Tofu Stir Fry
I am sharing one of my very favorite kinds of recipes today! It’s a clean-out-the-fridge, even-if you-can’t- cook-you-can-cook-this, HELP-me-so-hungry, easy, healthy dinner: Tofu Stir Fry! You can use any kind of vegetables you like, the “sauce” is only two ingredients, and the entire shebang is ready in less than 30.
This easy tofu stir fry came about in one of those classic Erin moves in which I tell myself I am cooking “just for fun!” and don’t need to worry about measurements or posting the recipe.
You’ve witnessed this here before. I make a recipe. We sit down to eat it. I fall madly in love and realize that I cannot in good faith go about the rest of my mortal existence without sharing the recipe with you.
You need this tofu stir fry and you need it ASAP!
This healthy tofu stir fry is a last-minute meal you can cook with anything you have on hand. We usually make it with spinach—I have a habit of buying Costco-scale containers of with the best of salad intentions, only to have 40% of the box lingering in my fridge on the brink of extinction—but you can swap in any veggie you like.
Broccoli tofu stir fry? Pepper tofu stir fry? Any vegetable is game!
Even if you think you don’t like tofu, I hope you’ll try this recipe. The tofu is firm and flavorful. The veggies are fresh and colorful. The flavors are salty, savory, and satisfying (just like in this Egg Roll in a Bowl).
Tofu stir fry has all the makings for a fast, healthy dinner you can turn to again and again. For those with dietary considerations, this tofu stir fry is vegan naturally and (if you use gluten free tamari in place of soy sauce) it’s gluten free as well. More stir fry for all!
How to Make the Best Easy Tofu Stir Fry
I made this tofu stir fry immediately after we’d been out of town and all we had in the refrigerator was two blocks of tofu and the aforementioned container of on-the-brink spinach.
As it turns out, if you have tofu, a few veggies, a bottle of soy sauce, and a couple of garlic cloves rolling about in your pantry, you can turn it all into a dynamite dinner.
Core Ingredients to Make Tofu Stir Fry
Let’s talk about the essentials to make a healthy tofu stir fry. This recipe on the whole is very flexible. I only have a few non-negotiables, which, bossy lady that I am, I will make abundantly clear in the following bullets.
- Extra-Firm Tofu. This is the bossy part. Tofu can be confusing, because (like breakfast cereal), there are an alarming number of options that all sound eerily similar. For those yummy, crispy outsides, firm (forgive me) “meaty” insides, and a happy I didn’t realize I loved tofu! experience, look for EXTRA firm tofu.
Not soft. Not silken. Not even firm. EXTRA firm. Are you with me?
The Difference Between Different Types of Tofu
Tofu is categorized depending upon the amount of water content it contains.
- Extra-Firm Tofu has the least amount of liquid. It’s what I always recommend for stir fries, especially if it will be cubed like in this General Tso’s Tofu Stir Fry. It still has enough liquid to where you will need to squeeze some of the liquid out. For cooking tips, check out my post about Crispy Tofu.
- Firm Tofu. Straight talk: I don’t know what the point of this tofu is. Even when I’m crumbling the tofu like in these Tofu Tacos, I still prefer the extra firm, which contains a decent amount of liquid. (Tofu experts, feel free to enlighten me on the purpose of this particular variety.)
- Soft or Silken Tofu. Both of these kinds of tofu (silken is Japanese; soft is Chinese) behave the same way. They have the least amount of liquid squeezed out and are soft and custardy. Don’t try to make a stir fry with this kind of tofu. Instead, blend it into smoothies for a protein boost or, better yet, use it for a dessert like this vegan Chocolate Mousse Pie.
OK, now that we’re on the same page about what kind of tofu to use for tofu stir fry (EXTRA FIRM!), let’s discuss a few other key ingredients for the best-tasting tofu stir fry.
- Fresh Garlic and Ginger. These two are foundational for any great-tasting stir fry.
- Green Onion. Sauté half of them with the vegetables to build flavor, then sprinkle the other half on at the end to give the stir fry some zip and pretty green presentation.
- Soy Sauce and Sesame Oil. Two pantry staples that you can use to create tofu stir fry in a flash. You can add them right to the pan; you don’t even need to mix up a separate sauce! I recommend low sodium sesame oil so that the tofu stir fry doesn’t become overly salty. Sesame oil adds a rich, deep, and lightly toasted flavor to any stir fry. You can find it in the Asian or international oil of most major super markets.
A few pro tips to help you cook the best tofu stir fry ever:
- Press out as much of the tofu liquid as you can. The less liquid, the crispier the tofu will be. To do this, place a stack of paper towels on a plate. Wrap the tofu block in more paper towels, then place a second plate on top. Add several heavy items on top to weight the tofu down (canned food is perfect). Let sit 5 to 10 minutes while you prep the rest of the recipe.
- Add the soy sauce in increments as you cook to build flavor. Food should be seasoned throughout the entire cooking process. Each addition changes and deepens the flavor in a unique way that will give you better results than if you just add it all at once at the end.
- Save the sesame oil to drizzle on at the end to preserve its flavor. It’s so robust, toasty, and nutty that a few teaspoons give the illusion that this tofu stir fry recipe is much more complicated to make than it is.
