If you’re in the mood for an easy weeknight dinner, this pan-fried garlic tofu recipe is for you. Marinated to perfection, pan-fried, and then coated in a thick, sticky soy lime sauce, this garlic tofu is delicious served alongside your favorite veggies and jasmine rice.
Originally Published: June 21, 2021 | Updated: August 2, 2023
Why You’ll Love This Garlic Tofu
If you’re cooking tofu for the first time, or you’re already a tofu lover, this pan-fried garlic tofu will be your go-to tofu dish! I love this recipe because the sticky garlic sesame sauce is sweet, salty and zesty- thanks to the lime juice. Here are a few more reasons we love this tofu and you will to:
- Chili Garlic Sauce – The stir fry sauce has soy, sesame, sambal oelek, limes, and of course garlic for a spicy and zesty twist.
- Versatile Cooking Options – Whether you want to pan fry in a non-stick pan or air fry, this recipe has multiple cooking options for you!
- Vegan, Vegetarian and Gluten-Free – Satisfying both vegan and gluten-free dietary needs, this sesame garlic tofu recipe means no one misses out!
- Perfect Texture – Sticky, a bit crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, this pan seared tofu achieves the ultimate texture that complements its flavorful sauce.
This sticky garlic tofu is vegan and vegetarian friendly but will be a favorite among omnivores as well! It’s full of salty, sweet, and spicy flavors that are inspired by Asian-American cuisine.
You can whip up this panfried garlic tofu with just a few readily available ingredients. This recipe is great because you only need to make one mixture for the tofu marinade and the sauce. Here’s what you’ll need for the sticky soy lime sauce and the tofu:
- Tofu – Be sure to use Extra-firm tofu (or super firm tofu) for the best texture.
- Limes – Fresh limes provide the zesty twist, essential for the lime tofu.
- Soy Sauce – Soy sauce brings in the savory, umami flavor. Use gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos to make sure this recipe is 100% gluten-free.
- Sesame Oil – A touch of sesame oil adds richness and depth to the sauce.
- Brown Sugar – For the perfect balance of sweetness.
- Garlic – Grated garlic enhances the flavor, making it a true garlic tofu recipe.
- Cornstarch – Essential for thickening the sauce to sticky perfection.
- Sambal Oelek – Adds a hint of spice; can be substituted with Sriracha for a slightly different flavor.
- Vegetable Oil, Sesame Seeds, Green Onion, Cilantro – For cooking and garnishing the tofu.
A few simple substitutions can be made to cater to different preferences or dietary requirements:
- Sambal Oelek – If you prefer a slightly different heat, you can use Sriracha, black pepper, or red pepper flakes as a substitute.
- Limes – In a pinch, lemon can be substituted, though limes are recommended since cilantro and lime pair together beautifully.
- Soy Sauce – Can be replaced with coconut aminos.
- Vinegar – Feel free to substitute 1 tbsp of rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar instead of the lime juice.
- Brown Sugar – Coconut sugar or maple syrup can be used as a natural sweetener.
- Cornstarch – Arrowroot powder or potato starch can be used for the sauce.
- Sesame Oil – Olive oil or avocado oil can be used as an alternative, although sesame oil adds a lot of flavor to the sticky tofu sauce.
- Non-stick skillet or wok
- Small saucepan
Step By Step Instructions
Pressing the Tofu
STEP 1: If using extra-firm tofu or super firm tofu, remove the excess water and excess liquid by wrapping it in a paper towel.
STEP 2: Place a heavy object on top to press for 15 minutes. You can also use a tofu press. (Avoid using silken tofu or soft tofu to get the best texture).
Making the Garlic Tofu
STEP 1: In a small bowl, mix all of the sauce ingredients together except for the cornstarch, creating the base for both marinade and fried tofu sauce.
STEP 2: Cut the block of tofu into ½” cubes and marinate with half of the sauce for at least 20 minutes.
📌 TIP: For crispy garlic tofu, coat the marinated cubes in 2-3 tbsp of cornstarch before pan frying!
STEP 3: Heat a large nonstick skillet or wok with vegetable oil. Then, panfry the tofu cubes until golden brown on all sides.
STEP 4: Simultaneously, simmer the other half of the sauce in a small saucepan for 15 minutes. Whisk in the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sesame garlic tofu sauce.
STEP 5: Reduce the heat of the tofu and coat it in the garlic lime sauce, stirring until all the cubes are covered.
STEP 6: Serve warm with green onions, cilantro, and rice for a complete meal!
tofu cooking methods
In this recipe, I’m pan-frying the tofu since it is the fastest method. The key to pan-frying the tofu is to be sure your pan is hot enough and to be patient. You’ll want each side of the tofu to get golden brown before flipping it.
This tofu can also be made by air frying. I recommend air frying it at 400F for about 10-15 minutes, making sure to flip it halfway through. Once you air fry the tofu, transfer it to a non-stick skillet or wok to coat it in the garlic lime sauce.
This tofu can also be made by baking but it takes more time. I recommend baking it at 425F for about 25 minutes, making sure to flip it halfway through. Once you bake the tofu, transfer it to a non-stick skillet or wok to coat it in the garlic lime sauce.
If you’d like super crispy tofu, you can also deep fry it! Heat a few inches of vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat (about 375F if using a thermometer). Fry the tofu in batches to help keep the oil temperature from dropping. It should take about 4 minutes to fry the tofu until it is golden brown.
This pan-fried tofu can be served alongside white rice (Jasmine is recommended) or rice noodles. Make it a complete meal by adding vegetables like bell peppers, broccoli, edamame, or cauliflower (for a garlic lime tofu stir fry). Below are a few more of my favorite ways to serve this tofu:
- With brown rice, jasmine rice, or rice noodles
- With steamed green beans, broccoli, or sautéed bok choy.
The leftover pan fried tofu can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. To reheat it, pan fry in a bit of cooking oil until heated through.
- Press The Tofu: For best results, press out all excess moisture from the tofu.
- Use Extra Firm Tofu: Do not use silken tofu; extra firm tofu or super firm tofu is recommended.
- For Crispy Tofu: Coat the marinated tofu in cornstarch prior to pan frying. You can also consider air frying or deep frying the tofu for extra crispiness.
- Don’t Skip the Cornstarch: it’s essential for the sauce to thicken.
The cornstarch is absolutely necessary for the garlic lime sauce. Without it, the sauce will not be thick.
To make this a garlic lime tofu stir fry, I recommend adding bell peppers, broccoli, edamame, or even cauliflower. You can serve this tofu alongside white rice (I prefer Jasmine) or with rice noodles.
Yes! This sticky panfried garlic lime tofu can also be made in the air fryer. I recommend air frying it at 400F for about 10-15 minutes, making sure to flip it halfway through. Once you air fry the tofu, transfer it to a non-stick skillet or wok to coat it in the sauce.
more tofu recipes to try
- CRISPY AIR FRIED TOFU NUGGETS
- YELLOW TOFU SUSHI BOWL
- FLAVORFUL BAKED TOFU
- ORANGE TOFU
- GRILLED TOFU STEAKS WITH CHIMICHURRI
- MONGOLIAN TOFU AND BROCCOLI
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