A vegan take on the Philippines’ national dish, Tofu Adobo is savory, sweet, tangy, rich, and completely delicious. Tofu has met its match with this easy and flavorful meal.
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Hey Internet, I don’t know if you know this about me but I am fascinated by other cultures and, primarily, their food.
My own Jewish culture is completely centered around food, making it the gathering point and center of every holiday, lifecycle event, and even the weekly sabbath is centered around a meal and prayer/Torah study.
So it makes sense that one of my favorite ways to learn about other cultures is to research and try to make their food.
Of course, it’s a challenge to find certain ingredients, and of course I don’t know the traditional techniques nor am I able to make anything exactly as it would be served considering I’m vegan.
But really, interpretation is a fun way for me to interactively learn about the cuisines of other cultures.
And, if I want to know the history of any country ever, I can just ask Mr. Zardyplants, the resident history buff.
So today, we’re traveling--flavor-wise since I can’t travel there for real (YET! I’m daydreaming for now, but planning later)--to the Philippines!
And one of the most popular dishes there, and it so happens to be the national dish, is Chicken Adobo, which is chicken cooked in a very delicious sauce with lots of garlic, black peppercorns, soy sauce, and vinegar (traditionally cane vinegar).
So my interpretation of this dish is called tofu adobo -- or adobo tofu, however you want to say it.
I used super firm tofu (the kind that comes shrink wrapped, not in a package of water, but I’ll explain a workaround for that in a little bit) and the rest of those ingredients. I couldn’t find cane vinegar but during my research I found that distilled white vinegar is a good substitute.
What You’ll Need
- Super firm tofu: The best kind of tofu for this dish is the super firm tofu that comes in a shrink wrapped package. I get mine from Trader Joe’s but I’ve seen it at other stores too. If you can’t find that, take regular firm tofu and press it. I love my EZ Tofu Press but before I had that I sandwiched the tofu between two plates or cutting boards and a few heavy books on top for about 20-30 minutes. You could also substitute soy curls, seitan chicken, or any vegan chicken replacement you can buy at the store (but then this would be something else adobo, not tofu adobo, right? LOL ignore me).
- Fresh garlic: I used nearly a whole head of garlic in this recipe (OK, I use the whole head personally) because it’s supposed to be pretty garlicky. It does get cooked down a bit, but you can absolutely use less if you want. Personally, for us, the more garlic the better. My husband says, “When everyone stinks of garlic, no one will. You need to embrace the garlic; become it.”
- Black peppercorns: Using fresh black pepper as opposed to ground pepper is SO IMPORTANT here. Pre-ground black pepper has been sitting around for who knows long. Ground spices really lose their flavor quite quickly. So use fresh. I chose to mash mine a bit in a mortar and pestle but you can leave them whole if you prefer. The sauce doesn’t get cooked long enough to truly soften them (unlike in chicken adobo), so you may want to grind them up a little. It will still taste super good since you’re grinding them right before using.
- Dried bay leaves: Another important flavor here. I’m usually not even a bay leaf fan and even I thought they were pretty good in this dish. I tried the recipe without and actually honestly missed them!
- Cane vinegar or distilled white vinegar or rice vinegar: Traditionally cane vinegar is used in this recipe but I couldn’t find any. I tested it with both rice vinegar and with distilled white vinegar and they were both so good! I thought the distilled white vinegar was a little bit tangier, if that makes a difference to you one way or the other. If you use rice vinegar, buy the kind that is unseasoned.
- Soy sauce: I used reduced sodium soy sauce here but regular sodium should work fine. If you’re worried about it being too salty, use half the amount of regular soy sauce and dilute it with a little water.
- Coconut sugar: OK now we’re getting into non-authentic territory. Coconut sugar is NOT a part of the traditional adobo sauce recipe but I thought it needed just a little sweetness. That might be my American palate talking, so feel free to omit. Taste the sauce and see if you think it needs it.
- Chili powder: Also a non traditional thing. Although I did see that some people added actual chilies to their adobo dish, I just added a pinch of chili powder because I was missing a little heat in my sauce. Feel free to omit.