Tofu Stir Fry Your Way: Flexible Ingredients and Additions
Once you’ve gathered the essentials, this tofu stir fry recipe becomes much more flexible:
- Fresh Vegetables. Whatever you have in your fridge! I used spinach, which cooks in minutes, so it makes this recipe especially fast. Broccoli tofu stir fry is another favorite of ours, but you can really swap in any vegetable you like.
Super quick-cooking vegetables like spinach you can cook right along with the tofu, because it will wilt down immediately.
For vegetables like broccoli or red peppers that need longer than a minute or two to become crisp-tender, I recommend cooking the tofu first, removing it to a plate, then stir frying the vegetables separately. Stir everything together right at the end.
- Heat (Red Pepper Flakes or Chili Paste). We like a spicy tofu stir fry, so to give it a kick, I stir in a little fresh chili paste (sambal oelek), which is available in the Asian or international food aisle of most grocery stores and online here. If you can’t find it, red pepper flakes work as well. For a milder flavor, reduce the amount or simply omit it.
- Fish Sauce. For a Thai tofu stir fry spin, replace 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce with fish sauce and squeeze fresh lime juice over the top. You can also swap the shrimp for tofu in my Healthy Shrimp Pad Thai or add tofu to this Vegetarian Pad Thai.
- Rice or Noodles. We usually serve our tofu stir fry with brown rice (I cook it in the Instant Pot right along with the rest of the meal), but if you prefer tofu stir fry noodles, these are a tasty option, and they cook more quickly too!
Recommended Tools to Make Tofu Stir Fry
- Wok. You don’t need a tofu stir fry wok to make great-tasting stir fry—a large, deep nonstick pan will do the trick—but if you plan to cook stir fry often, it’s a handy investment. I have owned this one for about 10 years (eek! I’m old), and I’m still super happy with it. This is a very similar wok, just without the lid so it’s less expensive.
- Wide, heatproof spatula. Perfect for stirring and flipping the tofu cubes.
Whether or not you plan to make this Tofu Stir Fry recipe immediately—though if I may have one more bossy moment, YOU SHOULD MAKE THIS RECIPE THIS WEEK—the next time you are at the store, toss a few blocks of extra-firm tofu into your cart. Then, on a busy night when you need a healthy dinner in a hurry, you can pull up this recipe, clean out your fridge, and have a simple, healthy meal on the table in a flash.
Tofu Stir Fry
- 2 (14-ounce) packages extra-firm tofu - do not use firm, silken or anything other than extra-firm
- 1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil*
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce - divided, plus additional to taste
- 3 large garlic cloves - minced (about 1 heaping tablespoon)
- 1 small bunch green onions - finely chopped, divided
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1–2 teaspoons fresh chili paste (sambal oelek) - or 1/4–1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (we like a bit of a kick, so I use the full 2 teaspoons chili paste)
- 10 ounces baby spinach**
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- Prepared brown rice
- Cauliflower rice
- Soba or rice noodles
- Drain the tofu. Wrap each block in a double layer of paper towels and pat dry, pressing down on the tofu lightly to squeeze out excess moisture. Cut the tofu into 3/4-inch cubes.
- In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot but not smoking, add the tofu (be careful, as the oil will splatter a little bit) and drizzle with 1 tablespoon soy sauce. Sauté, stirring every minute or so until the tofu is nicely colored on all sides and the moisture has cooked off, about 8 to 10 minutes. Don’t feel that you need to stir constantly. Sitting for a while on one side is what will allow the tofu to brown. Add the garlic, roughly two-thirds of the green onion, ginger, chili paste, and the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Add several large handfuls of spinach, stirring as you go so that it wilts and you can fit more in the pan. Once the first addition has wilted, continue to add and wilt the spinach by handfuls, until all of the spinach is added. It will seem like a ridiculous amount at first but will cook down considerably. Stir in the sesame seeds. Stir in the sesame oil. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle the reserved green onions over the top. Serve hot, with brown rice, noodles, or whatever you like, along with a few dashes of additional soy sauce and chili paste or flakes to taste.
- *I don't recommend olive oil in stir fries at this high of heat, as its lower smoke point can cause it to burn, imparting an off flavor to the whole dish
- **You can replace the spinach with any kind you prefer or have in your refrigerator. Spinach cooks ultra quickly, which is why in this recipe you can sauté it in the pan right with the tofu. For firmer vegetables, like broccoli or peppers, I recommend cooking the tofu as directed through Step 2, then removing it to a plate. Add additional oil (and garlic and ginger if you like) to the pan with your vegetables of choice. As soon as the vegetables are crisp-tender (about 5 to 8 minutes, depending upon the vegetable and how large they are sliced), add the tofu back to the skillet and proceed with the recipe as directed.
- For crazy crispy tofu, prep it through Step 3 in my guide for How to Cook Crispy Tofu. Once you've boiled it, pat dry, dice into 3/4-inch cubes, and follow this tofu stir fry recipe as directed, starting with Step 2.
- Refrigerate leftovers for up to 5 days. Reheat gently in the microwave. You can freeze this as well. The vegetables will become fairly soft and a bit mushy, but if that doesn't bother you (it certainly doesn't stop me), freeze away!
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