This silken tofu with pine nuts and pickled chiles is an umami-rich appetizer that juxtaposes creamy tofu with a tangy dipping sauce, toasted pine nuts, and the warmth of chile peppers.
This recipe is loosely based on a memorable encounter I had with a silken tofu dish at a restaurant called My Neighbours the Dumplings in east London. The fragility of the tofu contrasted wonderfully with a brute of a dressing: hot and sour with pickled chiles, salty with soy, and crunchy with toasted pine nuts.–Meera Sodha
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What is silken tofu?
Silken tofu is so named because it is passed through silk and is the most delicate of all the tofus, both in ﬂavor and texture. Buy fresh silken tofu if you can, but if you can only ﬁnd shelf-stable tofu, make sure you cut carefully along the edges of the carton and open the pack gently so as not to break it up.
Silken Tofu with Pine Nuts and Pickled Chiles
- 14 ounces silken tofu preferably fresh, found in the refrigerator case
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon amber agave syrup
- 2 tablespoons hot water
- 1/2 tablespoon mild vegetable oil
- 2 scallions green part only, ﬁnely chopped
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 2 store-bought or homemade pickled chile peppers* thinly sliced (any variety, red or green; if using pre-sliced jarred chile peppers, simply approximate 2 whole chiles)
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- Remove the tofu from its packaging, place it on a plate, and let it rest for 10 minutes or so. Then tip the plate to let the water drain away. Place the drained tofu on a plate with a lip, as things are about to get saucy.
- In a medium bowl, use a fork to whisk together the sesame oil, vinegar, soy sauce, agave syrup, and hot water.
- In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the oil and, when hot, add the scallions, pine nuts, and pickled chile peppers. Cook, stirring every now and then, for 2 minutes. You may need to reduce the heat to avoid burning the mixture.
- Very carefully and standing back, tip the hot pine nut mixture into the sesame oil mixture and add the cilantro. Mix well.
- Pour the dressing over the tofu and serve.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Finally, a tofu dish with flavor! This dish was packed with so many beautiful and savory flavors! The combination of the white wine vinegar, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil gave this dish such a flavorful, tangy, smoky, and savory flavor! The peppers weren’t overpowering at all and give a subtle punch of heat to the dish. The toasted pine nuts gave an extra added punch of smokiness. The added cilantro and scallions also gave a hint of earthy flavor. Umami party for sure in your mouth!
And the final presentation of the dish itself was so beautiful and pleasing to the eye!
I bought Organic Tofu Silken from Nasoya. I couldn’t find pickled chile peppers so I used 2 pepperoncini peppers from the brand Divina. They’re hot chili peppers so it gave that hint of spiciness needed for the dish.
This dish was easy to make and packed with flavor. It was so delicious we just devoured it. My boyfriend, who dislikes tofu, ate most of it.
For the pickled peppers, I used the recipe suggestion to make my own. The recipe called to slice the jalapenos into small rings so when I went back to the tofu recipe it called for 2 pickled chile peppers so I eyeballed what 2 jalapenos would look like. It ended up being the right amount of heat.
I’d like to say this would be a wonderful snack or appetizer for 4 people but my boyfriend and I ate the whole thing.
I, too, have had a memorable encounter with silken tofu, made to order at a farm to table restaurant in Taiwan, in a serving much the opposite of this wonderful dish, served warm, with a spoon in a cup, much like pudding, with soy sauce on the side as the sole seasoning. It was gentle, pudding-like, and comforting, and the tofu felt less fragile encased in a cup.
Here, the fragility of the tofu is fully evident, and the contrast between the fragile tofu and the multi-textured seasonings that pack a punch is as terrific as described in the headnote. To call this silken tofu “magical” would be an understatement. Silken tofu is most often relegated to a miso soup topping—a few tiny cubes floating in a bowl of miso soup. I am generally a little stumped about what else to do with silken tofu beyond the miso soup adornment. Here is the exciting opposite of those cubes. The creamy tofu base is perfect for the multiplicity of colors, textures, and flavors, bite after terrific bite.
I treated this as a lunch entrée rather than as a starter, so it was accurately two light entrée-sized servings with rice and some cucumber slices served alongside. I am lucky to have wonderful fresh and local silken tofu, used regular soy sauce, and the pickled chili peppers captured from a container of locally-made giardiniera. The peppers were green rather than red as in the picture. The red in the photo are more festive and give a better visual pop, but tastewise, the green served their purpose as the spicy element in the topping mix.
Despite my excitement, it is still definitely a tofu dish, and I don’t think it will convert any tofu haters, but for those seeking a new and interesting twist to their tofu repertoire, here it is!
Whether you regularly eat plant-based dishes or not, this is a truly exceptional dish. It combines a few humble and simple ingredients into something decadent. The sauce is made with ingredients most of us have in our pantries: soy sauce, sesame oil, agave syrup, vinegar, and pine nuts. The fresh ingredients (herbs, chiles, and tofu) are easy to pick up on a quick market visit.
Allowing the tofu to sit for 10 minutes not only gently releases the excess liquid, but also allows the tofu to lose some of the chill from the refrigerator. When the hot crunchy sauce envelopes the soft cool tofu, the result is something more than the sum of its parts. I used jarred pickled jalapeños.
The sauce is well balanced, and the combination of textures and flavors makes this dish a joy to make and eat!
Originally published December 20, 2020