Spicy cumin cauliflower and tofu stir fry is a healthy, vegan recipe inspired by a Northern Chinese dish with easy cooking for bold flavors.
Simple – Healthy cauliflower deserves our love, so it’s the veggie star of this recipe. This keeps the prep to a minimum and uses an entire head of cauliflower, so you don’t have a partial head roaming around your refrigerator, looking for a home.
Oil-free – One of the tenants of whole food, plant-based eating, is no added oil. That means oil-free stir-frying. This is one reason that tofu is baked, besides the fact that it's way better. We'll also use a few no-oil sauté tricks we routinely practice.
Flavorful – This recipe relies on ground cumin and chili (fresh and dried flakes) for a deep and somewhat surprising flavor for a stir fry. There's no sauce to concoct. We're letting the spices, aromatics, cauliflower, and tofu guide the wheel.
Tofu – Use a block of firm or extra-firm tofu. If it has a lot of excess moisture, you may need to press it before tossing it in soy sauce and mirin.
Mirin – Mirin is a Japanese rice wine that is often used in stir fry. If you can’t find mirin, you can substitute with sake or, for a non-alcoholic option, rice wine vinegar.
Cauliflower – Use a medium head of cauliflower, cut into small, bite-sized florets. The smaller size helps them cook quickly.
Aromatics – Onions, ginger, garlic, and red chili build the foundational flavor of this dish.
Cilantro (coriander) – I added an entire cup of chopped cilantro. I realize, however, that not everyone shares my love affair with this 'love it or hate it' herb. Rather than leave a fresh herb out, I'd suggest substituting parsley or chopped spinach. This adds that bit of green without overpowering your taste buds if you aren’t a cilantro person.
tofu cooking tips
- Start with the tofu. First, decide if it needs to be pressed. Some firm and extra firm brands contain very little water.
- So, how do you decide whether to press tofu or not? Take it out of the package, wrap it in a paper towel and give it a squeeze. If there is a lot of moisture, you'll want to press it for 10-20 minutes.
- Press tofu using a commercial press or placing it on a plate and covering it with a weighted, flat surface. Use a cutting board and one of those hand weights gathering dust in the corner (if you're me).
- Once the tofu is rid of its excess moisture, cut it into strips or squares. For the quickest baking, keep them about ¼ - ½ of an inch thick.
- Now, we’re going to follow our ‘normal’ process for making crispy baked tofu. Toss the tofu squares in soy sauce and mirin and allow them to sit for a few minutes so that they absorb the flavors.
- Preheat the oven to 4250 F. (2200 C.) and line a baking tray with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cornstarch over the tofu and toss the pieces to cover them. I usually dig in and use my hand to coat each piece. That's the best way to keep them from breaking. It also ensures equal coverage.
- Place the tofu on the baking tray. Keep them separated so that they don't stick together. Bake the tofu for 15 minutes, then flip the pieces and bake for another 10 minutes or until they are brown and firm.
stir-fry pro tips
- Don't start the cauliflower until the tofu is in the oven. If the tofu is done before you are finished with the stir fry, you can reheat it when it goes into the skillet.
- Cut the cauliflower into small florets and cut bigger florets in halves or quarters.
- Be sure to have everything ready and heat the skillet or wok before adding the onions. A cold pan will cause onions to stick if you are not using oil (which we aren’t).
- As soon as the onions start to brown, add the ginger, garlic, and fresh chili. Just mix them in before adding the cauliflower.
- Stir the cauliflower florets to cover them with the rest of the ingredients and start the browning process. Then add the water.
- The water will dissipate quickly and does a bit of a magic trick in helping the cauliflower brown. Once the cauliflower is tender, add the spices, coriander, and baked tofu. Allow another 2 minutes of cooking before serving it hot.
You can substitute about 5 cups of frozen florets for fresh for this stir fry. I recommend that you allow the florets to thaw first and then squeeze as much moisture as you can from them. Depending on how much moisture they retain, you may not need to add more water when they are stir-fried.
Cumin seeds can be used for this recipe. The best method is to lightly toast 3 tablespoons of cumin seeds in the skillet or wok you will be using, then lightly crush them. You can also use a spice grinder to pulverize them into powder.
Brown rice is our preferred accompaniment for cauliflower and tofu stir fry because we love the nutty flavor. Brown rice is also more nutritious than white rice. You can also serve this dish with whole wheat noodles.
We don't recommend pan-frying tofu without oil (and we don't use oil). It can be very tricky unless you have a reliable, non-stick pan. It is, however, possible to do. Be sure that the corn starch has mostly absorbed into the moist tofu before you start. Pan-fry the tofu in batches so as not to crowd them. You should only need a few minutes per side to get them brown.
There are a few substitutes for cornstarch for crisping tofu to include arrowroot or white flour. Arrowroot is our second choice, next to cornstarch. The only drawback is that it can get become slick after it's added to cooked vegetables.