Weeknight Cooking

Silken Comfort Tofu

January 25, 2010


- Jenny

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Like many of you, I am trying to cook a little less red meat, at least on Meatless Monday. I’ve gone at it in all the ways you have –- more chicken, a few more vegetables, some dark turkey meat instead of ground beef in my meatballs -- but I’ve had to draw the line at tofu. I don’t really feel this needs a great deal of explanation, as the world is roughly divided between people who actually ponder eating vegan brownies, and, well, the rest of us.

What’s more, my husband is from Texas. And by that I don’t mean Austin. “Hey hon, would you like some tofu for dinner?” rates somewhere among queries between “What stinks in here?” and “Don’t you think our compost could use some management?”

But I was immediately drawn to this dish of Silken Comfort Tofu, which, as you can imagine, had a happy ending on my stove. First, it sounded more flavorful than many tofu dishes, by dint of the two types of onions and the addition of cilantro and basil. Its Asian influences reminded me of the places where I actually do order tofu quite often -– Korean, Chinese and Japanese restaurants. The recipe is well-written and straightforward, two essential elements for weeknight cooking.

Yes, it required a little shopping -– I didn’t have peanut oil or garlic chili sauce on hand -– but for me that just created an excuse to head to the Asian grocery store on Sawtelle in West Los Angeles, where ladies in smocks are always ladling out free soup on Sundays.

Once you’ve got your ingredients together, put on your basmati rice so you are not frantically considering a side as you get toward the end of this recipe, because it’s going to be fast. Once you’ve got some garlic, scallions and a few other goodies chopped up, you are moving through the steps quickly; think circuit training, not yoga. You are essentially layering dabs of liquid on some form of onion for short periods of time, then tossing in the tofu at the end. You simmer, you stir, you add stuff and simmer more and before you know it, 17 minutes have gone by and you are asking aloud why someone hasn’t bothered to set the table and why do you have to do everything around here and could someone pour mom a beer.

Please don’t be discouraged if you don’t have all the ingredients exactly as written here; I do not sense that Abra Bennett is here to judge you. For instance, I could only find regular peanut oil, not the Chinese version, though I trust the author that the dish would be that much better had I had some. If commercial peanut butter is all you have on hand, no worries. If you forget to chiffonade that basil -- a cutting technique that basically involves chopping stuff in strips -- and your basil in fact is from the farmer’s market and not Thai basil at all, I promise you this dish is going to be delicious anyway.

It has this whole lovely peanut smoothness, with a nice fiery kick (if you have someone at your table who does not care for heat, go easy on the chili oil) and a very satisfying heartiness that tofu often fails to deliver. I would like to try this dish with firm tofu to see how it would differ. It would not be silken, and so perhaps that would amount to recipe headline fraud, but the silken stuff falls apart very easily, making it scrambled-egg like.

But that does not take away from my enjoyment of this dish in any way. In fact, between its speediness, comfort-factor and sheer layers of deliciousness, this may be one of the best new week-night recipes I have tried in months. Even my husband liked it. Not that I offered him another choice. But he did helpfully point out that this dish was “a whole lot better than the time you tried to caramelize tofu,” and said he would like some again next week. Now that I’ve got the peanut oil, we shall have it.

Silken Comfort Tofu

by Abra Bennett

Serves 2, as a main course

  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil, Chinese if possible
  • 2 shallots, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese chili-garlic sauce
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 pound silken tofu, cubed
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup basil chiffonade, use Thai basil if possible
  • chili oil for drizzling


1. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet and saute shallots until golden. Add sliced garlic and sizzle briefly. Add chili-garlic sauce and fry until fragrant. Add fish sauce and sizzle until nearly evaporated. Stir in peanut butter, so mixture forms a rough paste. Whisk in hot water (and sugar, if using) - the consistency of the mixture should be between a thick sauce and a loose paste.

2. Gently stir in the tofu, trying to keep cubes intact as much as possible, Stir in green onions, cilantro, and basil and heat through. Drizzle with chili oil and serve with brown or basmati rice.

