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open sesame

Recipe: sesame tofu

I had the opportunity to enjoy several meals with my parents this summer, because of their extended stay in Boulder. It became so routine that my parents would sometimes order Chinese takeout and supplement it with some of their own Chinese dishes. On one occasion, Mom had ordered sesame tofu. Believe it or not, I had never had it before. It was good, albeit greasy in that Chinese restaurant way. A few weeks ago, I had a sudden craving for sesame tofu and said to myself (as I always do), “I bet I could make that.”

sesame seeds, red pepper flakes, ginger, green onions, tamari, sesame oil, honey, rice vinegar, cornstarch, tofu, garlic

Don’t you just love when you find out how easy it is to make a recipe at home? And the more experience you have with cooking and baking, the more accessible recipes become. Not only does it demystify cooking, but you also understand what goes into your food and ultimately, into your body. Plus, you get to tweak it to your liking! I’m all about customization, don’t you know.

The first step is to press the extra-firm tofu. It always sounded so tedious to me, but it’s quite simple. Wrap the block of tofu (extra-firm) in paper towels and place it on something flat. Then set a heavy flat-bottomed something or other (bowl, plate, etc.) on the tofu to help press out liquid. While gravity and pressure do their things, you can prepare the sauce.

pressing the tofu

sesame oil, rice vinegar, tamari, minced garlic and ginger, honey, hot pepper flakes

adding tamari to the mix

stir the sauce together and warm it on the stove

While the sauce is on a low simmer, mince your green onions and then unwrap your tofu if it has been pressed for 20 minutes. 20 minutes is not a magic amount of time. I actually pressed the tofu for 30 minutes because I was shooting two recipes at the same time. Oh well. Pat the block of tofu with dry paper towels and dice it. I cubed mine to just under 1-inch cubes… more like 3/4-inch cubes.

mince the green onions

towel it off

large dice

Tofu gets such a bad rap, which is a shame. I love the stuff, and it’s not just because I’m frying it up and dousing it with sauce (as in this case). Tofu in soups, stews, salads, stir-fries – it’s all good in my book!

dust with cornstarch

gently toss to coat

fry to a golden brown

drain on towels

I worried that this might fry aggressively with lots of splattering because of the moisture in the tofu, but it behaved quite well under its shell of cornstarch. The frying time was about four or five minutes to reach a light golden color. Once the tofu is done frying, it’s go time. Take the sauce off the burner (remember, it was simmering the whole time – actually, I shut the heat off the moment I started frying) and pour about half of it over the tofu. Dress the tofu with the sesame seeds (the recipe calls for 1/2 cup sesame seeds, I found 1 tablespoon to be sufficient) and green onions.

pour the sauce over the golden cubes of tofu

toss to coat

add the green onions and sesame seeds and toss together

As with anything fried, it is best to serve this hot and immediately. You would think the sauce would make the tofu cubes instantly soggy, but surprisingly, it doesn’t. Just before serving, I poured a little more of the sauce over the top of the tofu and garnished with more green onions. I liked this home-cooked version better than the restaurant version. The coating on mine was thinner, more delicate. And the home-cooked version of the sauce pours more like a liquid than a thick, gloppy sauce. I consider that an improvement. It made for a terrific lunch.

sesame tofu

we enjoyed it with baby bok choy and broccoli

Sesame Tofu
[print recipe]
modified from this recipe

14 oz. extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup cornstarch
frying oil
1-2 tbsps sesame seeds
3-4 green onions, minced

1/3 cup (~4.25 oz.) honey
3 tbsps tamari soy sauce
3 tbsps fresh ginger, minced
2 tbsps sesame oil
2 tbsps rice wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 tsps red chili pepper flakes (1 tsp for medium spice, more for spicy)

Wrap the block of tofu in paper towels and set it on a flat plate or cutting board. Place a heavy plate or flat-bottomed bowl on top of the tofu to squeeze the liquid out. Let it sit for 20-30 minutes. While the tofu is being pressed, stir all of the sauce ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer the sauce on low. Unwrap the tofu block and dry it with more paper towels. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and place in a bowl. Dust the tofu with cornstarch and gently toss to coat the cubes. Heat an inch of vegetable oil in a deep pan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side to measure the temperature of the oil. When the oil reaches 350°F, fry the tofu cubes in batches (I did mine in 2 batches) until light golden in color. Remove the tofu from the oil and set on paper towels to drain. When all of the tofu is fried, place the cubes in a large bowl. Remove the sauce from the heat and pour half to two-thirds of it over the tofu. Toss to coat the tofu. Add the sesame seeds and green onions, and toss to mix with the tofu. Serve immediately with sauce on the side for dipping or pouring over the tofu. Serves 4 as part of a multi-dish meal.

55 nibbles at “open sesame”

  1. Anna says:

    I am in total admiration of your food stacking! When I make sesame tofu, I’m lucky if I can even get the food onto a plate before eating it.

  2. Mary says:

    Looks wonderful and yummy!

  3. christine says:

    I’ve used a similar recipe for sesame tofu, but I always shallow fry in a non-stick pan, because I always manage to mess up really frying things. It’s like my cooking Mt. Everest.

