze of lemon juice, some lemon zest, fresh thyme, and fresh basil leaves.
- Preheat the grill to 475-500°F (245-260°C).
- If needed, brush the grate with a grill brush to remove leftover bits of burnt food.
- Place the tofu over the burners at medium-high heat. Close the grill and cook the tofu for 2 minutes per side, until beautiful grill marks appear.
- Flip the tofu and move it away from the burners (e.g., on the sides or at the back of the grill) and continue grilling for 5-7 minutes per side at indirect heat until crispy.
- Remove the tofu from the grill and brush with the harissa sauce.
- Serve with fresh basil, and a lemon wedge if desired.
- Harissa tofu tastes great alongside a fresh green salad or some lemony spinach white beans.
- My favorite side is probably grilled red peppers with add a touch of sweetness that pairs beautifully with the spicy tofu.
- You can also use it as a high protein topping for grain bowls (e.g., this chimichurri bowl with pickled red onion, or this zucchini quinoa salad).
Frequently asked questions
You can substitute nothern-African harissa paste with another type of chili bean paste (not chili oil).
You can store the leftover tofu in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Note that it won't be as crispy anymore.
Add the tofu with the harissa sauce in a pan at medium-high heat. Add a splash of water and some maple syrup to make a sauce and slightly caramelize the tofu.
Don’t forget to join the Cooking With Elo newsletter. You’ll get gluten-free and vegan dinner ideas sent right to your inbox.
- 14 ounces (400 g) extra firm tofu
For the harissa sauce
For serving (optional)
- Fresh basil and oregano
- Lemon wedge + lemon zest
- Press the tofu. Use a tofu press or weigh it down with heavy objects for at least 30 minutes. Alternatively, wrap the tofu in paper towels and microwave it in 30-second increments for 2 minutes to draw out the excess moisture.
- Cut the tofu. Cut the tofu block through the long edge, then into 0.5-inch (1,3 cm) planks or into cubes if cooking the tofu in a pan.
- Make the harissa sauce. Mince the garlic with a knife or use a garlic press. Add the olive oil, tomato paste, harissa, minced garlic, oregano, thyme, and salt to a small bowl and combine. Set aside.
- To cook it in a pan: Heat a pan over medium-high heat with olive oil. Sear the tofu for 2 minutes per side. Flip the tofu again and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for another 5 minutes per side to get a really crispy crust. If using tofu cubes, cook them for 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer to a plate.
- To cook it on the grill: Preheat your grill to 475-500°F (245-260°C). Once hot, clean it with a grill brush to prevent the tofu from sticking. Place the tofu over the burners at medium-high heat. Close the grill and cook the tofu for 2 minutes per side until beautiful grill marks appear. Flip the tofu and move it away from the burners (e.g., on the sides or at the back of the grill) and continue grilling for 5 minutes per side at indirect heat until crispy. Transfer to a plate.
- Serve. Brush the harissa mixture onto the tofu planks. Serve with thyme, basil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and lemon zest if desired.
- Spice level: Different brands of harissa paste have different spice levels, so adjust amounts to your liking.