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MacGuffin January 9, 2023
Any suggestions for a fish sauce substitute?
I'd think that Mori-Nu's extra firm tofu would be an excellent fit for this. Although it's not technically "silken" because of its firmness, it's labeled that way and it really is very silken in texture. It holds up well (but not as well as the firm stuff sold in tubs) when cubed and fried.
bottomupfood July 28, 2011
I love Jenny, but I'm concerned that she might think Meatless Mondays are about eating less red meat and more other meats. Or I might be missing the sarcasm!
MacGuffin January 9, 2023
I haven't eaten meat of any kind (yes, that would include poultry and seafood) since 1987. That would include meat-/bone-based stocks and gelatin (unless it's encapsulating a prescribed drug). Why would the possibility that someone only wants to eliminate red meat one day/week be concerning?
JWB February 1, 2010
This is the easy-to-prepare, husband-approved tofu dish I have been looking for. While my husband gave me a foul look just after I added the "smelly" fish sauce, he went back for seconds once the dish was served. Simple, speedy and delicious. Thank you, Abra and Jenny.
Abra B. January 28, 2010
It's cool that so many people are trying this dish. I never used to appreciate silken tofu, thinking "ugh, it's in a box" but it turns out that I really love the creamy texture. And just a note about the peanut oil - Chinese peanut oil (I like the Lion and Globe brand) actually tastes and smells like peanuts, unlike "regular" peanut oil that's quite neutral) which is why I specify the Chinese stuff for this recipe.
Merrill S. January 26, 2010
Jennifer, I haven't eaten tofu regularly since college, but your piece may just change that. Your funny, charming narrative makes me want to try this recipe right away.
Jennifer A. January 26, 2010
Silken tofu really is a perfect comfort food, and this recipe was so quick and easy to prepare. I realized (too late) that I didn't have peanut butter, or peanuts, but found that tahini made a very acceptable substitute. Over jasmine rice, with steamed broccoli and a squeeze of lime, it was delicious! One small suggestion to consider is the wide range of saltiness between different brands of fish sauce (I would recommend one on the lower end of the sodium scale for this special dish)
DavidVT January 26, 2010
Great recipe. I frequently have tofu and seitan in my fridge which I add to dishes like stir fries or pad thai with or w/o proteins. Seitan seems to agree with more people than tofu.
Jestei January 26, 2010
I expected people to engage on tofu, but never did I think people would relate this meal to their own marriages/relationships. Nice surprise and why I love this community. Enjoy this dish!
shayma January 25, 2010
the part of the world that my husband and i come from, we eat very little vegetables- which is an awful thing, i know, i know :( but we have tried to change our eating habits by having more vegetables, lentils and yes- tofu! we both adore it- this recipe is definitely on my list- luckily, every two weeks i go to the Asian Supermarket and buy thai basil- your lovely recipe will be prepared very soon. best wishes, shayma
gabrielaskitchen January 25, 2010
This sounds really good. I have a boyfriend who facetiously claims to be on a "meat-only" diet when potluck sign-up sheets inquire about dietary restrictions (many of our friends are vegan and vegetarian). But I’ve found he’s very accepting of vegetarian recipes when the make-up in flavor what they lack in meat, this sounds like one of those recipes! Also two things you may want to check out: regarding vegan baking…these are the best chocolate-chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever hadof Post Punk Kitchen, and guess what... they’re vegan ! Also regarding “meatless Mondays” here’s a cool article by Michele Humes in the NYtimes.
gabrielaskitchen January 25, 2010
Links: Vegan Cookies: http://www.theppk.com/recipes/dbrecipes/index.php?RecipeID=111
Michele Humes Articel: http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/23/the-way-we-ate-the-year-harry-truman-passed-on-pumpkin-pie/

P.S. Is there a way to embed links on this site? My usual hyperlink trick isn't working!
SustainablePantry January 25, 2010
This sounds delicious! I eat lots of soy-based products, including tempeh, miso and tofu, but I never buy silken tofu, I always opt for the firm or extra firm. But this preparation has inspired me to try it! Sounds umami-yummy!
Sodium G. January 25, 2010
There is this wonderful tofu/sushi spot down the street from me that makes tofu from scratch right in front of you...I have been dying to try it at home. But in the meantime, this recipe will help curb those cravings! I love anything with chili oil and a good dose of carbs
MrsWheelbarrow January 25, 2010
In our household, it's me who eschews tofu (and manages the compost, for that matter.) This recipe sounds flavorful enough to make me happy. Thank you, Jenny, for the insights, and Abra, for the perfect instructions.
mrslarkin January 25, 2010
Sounds so good! I think my husband might actually try this tofu dish, what with his peanut butter, um, dependence. Maybe I'll make extra sauce and put it on his veggies too. Thanks Abra and Jenny.
AntoniaJames January 25, 2010
Very nice recipe. I eat tofu several times a week (at least), so I will certaingly be making this soon. I know it's going to become a favorite!!
Abra B. January 25, 2010
I'm thrilled!
Chef G. January 25, 2010
Love the writing, first you Jenny, with your easy going, funny prose, and then Abra's vivid instructions: fry until fragrant; sizzle and drizzle. Makes me want to run to the kitchen, and isn't that the point? Thank you both.