Illustration by Hazel Oh
I love tofu. It’s actually one of the first things I ever “cooked” as a child. I say cooked in quotations because I made a tofu salad for my mum when I was about 7 — my brother and I tried to “cook” the tofu in a pan, set fire to a piece of seaweed I was supposed to toast as garnish, got incredibly freaked out, and decided to make a beetroot tofu salad instead. Apparently, it was adorable to come home to two little children apologising because they made a salad instead of a stir fry.
Tofu has a special place in my heart, and I will always wax poetic about it. But whenever I do mention tofu, there is always that one person in the room saying, “ToFU Is YuCk”. First and foremost, if the only tofu you have had was in a “ScRaMbLed ToFu” that’s not on me, that’s on you. Save me the waa waa if you never had tofu cooked the right way but then have the nerve to talk smack about it. Sorry, I get madly heated when people try to come for tofu — tofu does not deserve the disrespect it often gets. But like I said above, you got it cooked wrong? Not on me — on you. (I’m still mad, huh.)
This recipe is a pride and joy of mine. It’s vegan, it’s quick and cheap (if you get your tofu from the Asian grocery store like I do), it’s sweet, it’s spicy, it has a delicious crunchy exterior and a soft juicy mouth feel, and you can pair it with eggplants or even baby bok choy, any soft fast cooking veggie of your choice really.
My Swicy Tofu™ has that same deliciously addictive sweet and spicy (hence, swicy) flavour palette of the infamous Korean fried chicken sauce. In fact, I use the same sauce to make Korean fried chicken at home! You can add less gochujang if you can’t handle spice and, of course, add more if you like it a little hot. Always remember: season to taste!
My way of cooking tofu with the coconut oil is important as it almost shallow fries the tofu, and because coconut oil has such a high smoke point it’s safer than most oils to shallow fry! Make sure you cook the tofu until the exterior is beautifully golden and crunchy. This takes longer than you’d expect as tofu carries so much water but the result is always to die for.
I eat this heaped on some freshly cooked rice but I think this would make an amazing vegan slider stuffer! Imagine this guy in a beautifully soft and airy bun, a bit of vegan mayo, and some lettuce. Looks like I got you covered for your next vegan cookout. You are most welcome.
For the tofu
- 1 punnet of firm tofu (700g of tofu but could be less)
- 3 tablespoons (at least) of oil (anything but olive oil. Coconut oil is great)
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoon of gochujang
- 3 tablespoons of sugar (or sweetener of your choice)
- 3 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons of sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons of finely diced ginger
- ½ tablespoon of minced garlic
- First, prep the Swicy sauce. Spoon out the sauce ingredients in a bowl and mix. Taste to see if the seasoning is right for you. If it is too spicy, add more sugar; if it needs more salt, add more soy sauce. You can always put less gochujang if you are worried about the spice. Set the sauce aside and prep veggies you want to add.
- Drain all liquid from the tofu. Slice the tofu into bite-size pieces. If you have time, sprinkle coarse salt over the sliced tofu and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or even overnight. This helps to draw moisture out from the tofu, making cooking time shorter and reducing breakage.
- Once that’s done, place a pan on high heat. Once it reaches heat, run a generous amount of oil (at least 3 tablespoons) that is enough to cover the pan and has a depth of half a cm.
- Wait till the oil is hot. You can tell when the oil is ready by dropping a small piece of tofu in the oil, and if it bubbles up, the oil is ready.
- Now gently let place the tofu in the pan. Be careful not to burn yourself!
- Keep the heat high as the liquid that the tofu will release will bring the temperature of the oil down. If the tofu does not release much water, lower the heat only slightly and keep shaking the pan to prevent burning.
- Check to see if the bottom of the tofu is golden in colour. If so, start flipping the tofu onto the other side and repeat the process. If you wanted to add veggies that take longer, now is the time! Onions are always great and if you cut some carrots thinly that is always good too.
- When both sides of the tofu are golden and slightly crispy around the edges, lower the heat to about medium and pour the sauce over the tofu.
- Swirl the sauce over the tofu so the tofu is covered in the sauce. Cook over medium heat without the lid for 5 minutes then add your choice of quick cooking vegetables and put a lid on and cook for a further 5 minutes.
Serve with rice — it could even be served as a patty substitute in a burger — and you can also sprinkle nuts and or seeds for extra crunch!