    The tofu still turns out well! (for your readers who might also being frying phobic, even though I sometimes lose the cornstarch coating.)

  4. Dana says:

    Perfection! What a beautiful meal Jen! I’ve never fried tofu with cornstarch – I always just dry fry it but I will definitely try this soon. I think my kids would even eat it (they like tofu). Do you ever buy the shrink-wrapped tofu? I find it is easier to get dry than the stuff packed in water.

  5. Phoo-d says:

    Like Dana, I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me to fry tofu with a starch coating- makes perfect sense! This looks terrific and very veg friendly.

  6. Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar says:

    I am going to try this as soon as possible. This looks great!

  7. Eileen says:

    I have never successfully made sesame tofu at home–we love it, and I’ve definitely tried–but I’m game to try again! MUST EAT.

  8. Amy Q says:

    Your bok choy display is art!

  9. Lisa says:

    HI Jen, this looks even better than the ones we ordered from the restaurant. I will try it when I go to Orlando next week b/c I can get what I need from there. Tufu is one of those food which is good for you but doesn’t add much calories on to your body.

  10. Andra Kisler says:

    I saw this recipe and knew what was for dinner.. immediately! And it was delicious. I went back for seconds, but my cat was helping himself right out of the bowl. Silly cat.

  11. Audrey says:

    This looks delicious! I tried your dumplings recipe and it turned out great. Love the step by step pictures as well and can’t wait to try out more of your recipes.

  12. spicytofu says:

    Wow! This does look amazing! I will give this one a try over the weekend…thank you for sharing.

  13. Val @ Bonbon Break says:

    I have officially given up on meal planning. From now on, I am just goin to plan to cook whatever you post. My family will love this recipe.

    Your food stacking skills are pretty stellar Jen. I won’t even attempt it. From the pan to the plate, that is as good as it gets here. As of Monday, we have 5 of your recipes on our “Repeater list”, I am sure this will make 6.

  14. jill says:

    Yummy!!!!!! And the greens look done to perfection!

  15. Janet Owens says:

    Plans to publish a cookbook with your
    divine photos and commentary.. Please?

  16. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom says:

    Love this!! I could eat tofu all day. . everyday. .

  17. Nicole @ Culinary Cool says:

    I just bought tofu and have been trying to think of ways to use it, other than as a meat substitute in stir fry haha. I am ABSOLUTELY making this on the weekend!!

  18. farmerpam says:

    Your presentation is so lovely, as always. I love your artistic style, so clean and crisp. I’m sure you could make anything look good. I want some of that tofu right now….

  19. Margie says:


    Excellent instructions, and awesome photo’s…


  20. tami says:

    I need this in my face. Good gravy this amazing – BOOKMARKING! xox

  21. Recipe: Sesame Tofu | Rogi says:

    […] I notice a recipe that’s almost exactly the same as the idea I was thinking about: Sesame Tofu. Share this:FacebookTwitterGoogle +1Like this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  22. Snapper says:

    Ooh! Great recipe! So, you shop at Whole Foods as well?
    Please tell me, where did you get your ceramic knives?
    Thank you!

  23. Adrienne says:

    I think this may be my first ever comment, though I’ve been reading you for quite some time and some of your recipes are in my regular rotation (your green chile rellenos are the reason I stock up on Hatch chiles every year). This tofu was astoundingly good – both my husband and I couldn’t stop remarking on it as we were eating dinner. Thanks for another great recipe, and for your lovely site.

  24. Sesame Tofu & Edamame says:

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  25. jenyu says:

    Anna – ha! They’re just squares ;)

    christine – I’ve never tried shallow frying, but might do so since it’s less mess to deal with. Thanks for the tip!

    Dana – Cornstarch does a nice job of absorbing the excess moisture. And it doesn’t surprise me that your boys like tofu – they are WONDERFUL boys :) I’ve never seen the shrink-wrapped tofu before. I’ll have to come snoop along with you when you go shopping some day! xo

    Phoo-d – Good to hear from you, sweetie! Yes, try the cornstarch. I do this with the honey walnut shrimp recipe too and it’s quite easy and leaves a nice crisp shell.

    Eileen – this was pretty simple. Good luck!

    Amy – ha!! ;)

    Lisa – I think tofu does have a good deal of calories, especially if it is fried – it’s not diet food :)

    Andra – yay!!! xo

    Audrey – thanks!

    Val – ha ha, you’re so sweet xo

    Janet – oh no, I’m not interested in writing a cookbook! ;) I just like trying recipes and sharing what I like :)

    farmerpam – xo

    tami – you crack me up, lady. xo

    Snapper – I do shop at Whole Foods, but I am anxiously awaiting the arrival of Trader Joes!!! :) My ceramic knife was a gift from my parents, but you can order them directly from Kyocera. They’re WONDERFUL, just make sure you never smack or hit the blade against something hard – they are brittle and will break (and then you will be very sad).

