This Thai salad with peanut dressing features savory seared tofu, which turns it into a complete meal. Ready in 40 minutes!
I’ve never been the type of person to throw lettuce and other raw veg in a bowl and call it a meal. (If you’re familiar with me and my recipes, you probably already know this). I just don’t like cold/raw food and am rarely satisfied by just salad. Unless it’s very hot out, of course, and even then, it’s not salad that I crave but something more substantial like sushi or peanut noodles.
Nevertheless, on a recent and particularly humid Sunday, Rene and I found ourselves at a new-to-us Thai restaurant here in Brooklyn. In an atypical turn of events, I ordered their “Thai Salad” instead of my usual pad see ew. It had lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, tofu, and peanut sauce. The salad was cold, refreshing, but still filling. Surprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed the combo, so I made a note to recreate it at home and here we are.
What’s In This Salad
This salad has the typical “garden salad” base of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, and fresh herbs. Then you’ve got spiced seared tofu and a rich peanut dressing on top.
The high protein content of tofu and peanut butter make this salad satisfying; the healthy fats from peanuts help in that department, too. I absolutely love the contrast of the cold vegetables with the warm, chewy tofu and creamy sauce. This dish kinda has gado-gado vibes and lends itself to endless interpretation (substitution ideas below).
Disclaimer: I’m far from an expert on Thai food, have never been to Thailand, and can’t find any evidence online that something like this is actually eaten there. So for my intents and purposes, this is just inspired by a single restaurant meal.
How to Make This Thai Salad with Peanut Dressing
The Tofu: Start by draining and pressing a block of extra firm tofu. (Pressing tofu before cooking – i.e. weighing it down for ~15 minutes to expel excess moisture – helps it get brown and crispy, and gives it a chewier texture.) Then slice it up, season it, and pan-fry until golden brown. The smoked paprika-garlic powder spice blend gives this tofu a savory, smoky flavor. (For more on searing tofu, watch my IGTV tutorial!)
The Sauce: While the tofu’s happening, make the peanut dressing by combining peanut butter with lemon/lime juice, soy sauce, Thai curry paste, a bit of sweetener, fresh garlic, and ginger. This all-purpose sauce is rich and nutty, tangy, and spicy thanks to the curry paste. A drop of maple syrup (or honey or date syrup) balances out the salty-tanginess and makes the sauce taste complete.
The Onion: If you don’t love the pungency of raw red onions, soak them in a bowl of cold water for ~10 minutes before adding to the salad.
The Vegetables: Once the tofu and sauce are ready, all that’s left is dividing the veg among bowls and adding the tofu and sauce on top.
Ingredients and Substitutions
- Tofu: Since a lot of soy crops in the US are genetically modified, look for tofu that’s labeled organic and non-GMO (like Nasoya).
- Lettuce: Get whatever mild crunchy lettuce looks best at the store that day, whether it’s romaine, little gem, green/red leaf, etc. Stay away from kale and arugula for this Thai-inspired dish.
- Tomatoes: Vine, roma, and cherry tomatoes all work well here.
- Cucumbers: Kirby, Persian, or English cucumbers are all fair game.
- Other vegetables: Bell peppers, carrots, cabbage, or radishes would all be fun additions here.
- Peanut butter: Be sure to use natural peanut butter – the only ingredient should be peanuts (and maybe salt). Avoid peanut butter with any additives like oils, sugars, or emulsifiers.
- Thai curry paste: Sold in most supermarkets these days, this chili condiment adds heat, fragrance, and umami. If you don’t have any, you can skip it in this recipe and just add a splash of hot sauce if you want.
Both the tofu and peanut dressing are meal-prepable; make them in advance and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Hold off on chopping the vegetables until day-of.
More recipes with tofu…
- Tofu “Fish” Tacos with Mushrooms and Guacamole
- Saag Paneer-Inspired Collard Greens and Tofu
- Meal Prep Tofu
- Vegan Nicoise Salad
This Thai-inspired salad with peanut dressing features seared tofu, which turns it into a complete meal. Ready in 40 minutes!
For the Tofu and Salad
- One 14-ounce block extra firm tofu
- 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
- About 2 tablespoons avocado, organic canola, or refined coconut oil
- 1 head of crunchy mild lettuce of your choice
- 2 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 cucumbers, peeled in strips and thinly sliced
- A generous handful of cilantro or basil, torn
For the Peanut Dressing
- 1/2 cup natural peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 to 4 teaspoons Thai red curry paste, to taste (optional, see note below)
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup, date syrup, or honey
- 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
- 1 small garlic clove, crushed, grated, or finely minced
- 1/4 cup water
- Start the tofu: Drain tofu and place it on a plate, then top with another plate or cutting board and weigh it down with something heavy (like a couple of cans), to squeeze out as much water as possible. Let stand for 15 to 30 minutes, periodically draining off the excess water.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 3/4 teaspoon each of garlic powder and smoked paprika, with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Toss to combine; set aside.
- Next, make the dressing: In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup peanut butter, 2 tablespoons lemon/lime juice, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 to 4 teaspoons curry paste (depending on how spicy you want it), 1 teaspoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon minced ginger, and 1 crushed garlic clove. Stir with a fork until smooth. Then add 1/4 cup water and stir until creamy. Cover and set aside.
- Slice the tofu into 8 slabs; cut each slab on a diagonal, creating 16 triangles total. Arrange the triangles in an even layer on the cutting board and sprinkle one side with half of the paprika spice blend.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Arrange the tofu in the skillet in a single layer seasoned side down. Sprinkle the top side with the remaining spice blend. Fry until the underside is golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Gently flip the triangles and cook the other side for about 6 more minutes. (Resist the urge to move/flip tofu more than necessary).
- Meanwhile, place the onion in a bowl of cold water and set aside for at least 10 minutes.
- To assemble, divide the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs, and drained onions among 4 bowls. Top with tofu and drizzle with dressing.
Sold in most supermarkets these days, this chili condiment adds heat, fragrance, and umami. If you don’t have any, you can skip it in this recipe and just add a splash of hot sauce if you want.
- Serving Size: 1/4 of the recipe
- Calories: 364
- Fat: 24.4 g
- Carbohydrates: 21.8 g
- Fiber: 4.4 g
- Protein: 21.6 g
Keywords: thai, salad, peanut sauce, tofu, vegan