This incredibly easy tofu salad is one of the best ways to eat brick tofu because it’s simple and packed with flavor. If you’ve avoided tofu because of a belief that it’s boring or bland, then this flavor-bomb tofu salad is for you.
This tofu salad really hits the spot when I’m looking for a quick meal that’s low carb, high protein, and packed with flavor.
You’ll love this no-cook recipe. After a long day of working and commuting, you can get excited about making a dish that requires little mental energy and can take as little as 5 minutes once you get the hang of it.
Check out this video tutorial on how to make the recipe. Read on for in-depth tips to ensure your success.
Which tofu to use
This recipe features tofu noodles (you might see it called “bean curd noodles”, “dried bean curd strips” or even “dried bean curd sticks” on the packaging).
I like to use tofu noodles for this recipe as an example to demonstrate how you can cook with tofu noodles.
NOTE: Tofu noodles are made from a sheet of dry, pressed tofu that’s been thinly sliced to resemble spaghetti. It can have a soft yet chewy texture that provides a satisfying mouthfeel, which is what I’m looking for when eating noodles.
Just as pasta shapes affect how the noodle grabs the sauce, I like tofu noodles because there’s plenty of exposed surface area for the salad dressing to stick to.
TIP: You can buy a package of tofu noodles at your local Chinese supermarket. I visited 99 Ranch in the San Francisco Bay Area to buy the tofu noodles featured in this recipe.
The downside to using tofu noodles is that they can be hard to find. Ever since I moved to Boulder, I haven’t located them in the nearby grocery stores (they’re nowhere to be found at in Boulder’s Asian Food Market or Pacific Ocean Marketplace in Broomfield and Denver).
If you’re in the same situation, you can easily substitute super firm block tofu instead of tofu noodles. I bought this super firm tofu from Trader Joe’s and cubed it.
Alex preferred the cubes of super firm tofu over the tofu noodles. He said the cubed tofu tastes more like meat.
This tofu salad is flexible. You can make different versions based on your veggie preferences and what you need to use up in the fridge.
This tofu salad works with numerous different vegetables. The key to a refreshing and satisfying salad is to use vegetables that deliver a crunch.
You can achieve the crunchy texture with cucumber and carrots as I do in this recipe. You can also use the following vegetables:
You may also notice in the video tutorial I use cilantro but in the written recipe below, I skip the herbs. Use what you like and what’s in your fridge. These herbs would work well in this recipe:
- Green onions
This recipe uses a Chinese-style salad dressing. That means it’s spicy and has less oil than the typical French-style vinaigrette.
If you don’t like spicy sauces, you can skip the chili sauce altogether.
If you don’t know where to buy Lao Gan Ma chili sauce, you can use sriracha sauce instead (sriracha is easier to find in most conventional grocery stores) or ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
If you’re out of apple cider vinegar, you can use white wine vinegar or Chinese malt vinegar.
RELATED: Refer to this 5-minute garlic cucumber salad recipe, which uses a similar salad dressing, to learn how to try different ingredients and variations in the dressing.
How to cut the vegetables
Grated versus julienne?
I used to grate the carrots because it was the fastest way to make the salad (you’ll see the video tutorial shows grating the carrots). I truly could get a salad done in 5 minutes or less.
The last time I visited my godmother, Kari, who is famous for making exquisite salads, I noticed she never grates vegetables. She always slices the vegetables into matchsticks by hand using her heavy cleaver.
When I came home and started recreating her salads, I preferred the texture of julienned vegetables too. The matchstick-sized cuts deliver a crunchier salad with more substance. Julienned vegetables don’t get mushy as quickly as grated vegetables.
The downside is cutting by hand is slower unless your knife skills are well practised.
I recommend if you have a julienne tool, such as a food processor with a julienne blade or a julienne Y-peeler, use it because they’re as fast as grating and will give you a better dish.
TIP: Check out this article for more tips on how to shred carrots for this salad recipe.
If you don’t have a special julienne tool and you’ve got time, julienne the vegetables by hand with a sharp chef’s knife.
If you’ve got neither time nor the patience, grate the carrots!
For the cucumbers, I used to cut them with a mandoline slicer. But since we’ve packed away much of our kitchen equipment during the kitchen remodel, I’m slicing by hand with a chef’s knife. Cutting my hand is almost just as fast for 6 cucumbers as using a mandoline.
Tips for success
- To scale the recipe: Slice more cucumbers and carrots plus make more salad dressing. This salad can easily be scaled up by doubling or tripling the ingredient quantities.
- If you don’t want to deal with the smell of raw garlic on your hands or breath, you can substitute with fresh garlic powder (much like in this garlic bread recipe).
- I like Persian cucumbers because their skins are thin and they offer a satisfying crunch without a lot of watery seeds that dilute the salad dressing. Small English cucumbers are also a good choice for this recipe.
Spicy tofu noodle salad with carrot + cucumber
- Chopping Board
- Mixing Bowl
- Garlic Press
- 3 cloves (18 g) garlic
- 2 tablespoon (30 ml) apple cider vinegar, Or rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon (5 g) sugar, Add to taste
- 1 teaspoon (10 g) Salt, Add to taste
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) Soy Sauce, Light soy sauce, avoid dark soy sauce. Add to taste
- ¼ teaspoon (3 ml) sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon (1 tablespoon) Lao Gan Ma chili sauce, Find it in your local Asian grocery store.
- Gather the ingredients.
Prepare carrot and cucumber
- Using a mandolin, thinly slice the cucumber. If you don’t have a mandolin, you can finely slice with a sharp chef’s knife.
- Grate or julienne the carrot and combine with the sliced cucumber.
- Finely slice the cilantro if using.
- Finely mince the garlic. It’s easiest to use a garlic press. If you don’t have a garlic press, you can run your chef’s knife over the garlic multiple times for a fine mince.
- Add the apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, soy sauce, and sesame oil to the minced garlic.
Prepare the tofu noodles
- Boil water in a kettle for efficiency.
- Pour the boiling water over the tofu noodles in a heat-proof bowl. Stir the tofu noodles. Drain the water.
Assemble the salad
- Add the salad dressing to the tofu noodles.
- Assemble the carrot and cucumber over the tofu noodles.
- Make a well in the middle of the carrot and cucumber. Place the sliced cilantro in the well.
- Top with a tablespoon of Lao Gan Ma.
- Mix the salad well to evenly coat the tofu noodles and distribute the cilantro before serving.
- Enjoy your tofu noodle salad!
Can you make this in advance?
I wouldn’t recommend making this salad more than an hour in advance because the carrots dry out and soften once they’re cut.
You can make the dressing in advance and store it in a glass container. It will last a week in the fridge.
If you must make the salad in advance, I recommend storing the cut vegetables in the fridge in an airtight container separate from the dressing.
Toss the dressing and vegetables just before serving with freshly chopped herbs sprinkled on top.
WARNING: Avoid mixing the dressing into the vegetables hours ahead or else the salad will get soggy.
How to store leftovers
I don’t find this salad tastes good the next day. It’s better to make less and eat it all in one serving rather than keeping leftovers.
If you insist on making leftovers, separate the dressing from the vegetables if possible.
If the salad is already dressed, store it in an airtight container in the fridge and eat within the next day.
Can you freeze it?
Unfortunately, I don’t recommend freezing this salad. The fresh vegetables will get mushy upon thawing.