An easy guide to marinating and baking tofu for use in Indian recipes. These marinated tofu cubes also make an amazing snack by themselves. You can stir them into curries that normally use paneer, like Paneer Palak or Matar Paneer, pile them into a wrap or toss them into salads.
As anyone who loves tofu knows, there’s something rather magical about baked tofu. A little bit of marinating and browning turns a bland, even boring, food into a chewy, crispy, scrumptious treat.
And today, I have for you a tofu recipe that’s all of these things — chewy, crispy, scrumptious, and absolutely not bland and boring. My marinated and baked tofu for use in Indian dishes.
Until a few years back, and certainly until the time I left India to make my home in the United States, tofu was not a food eaten in that country. At all. And that was certainly a pity, because had it been, a few cows — and a few people perhaps — might have lived longer. That’s because tofu makes a marvelous substitute for the Indian cottage cheese, paneer, and it is, of course, not loaded with unhealthy fats, the way paneer is.
As I adapted to a vegan lifestyle here in the United States all those years ago, I started to regularly sub paneer with tofu in recipes like Palak Paneer and Matar Paneer and Paneer Paratha, and I shared those recipes with you on the blog. Many of you not only began to make them in your own kitchens, you loved them and wrote back to tell me so. Now, of course, the web is inundated with versions of Indian recipes that substitute tofu for paneer, and that’s a good thing.
What kind of tofu should I use to sub for paneer in Indian recipes?
A few years back, the unequivocal answer would have been extra firm tofu, with some prep to remove the excess water out of the sponge-like tofu block, making it more dense and therefore a more apt substitute for paneer. But now that super firm tofu is easily available, I have a clear winner.
Super firm tofu is very dense out of the box, which means you can skip that extra step of squeezing out the excess water and the time it required. Super firm tofu also has a texture that’s closer to paneer’s, and it tastes amazingly like paneer in Indian recipes, more so than any other kind of tofu.
Besides, we Indian cooks like to cook the tofu further once we add it to the sauce, and another kind of tofu would simply not be able to stand all the additional tossing and turning. But with super firm tofu, it’s just not a problem.
Do I really need to marinate the tofu?
The short answer is, no, you don’t. You don’t even need to bake the tofu when you add it to recipes like Palak Paneer. But the extra step takes little effort and it adds so much to the flavor of the tofu. When you cook Indian food, you build up the flavor in layers, and layering extra flavor into your tofu will take your recipe from good to great.
Besides, the marinated and baked tofu makes a great snack on its own, or you can toss it into salads and wraps without any additional dressing up. And when you add marinated and baked tofu to a recipe like Palak Paneer, you’ll automatically dial up the flavor quotient.
I love ginger and garlic but I absolutely can’t stand cilantro. Can I mix up the flavors in this marinade?
Yes! The ingredients in my marinade are those a cook would use to make a basic marinade for meat or paneer, but you can certainly tweak things to your liking. If you don’t love cilantro, add mint, which is a common enough herb in Indian kitchens (but not basil or rosemary or oregano or thyme because that would just be…weird.)
I wouldn’t recommend doing away with the ginger and garlic, though, because these two add incredible and essential flavors to any Indian recipe. And if you’re not used to Indian ingredients, don’t mix things up just because. The herbs and spices used in Indian cuisine are carefully balanced and thought-out, and you shouldn’t experiment just because you feel like it. On the other hand, if you are used to Indian ingredients and understand them, go ahead by all means.
Here are the ingredients you will need to marinate the tofu:
- Super firm or extra firm tofu
- Ginger garlic paste
- Cilantro or mint, or both
- Green chili peppers like serrano or jalapeno
- Lime or lemon
- Vegetable oil
- Garam masala
What recipes can I use this marinated and baked tofu in?
You can also roll up the tofu cubes with some fresh veggies like salad greens, onions, cucumber and tomatoes in a naan wrap for a delicious lunch.
Also google up “Indian tofu recipes” in the search bar in the sidebar for more recipes.
I have a delicious, very Bombay-style vegan wrap for you next where I’ll be using these marinated and baked tofu cubes in, and it’s so delicious, you’ll be making this recipe again and again.
On to the recipe now, and if you make it, be sure to let me know in the comments below. Or take a photo and tag me @holycowvegan on Instagram!
How to marinate and bake tofu for Indian dishes
- Bowl or container for marinating tofu
- Rimmed baking sheet or baking pan
- 16 oz super firm tofu (Cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Can use extra firm, but press out all the water first by swaddling the tofu in paper towels, placing in a colander, then placing a heavy weight on it, like a heavy saucepan. Wait 30 minutes or until most of the water has drained out.)
- 1 tbsp ginger garlic paste
- 2 tbsp cilantro (mint makes an excellent substitute, or use half and half)
- 2 green chili peppers (like jalapeno or serrano. Deseed for less heat. then chop)
- Juice of 1 lime
- Salt to taste
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 tsp garam masala
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Place all ingredients other than the tofu in a blender with 1/4th cup water and blitz into a very smooth paste.
- Place the tofu cubes in a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold the tofu in a single layer without overlapping, or in a baking pan.
- Pour the marinade over the tofu and toss the tofu lightly in the marinade to coat evenly.
- Place the tofu in the hot oven and bake 40-50 minutes. Halfway through baking, turn over the tofu cubes so they brown evenly. Remove the baking sheet from the oven when the tofu is lightly brown and slightly crispy and chewy on the inside.
- This is not necessary, but cover the baking sheet or pan with aluminum foil for easier cleanup.