Vegan Tofu Adobo
Vegan tofu adobo is a Filipino dish, made by cooking cubes of crispy tofu in a savoury, tangy and sweet sauce. It takes less than 30 minutes to make from simple ingredients, and is delicious served alongside warm rice.
What is tofu adobo?
When cooking food from different cultures, we often think of the obvious options we find in takeaways such as Indian, Chinese or Italian. It’s always interesting to experiment with cooking from cuisines outside this scope, such as this amazing Filipino dish!
Adobo is regarded by many to be the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. It is one of the most popular dishes in the country.
The Philippines is an island country in Southeast Asia, about 500 miles off the coast of Vietnam. It consists of around 7000 islands. Only about 2000 of these are inhabited.
Due to the large amount of islands, Filipino food is very varied. It is considered to have similarities to Malaysian and Indonesian cuisine, with some influence from China, Spain and America.
Typically adobo is made by cooking chicken or pork in a rich sauce with soy sauce, peppercorns, garlic and vinegar. Adobo is thought to have originally been invented as a way of preserving food, as this sauce is very briny.
Is adobo sauce vegan?
The name adobo actually means ‘marinade’ in Spanish, so you can add in any protein or veggie you like, such as with mushrooms, eggplant, bamboo shoots, or potato. Root veggies are also sometimes added to tofu adobo to make this dish more wholesome and flavoursome.
We’re lucky, as the sauce itself is accidentally vegan, meaning we don’t have to mess with perfection all too much! I’ve made this dish using tofu, also called ‘tokwa’ in Phillipino. This dish is also known as ‘adobong tokwa’ or ‘adobong tofu’. The tofu is cubed and pan fried until nice and crispy before being stirred through the sticky and rich sauce.
We often use tofu as it’s an amazing plant based protein which we always have to hand. It soaks up so much flavour, and works well in many different cuisines too.
The adobo sauce is a delicious combination of savoury, tangy and sweet and is really rich. It shouldn’t be spicy apart from a little kick from the black peppercorns. You can get a more chinese style tofu adobo which is much sweeter. My version is more savory, with just a little sugar to taste.
I’m not going to say that my version of this dish is perfectly accurate, as it’s made to my tastes, and of course is also vegan. I’ve made a few changes to the traditional ingredients and method, which I’ve outlined a little lower.
Why I love crispy tofu adobo
- It’s perfect for a weeknight as it takes less than 30 minutes to cook.
- This is a super easy adobong tofu recipe, requiring only a few simple ingredients which you likely already have.
- I’ve kept the amount of sugar down and used low sodium soy sauce to keep this recipe as healthy as it can be.
- It’s so full of delicious flavour, with a winning combination of salty, sweet, and sour.
- It’s full of plant-based protein from tofu.
What ingredients are needed for vegan adobo?
Tofu– You should use extra or super firm tofu, which I’ve gone into a little more detail on in the next section.
Onion and garlic– Start off the recipe by frying brown onion and garlic in the pan. I really love this dish because it uses plenty of garlic, and when lightly fried it gives off a lovely aromatic flavour.
Soy sauce– It’s important that you use light soy sauce in this adobo tofu recipe, as dark soy sauce will be too heavy. To keep it on the healthier side, I’ve opted for a low sodium option.
Vinegar– Traditionally cane sugar is used for adobong tokwa. As this is a little hard to come by, I’ve substituted it for rice wine vinegar.
Bay leaves– These lend the vegan adobo sauce a lot of flavour. I would suggest using dry bay leaves, which are warm and aromatic. Remove them before serving.
Black peppercorns– Although traditionally the peppercorns are left whole and softened for a long time in the sauce, they do not soften the same in this vegan recipe. Therefore I recommend crushing them until they are very coarsely ground before adding them in.
Sugar– This balances out the tartness and acidity of the dish. I use coconut sugar for a slightly healthier option.
Cornstarch– Although not an ingredient found in classic Filipino adobo, I’ve added cornstarch to thicken the sauce slightly. If you don’t thicken the sauce, the crispy tofu soaks it up, and this results in a much dryer tofu adobo. We’ll make a cornstarch slurry to ensure it distributes evenly through the sauce.
What kind of tofu should I use for this recipe?
I would recommend using extra or super firm tofu, as it holds its shape and has a great chewy texture. This type of tofu is normally found tightly wrapped in plastic, rather than in water, and doesn’t usually need pressing.
Firm tofu is normally sold packaged in water. Although it’s still ok for this crispy tofu adobo, it will need pressing before it can be used. For ease, you can use a special tofu press which can be set up to squeeze the water from the tofu.
You can also do this the DIY way, by wrapping your tofu in a clean kitchen towel, and placing something very heavy on top of it- for example a pan topped with cans of beans.