    Adrienne – awww, so happy you enjoyed it :)

  26. Kurt Jacobson says:

    Thanks for this great recipe. I altered it just a bit as my wife doesn’t like vinegar so I halved it. This one will have a repeat performance.
    I also want to thank you for giving me a standard to reach for my food blog, as I think yours is one of the best out there in foodie land.

  27. Anastasia says:

    Despite all of my horrible luck with trying to cook tofu in the past couple of years, i still decided to give this a shot and man am i glad i did!! I cooked this last night for the family and it was gone in a matter of minutes. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  28. Chef Veronica says:

    Hi Jen, what a wonderful way to prepare Tofu, my wife is a vegetarian and although there are loads of ways to prepare, this appeals to me. I’ll make it tonight, although she does not like vinegar I will subsitute with a mango condiment from O & Co., where you don;t taste the vinegar too much.

    It is delicious, I use it an almost everything for a nice zip. Thanks again!

  29. nags says:

    that looks so lovely! i’ve bookmarked it :)

  30. Hannah says:

    Making the tofu right now! After a night of wine, you’re body wants something fried. And being a vegan makes it difficult to quick get something in the chips shop! But I managed to maintain myself of eating crap so I can eat fried tofu! Thank you!

  31. Raphaelle says:

    This was wonderful! I’m a sucker for tofu and for sesame and it exceeded my expectations.

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  33. jenyu says:

    Kurt – thank you, you’re very sweet.

    Anastasia – so great to hear!!

    Hannah – :)

    Raphaelle – yay! xo

  34. bekah says:

    This looks amazing! It is on our menu for this week. My children love tofu and we eat it at least once a week. The pressing of the tofu was always something I dreaded. I used the plates and towels and canned goods method and always ended up with a huge mess.

    I finally bought a tofu press. I was skeptical and am very opposed to single-purpose kitchen items, but I am glad I have this every week! I only wish it were bigger since I usually cook two blocks of tofu at a time.

  35. A_Boleyn says:

    Both the fried tofu and the steamed bok choy look beautiful. I used half of the firm tofu block I bought for mapo tofu and, other than putting the rest of the tofu into miso soup, my imagination was a bit stifled. This would be great except I need to pick up some green onions.

  36. Sesame Tofu | Dinner Intervention says:

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  37. Louise says:


    Is Tamari soy sauce a brand of soy sauce or a special kind of soy sauce?



  38. jenyu says:

    Louise – I believe it is a Japanese version of soy sauce which also happens to be gluten-free. You should be able to find it in most stores with an international section, or any Asian grocery store.

  39. Sesame Tofu | Chek's Carinderia says:

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  40. Lindsey says:

    I am definitely making this today! I have everything but the cornstarch; but the sauce looks so toothsome I’ll bet it turns out just as good. Love that you live in Boulder! We are a 10 min. walk away from the Whole Foods on Pearl, but I, like you, am sooo excited for Trader Joe’s to get here — though in the meantime, sometimes Vitamin Cottage has some good sales on organic tofu and good deals on organic veggies. :)

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  42. Buskers and Sesame Tofu | Cpeezers at Home says:

    […] to figure out how to make it.  I got really lucky and found a great recipe on my first try.  This Sesame Tofu Recipe was so good.  I didn’t get the tofu quite right, but that will just take a little practice. […]

  43. Georgie says:

    I’ve been vegetarian for a few years and I’m not a huge fan of tofu as I’m quite picky about textures and I can’t stand soggy food. It’s fair to say you’ve just changed my eating habits in a big way!
    I haven’t cooked the whole recipe yet as I’m waiting for my girlfriend to get home but I just did a little test fry of the tofu and it was amazing!! I couldn’t wait any longer to leave you a comment and I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to fry tofu in cornflour.
    I can’t wait to try this method with different combinations!!

  44. Menu Plan: December 15-21 | Unpunctuated Life says:

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    […] to figure out how to make it.  I got really lucky and found a great recipe on my first try.  This Sesame Tofu Recipe was so good.  I didn’t get the tofu quite right, but that will just take a little practice. […]

  46. Anita says:

    I’ve had this pinned for the longest time and finally made it. This was SO GOOD! I can’t wait to make this again.

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  48. E. says:

    I have made this several times now, this is a delicious recipe, thank you!

  49. Sesame Tofu Recipe with Hot & Sweet Sauce - Step by Step - Edible Garden says:

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  50. Summer says:

    I just made this for dinner and it was SO delicious. I put everything on a pile of jasmine rice my husband and I ate every bite. Thank you for this recipe I can’t wait to make it again!

  51. Michelle says:

    My wife and I love this recipe and it is in our regular rotation. Thanks for sharing!

  52. Marc says:

    I love this recipe. It’s quick, easy and very yummy.

  53. Bri says:

    Thank you for this recipe! It is my ultimate, favorite tofu recipe of all time and the one I recommend to people looking to appreciate tofu. I am very selective of the recipes that I keep in rotation and this is definitely one of them.

  54. jenyu says:

    Bri – Yay!! Glad to hear it. I love this one, too :)

  55. Auver says:

    Thank you for this recipe!! So easy to prepare and most delicious and crispy tofu I’ve ever had!

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