Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grilled Sambal Oelek Tofu with Peanut Butter Sauce

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I learn all kinds of things in the kitchen every time I prepare a dish. My most recently acquired nugget of knowledge is that sambal oelek (a hot chili sauce with seeds) and sizzling cast iron pans should never, ever make contact with each other. Here's what happened: I coated some tofu cubes in the chili sauce and placed them onto a sizzling hot pan to grill. The seeds then immediately began to pop and fly out at me at a pretty impressive clip. Once the popping stopped after a few seconds, the burst chili seeds then released their fiery fumes, causing me to have a mini-coughing fit.

Despite this brief (and probably hilarious) incident, I adore sambal oelek. Originating from Indonesia, this chili sauce is similar to srircaha, only a little bit chunkier and without the garlic and spices. It releases its heat after a few seconds on the tongue, which allows you to really enjoy the chili flavor with whatever other flavors you've combined it with before you feel the pleasant burn. It goes very well with quesadillas, or added to salsa for a little extra bite of heat, and it's also amazing when used in tofu dishes. Here I've paired it with a peanut butter sauce, because despite the odd sound of this combo, these two things taste amazing together.

for the tofu
1 block of firm tofu
1 TB peanut oil
1 TB sambal oelek

for the sauce
1/4 cup mirin
1 TB soy sauce
1 TB toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
2 TB peanut butter
sesame seeds, chopped peanuts and sliced scallions, to serve

Cube the tofu up, then assemble all of the pieces back together into it original block shape. Press the tofu using this method, then toss it with the peanut oil and set aside.

Heat a cast-iron pan over medium heat. While it is heating up, prepare your sauce by whisking together all of the first six sauce ingredients. Set aside.

Place the tofu cubes into the pan and grill until they are brown and crispy, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, wait a few minutes for the pan to cool a bit, then and add in the sambal oelek while everything is till warm, then stir until well-coated.

Pour the sauce into small serving bowls and garnish with the sesame seeds, chopped peanuts and scallions. Serve immediately with the tofu cubes.


  1. wow i really need to try this! tofu in peanut sauce is actually my favorite food ever! i just had it at a thai place the other night. I will have to try this is looks simply amazing!

  2. I love sambal oelek and have been using it for at least the last ten years. Imagine my surprise and extreme dismay when I went to make a vegan kun pao chick'n dish the other night and found that I was OUT of so!! I had to sub sriracha ... it was not the same. :(

  3. Doesn't sambal oelek have shrimp paste in it?

    1. There are lots of brands and varieties of sambal and, while some contain fish or shrimp, others only use a blend of red chilies, vinegar and salt—which is the kind I use.

  4. <3 this tofu dish! I used sambal oelek to make dipping sauces and for noodle soups, very versatile ingredient! I would like to try your peanut buttery dipping sauce! :)

  5. Salivating! I'm not a tofu fan, but when I saw the photograph, I wanted to pick up one of those bites and pop it in my mouth.

    I was looking for a vegetarian barbecue recipe to share with my peeps on Cooking with Whole Grains & Real, Whole Foods, a page I manage on Facebook. This one is terrific, and it's today's Recipe of the Day there. Thank you!


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