For even firmer tofu, you can freeze and defrost it before cooking. Freeze the tofu upon purchase, and once it’s fully frozen, defrost before cooking. This makes the tofu really spongy, which means it’s great at absorbing flavours.
Before frying, dab the tofu to remove any excess water. This ensures that it goes nice and crispy when fried. If you’d like, you can coat the tofu in cornstarch before frying to give it an even crisper edge.
It is recommended that you cook tofu adobo in a non-reactive pan. As the sauce contains quite a bit of vinegar, it is quite acidic. Some cookware, such as that made from aluminium, cast iron and copper, can react with acidic food and affect the flavour of it.
Ceramic, glass, stainless steel, or enamel coated cookware doesn’t react with acidic food. Pans with a good, undamaged, non-stick coating may also be non-reactive.
If you don’t have a non-reactive pan, don’t worry too much. Vegan adobo sauce is only cooked for a short amount of time, so there’s only a brief opportunity for the pan to react with it.
How to cook tofu adobo
To make this Filipino tofu adobo, start by frying off the tofu cubes in the pan. Heat a tablespoon of neutral oil over a medium-high heat, then add the tofu. Fry, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes, until the tofu is browned on all sides. Remove it from the pan and place to one side.
In the same pan, heat the remaining oil. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the onion. Fry it for 3 minutes until it begins to soften, then add the chopped garlic cloves. Fry for 2 minutes more until it’s aromatic.
Add the soy sauce, vinegar, water, ground peppercorns, bay leaves and sugar to the pan. Stir to combine, then bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes, before adding the cornstarch slurry.
To thicken the tofu adobo sauce, stir to mix the cornstarch through, then continue to simmer. This should only take a couple of minutes. Remove the bay leaves, then add the crispy tofu. Stir until the tofu is covered in sauce.
My best serving suggestion for adobong tokwa is simple- serve with plenty of warm and fluffy rice! If you fancy something a little different you could try:
- Quinoa, barley, or brown rice for a healthier option.
- Mashed potato for something a little more comforting.
- Make a shredded carrot salad for a fresher side dish.
- Sautéed green beans with sesame seeds.
- Some simple steamed veg such as broccoli or cauliflower.
Garnish your tofu adobo with thinly sliced green onion before serving.
Ingredient substitutes or additions
This recipe only uses a few ingredients, many of which are essential to the flavour of adobong tofu. I wouldn’t recommend making loads of substitutions in this recipe, but I’ve suggested here those which would be safe to make:
- You could use any vegan protein instead of tofu for vegan adobo, such as soy curls, vegan chicken, or tempeh.
- You could even just go for vegetables. Potatoes, mushrooms, eggplant or carrots would all go really well. Make sure that you parboil any hard veggies such as potatoes or carrots first, as these will not cook in the short time in the pan.
- If you haven’t got any rice wine vinegar, normal distilled white vinegar works perfectly well in tofu adobo.
- If you haven’t got coconut sugar, you can use any type of sugar you like. Normal white or brown sugar works well.
You can keep tofu adobo in the fridge for up to 3 days in an airtight container. To reheat, either warm it in a pan over a medium-low heat (adding a splash of water if it’s looking a little dry), or pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes or until piping hot through.
Freeze it for up to 3 months, similarly in an airtight container. Defrost it in the fridge overnight, then reheat as above.
Love tofu recipes?
If you love cooking with tofu, you might like:
- Thai red silken tofu curry
- Vegan coconut tofu with miso pak choi
- High protein tofu buddha bowl
- Polish ‘fish’, or tofu po Grecku
- Vegan eggplant cannelloni with tofu ricotta
Vegan Tofu Adobo
- Non-reactive frying pan (ceramic, glass, stainless steel, or coated)
- 1½ tbsp rapeseed oil
- 1 340 g block extra firm tofu* 1 inch cubed
- 1 small brown onion finely diced
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 60 ml light soy sauce
- 60 ml rice vinegar or white distilled vinegar
- 125 ml water
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 1 tbsp coconut sugar or brown sugar
- ½ tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water
- Heat a tablespoon of the oil over a medium-high heat, then add the tofu. Fry, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, until the tofu is browned on all sides. Remove it from the pan and place to one side.
- In the same pan, heat the remaining oil. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the onion. Fry it for 3 minutes until it begins to soften, then add the minced garlic cloves. Fry for 2 minutes more until it’s aromatic.
- Grind you peppercorns using a pestle and mortar until they are very coarsely ground. Alternatively, pulse them in a spice grinder.
- Add the soy sauce, vinegar, water, ground peppercorns, bay leaves and sugar to the pan. Stir to combine, then bring the sauce to a simmer. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- To thicken the tofu adobo sauce, add the cornstarch slurry then stir to mix. Continue to simmer and the sauce will thicken within a couple of minutes.
- Remove the bay leaves, then add the crispy tofu and stir until it’s covered in sauce.
Made this recipe?
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