Sesame Soba Noodle Bowl with Crispy Tofu

updated Jan 22, 2020
Sesame Soba Noodle Bowl with Crispy Tofu

A recipe for warm soba noodles topped with crispy pan-fried tofu and vegetables.

Serves4

Prep35 minutes to 50 minutes

Cook16 minutes to 22 minutes

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Tofu wasn’t something I ate much of at home until I learned how to cook it correctly. Even when I was a strict vegetarian, my tofu always came out tasting bland and mushy. The only time I enjoyed it was when I ordered it for takeout in Thai curry or vegetarian pho, where the cubes always arrived golden-brown and crisped to perfection.

Years after I’d given up my vegetarian ways, I discovered how to re-create this type of tofu at home, and it has since become one of my favorite plant-based proteins. This noodle bowl is a great way to make it a meal. The pan-fried crunchy tofu squares are the perfect topping for warm soba noodles that have been tossed in a creamy sesame-ginger sauce, and shaved carrots and chopped scallions add color and freshness. This one-bowl meal is wholesome and satisfying, no matter if you’re meatless or you simply want to eat less meat.

The Easiest Way to Cook Crispy, Flavorful Tofu

There are many ways to cook tofu, from scrambling it to blending it into a dip and everything in between. My favorite preparation, though, is when it’s served up crispy and golden-brown. To achieve this in restaurants, cubes are often deep-fried, which is a messier kitchen task than I am up for most nights. Luckily, you can get almost identical results by pan-frying if you follow a few smart steps:

  1. Buy the right tofu. There are a few different kinds of tofu available at the grocery store and it can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated (here’s a handy guide to understanding the differences). For pan-frying you want tofu that holds its shape, so extra-firm tofu is what to buy.
  2. Drain the tofu well. The water the tofu is soaked in will prevent it from crisping, so you want remove as much of it as you can. Wrapping it in paper towels and pressing it with something heavy, like a cast iron skillet, for 15 to 30 minutes will do the trick.
  3. Marinate the tofu. While not necessary, tofu’s spongy quality makes it a prime candidate for marinating — it can soak up a whole lot of flavor. Here, the cubes hang out in some of the sesame-ginger sauce for just 10 minutes while you prep the other ingredients, which infuses it with flavor.
  4. Toss the tofu in cornstarch. The final secret I learned right here on Kitchn: toss the tofu cubes in cornstarch. This extra layer is a major browning assist — when the cubes hit the hot oil in the pan, they’ll immediately start to crisp up. If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative, you can use arrowroot powder.
Credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Sesame Soba Noodle Bowl with Crispy Tofu

A recipe for warm soba noodles topped with crispy pan-fried tofu and vegetables.

Prep time 35 minutes to 50 minutes

Cook time 16 minutes to 22 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    (3-inch) piece fresh ginger

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 1/3 cup

    rice vinegar

  • 1/3 cup

    tamari or soy sauce

  • 1/4 cup

    well-stirred tahini

  • 2 tablespoons

    toasted sesame oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    red pepper flakes, plus more for optional garnish

  • 1 (12 to 16-ounce) block

    extra-firm tofu

  • 3

    medium carrots

  • 2

    medium scallions (white and green parts)

  • 3 tablespoons

    cornstarch

  • 2 tablespoons

    canola or vegetable oil

  • 8 to 10 ounces

    dried soba noodles

  • Sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

Instructions

  1. Drain 1 block extra-firm tofu. Wrap the block in a few layers of paper towels, then set on a dinner plate. Weigh it down with a heavy object such as a skillet, pot, or large can, and let sit for at least 15 minutes to drain.

  2. Peel and finely grate 1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger (about 3 tablespoons) and 2 garlic cloves, and place both in a large bowl. Add 1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1/3 cup tamari or soy sauce, 1/4 cup tahini, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine and set aside.

  3. Peel 3 medium carrots, then shave them into long ribbons with a vegetable peeler. Thinly slice 2 medium scallions (white and green parts); set both aside.

  4. Remove the weight, pat the tofu dry with a dry paper towel, and slice it into 12 cubes. Place the cubes in a large zip-top bag, add 3 tablespoons of the sauce, seal the bag, and toss to coat. Set aside for 10 minutes to marinate. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

  5. Once the tofu is done marinating, open the bag, sprinkle 3 tablespoons cornstarch over the tofu, seal the bag, and toss again to coat.

  6. Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the tofu cubes in a single layer and cook undisturbed until the bottoms are deep golden-brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the tofu and continue to pan-fry until all sides are well-browned and crisp, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer the browned tofu to a wire rack while you cook the soba noodles.

  7. Add 1 (8 to 10-ounce) package dried soba noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Drain the noodles, add them immediately to the bowl of sauce (do not rinse), and toss well to coat. Add the shaved carrots and toss again.

  8. Divide the noodles between 4 bowls. Top with the crispy tofu, sliced scallions, along with sesame seeds and red pepper flakes, if desired.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Gluten-free: Use tamari instead of soy sauce and make sure the soba noodles are made of 100% buckwheat to keep this gluten-free.