- Arrowroot powder or cornstarch: This is just used with some water to volumize the adobo sauce and thicken it. You won’t be able to taste this addition.
- Bok choy or another vegetable: This is completely optional since I learned that it’s not a common pairing with chicken adobo to add a vegetable on the side. But, I kind of wanted something green and thought bok choy would be a nice pairing. If you wanted to go a bit more authentic, a chayote would probably be a better choice. Anyway, I sauteed my bok choy in a skillet and served it alongside my adobo tofu so I had just a tad more nutrients in this dish, hah.
How to Make Tofu Adobo
- Note: Before we start, for this recipe you’ll need a non-reactive pan. According to The Kitchn, “Aluminum, cast iron, and copper are all “reactive.” Stainless steel, ceramic, glass, and metal cookware with enamel coating are all “non-reactive.” The material of the pan may mess with the flavor, and turn the food a funny color. So try to use a non-reactive pan.
- Start by cubing the tofu and baking it on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper lined baking tray at 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) for 30 minutes, flipping the tofu at the 20 minute mark.
- While that’s baking, peel and slice your garlic cloves, Grind up your black peppercorns a bit if you wish, and measure out all the ingredients for the sauce.
- After you’ve flipped the tofu and it has 10 minutes left, start the sauce. In a non-reactive deep pot with tall-ish walls (I’m using a 4.5 qt pot here--you just want to be able to stir everything in without it splashing outside the pot), saute your garlic. You may use oil if you wish but I just use a splash of water every time it starts to stick.
- After the garlic has softened and become very fragrant, add pepper, soy sauce, vinegar, bay leaves, chili powder (if using), and coconut sugar (if using) and stir well until the spices have dissolved. Simmer the mixture over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Once the tofu is done, carefully remove it from the baking tray and add it to the liquid in the pot.
- In a separate bowl or cup, whisk (or use a fork) the arrowroot powder / cornstarch into the water until smooth, then pour in the pot. Mix well and stir for a minute or two while it thickens up.
- Let the tofu simmer in the thick liquid for about 5 minutes (still on medium heat), stirring frequently and making sure the tofu is getting evenly coated.
- If you wish to make the bok choy, chop off the ends and saute the leaves in a large skillet with sesame oil (or water/broth if oil-free) and add a pinch of salt while stirring. Add a lid and remove it and stir every minute for a couple minutes until the leaves have wilted and it’s cooked to your liking.
- Remove the bay leaves and serve the tofu mixture (with plenty of that delicious sauce) over rice. Add the cooked bok choy if you wish. Garnish with green onion and extra black pepper. And cilantro if you’re one of the people who can eat it--I am but Mr. Zardyplants is not.
- Refrigerate leftover adobo tofu in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
More Vegan Asian Inspired Recipes
I know that section title can be problematic because people tend to group all “Asian” food together, but Asia is this huge content with vastly different cultures, cuisines, and rich histories.
I’m not about to declare that any of my Asian cuisine inspired dishes are anywhere close to authentic, and I certainly do not want to take from other cultures. However, I am deeply inspired by many Asian cultures and cuisines, and try to veganize and offer a twist with my recipes.
I do my best to research each dish but I also have to acknowledge that there are a lot of very westernized dishes in the country I grew up in (United States) and sometimes I make those dishes because I crave them.
That being said, if you also love the kinds of flavors you find in these dishes, check out some of my personal favorites below.
- Sticky Tofu
- Tofu Poke Bowl
- Vegan General Tso’s Chicken
- Vegan Beef and Broccoli
- Garlic Noodles
- Vegan Orange Chicken
- Vegan Kung Pao Chicken
- Veggie Lo Mein (only takes 15 minutes!)
- Vegan Teriyaki Chicken with optional Brussels sprouts
- Vegan Teriyaki Cauliflower Wings (more like Chinese takeout and American fusion)
- And if you're looking for more tofu dishes, check out this post I made with all my best tofu recipes.
As always, I hope you love this recipe--I know I do, and Mr. Zardyplants does too.
This Tofu Adobo is:
- Spicy -- easy to make mild, though
- Perfect for meal prep
- And oh so delicious!
Let me know in the comments below if you make this recipe or tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!