This soy sauce marinated tofu is an absolute keeper! It's a real flavor explosion in your mouth – sweet, salty, zingy, and spicy, all at the same time. Serve it over plain white rice with a side of veggies and you have an amazing meal that'll definitely make you do a happy dance. Trust me, it's mind-blowingly awesome!
This tofu recipe is inspired by the Thai Nam Tok beef salad. I knew I had to make a vegan version of this meal at some point and this is my take on it – so think of it as Nam Tok tofu.
I love tofu and have made a bunch of tofu recipes (e.g., this harissa tofu, miso tofu, and chimichurri tofu) but this soy sauce marinated tofu must be my favorite one because it's so different from the classic recipes we all know. Plus, it's super simple to make in a regular skillet or a grill pan!
Why you'll love this recipe
- Short prep time: All you need to do is cut the tofu and make the marinade. Once that's done, you leave it alone for several hours or even overnight for best results.
- Tons of flavor: The marinade is loaded with umami flavor and makes bland tofu taste A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.
- Fantastic vegan main dish: The tofu easily replaces meat on a traditionally composed plate with grains and veggies.
Key ingredients and substitutions
- Firm or extra-firm tofu: Soaks up the marinade really well and still provides crispy results once it's cooked. Don't use silken tofu.
- Dark soy sauce: It's the base of the marinade, which really seasons the tofu from the inside. Make sure it's gluten-free if needed or use tamari. Don't use sweet or low-sodium soy sauce. I have not tried this recipe with coconut aminos but I'm quite sure it would be a good substitute, too.
- Lime juice: Provides the Thai flavor we all love in combination with soy sauce and herbs. Do not substitute it with lemon juice, it has to be lime juice.
- Cane sugar: Balances out the acidity of the lime juice. You can substitute it with white sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or another liquid sweetener (e.g., agave syrup).
- Green onion and shallot: Make the sauce more aromatic without being too pungent. Only use the green part of the onion and save the white part for stir-fries.
- Fresh mint and fresh cilantro: Add a ton of freshness to the sauce. I don't recommend using other herbs.
- Red pepper flakes: For some gentle heat. Use Thai chili flakes if you can get your hands on them.
- Press the tofu to remove excess liquid. This is what will make your tofu really crispy. I definitely recommend investing in a tofu press if you cook tofu regularly.
- Make a double batch of marinade and sauce, if you like it saucy (just like me). Trust me this one is seriously addictive.
- Don't add cornstarch. The trick to obtaining a crispy crust is to first sear the tofu in a really hot pan, then reduce the heat and let it cook gently to draw out as much moisture as possible and form a crispy crust.
STEP 1: Press the tofu. I really like this affordable tofu press which is very convenient and easy to use. Alternatively, you can wrap the tofu in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and weigh it down with heavy objects to remove excess water.
STEP 2: Cut the tofu into planks. Start by cutting the block of tofu lengthwise in half through the long edge. Then, cut it into small planks.
STEP 4: Marinate the tofu. Combine all the marinade ingredients (soy sauce, water, lime juice, and sugar) in a large rectangular dish. Make sure the dish fits all the tofu planks in a single layer so they marinate evenly.
STEP 5: Cook the tofu. Place the tofu pieces in a hot pan or skillet that you oiled with your preferred cooking oil (I used olive oil). Cook it for 2-3 minutes on each side over medium-high heat. For beautiful grill marks, use a grill pan, such as this cast-iron grill pan. A frying pan or non-stick skillet works, too.
STEP 5: Flip the tofu slabs again. Cook them for 5 minutes on each side over medium heat. You want them to turn golden brown and form a nice crust.
STEP 6: Chop the aromatics. Finely mince the shallot and green onion. Chop the herbs. You can do so with a knife on a cutting board or use a food chopper.
STEP 7: Make the sauce. Combine the leftover marinade with the chopped mint, cilantro, scallion, shallot, and red pepper flakes.
STEP 8: Serve. Drown the crispy tofu with the sauce and serve over rice.
Bake: Place the soy sauce-marinated tofu planks on a baking sheet that you lined with parchment paper. Bake it in a preheated oven at 400°F (200°C) for 25-30 minutes or until crispy. You can flip them at half-time for best results. Serve the baked tofu with the mint and cilantro sauce.
Air-fry: Add the marinated tofu planks or tofu cubes to the basket of your air fryer. Check this air fryer tofu post for detailed cooking instructions. Serve the air-fried tofu with the sauce.
You can store leftover tofu and sauce in an airtight container for 3 days in the refrigerator. Note that it will lose its crispiness but tastes great cold in salads.
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Soy Sauce Marinated Tofu
- 14 ounces (400 g) firm tofu
- ¼ cup (60 ml) dark soy sauce gluten-free if needed or use tamari
- ¼ cup (60 ml) water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice NOT lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1-2 tablespoon olive oil or preferred cooking oil
For the sauce
- 1 small shallot
- 1 green onion
- 4-6 sprigs of fresh mint
- 4-6 sprigs of fresh cilantro
- ½-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or use Thai chili flakes
- Prep the tofu. Start by pressing the tofu in a tofu press or weigh it down with heavy objects for 15-30 minutes. Pat it dry. Slice it lengthwise in half through the long edge and into 6 small tofu planks (see video or step-by-step pictures).
- Marinade the tofu. Whisk the soy sauce, water, lime juice, and sugar in a rectangular baking dish. Arrange the tofu planks in a single layer and flip them a few times until covered in marinade. Place in the refrigerator to rest for a minimum of 30 minutes or preferably overnight.
- Cook the tofu. Heat a skillet or grill pan with a little oil. Once it's very hot, add the tofu planks and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side over medium-high heat. Save the marinade. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook the tofu for another 5-7 minutes per side until crispy.
- Make the sauce. Mince the shallot and the green part of the green onion very thinly. Wash the mint and cilantro and remove the thick stems. Chop them very finely. Combine everything with the rest of the marinade and red pepper flakes.
- Serve. Pour the sauce over the tofu and serve right away.
- Serving size: You can use 14 ounces (400 g) of tofu for 2 if serving it as a main course. If it's part of a larger meal, 14 ounces can be sufficient for 4 people.
- Don't use sweet or low-sodium soy sauce.
- Make a double batch of marinade and sauce, if you like it saucy.
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