Cumin-spiked Tofu Recipe

Slabs of tofu marinated in a cumin, garlic, yogurt slather and cooked on a grill or in a grill pan or skillet.

Cumin-spiked Tofu

My friends are a diverse lot. Some are sixteen, others are seniors. They are technophiles and technophobes. On the culinary front they run the spectrum from honey-shy vegans to those who hunt and butcher their own meat. I'm not at all interested in spending my time with people who are just like me with interests and beliefs that are just like mine, and when it comes to mealtime, more times than not, I'm the only vegetarian in the room. As you can imagine, all this mixing and intermingling leads to lively conversation. On occasion the topic is tofu. There is a subset of my friends that can't be convinced tofu is anything other than flavorless, amorphously textured, hippie food. Trying to convince them otherwise is an exercise in futility for me. But as I was going about making the fragrant cumin-yogurt slather for this recipe, the heady smell of the cumin and crushed garlic wafted up at me and I thought to myself - this is one of those recipes. I think of them as gateway recipes, where an ingredient (in this case tofu) is featured in a way that is appealing across the board. Even those who think they might not like tofu find comfort and familiarity in the grill marks and are willing to give it a go. And as I mentioned last week, the cumin-spiked tofu and this carrot salad make a great pair.

It is a bit early in the year (even here in California) for grilling, so I use my Le Creuset grill pan. It leaves great marks and because there is minimal surface contact between the tofu and pan, you keep much of the marinade/cumin-slather intact throughout the cooking process. That being said, there is no reason you can't bake the tofu slabs on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Try 350F degrees for 20-30 minutes.

If you are new to tofu, it is important to know not all tofu is alike. There is a wide range available and they vary widely in taste and texture. I encourage you to try a range over time. For a recipe like this, look for an extra-firm tofu that will hold its shape and not fall apart in the cooking/grilling process. I use more delicate, creamy tofus for other recipes, but structure is important for a recipe like this (or for kabobs). While I'm using tofu here in a more elaborate fashion, I'll also mention that a simple piece of high-quality, artisan tofu, with just a touch of salt, it wonderful. It's hard to beat simple preparations when using the best tofu you can find.

Other favorite tofu recipes:
- Caramelized Tofu Recipe
- Garam Masala Tofu Scramble Recipe
- Garlic Soba Noodles
- Lazy Day Peanut Noodle Salad Recipe
- Grilled Kabob Recipe with (outrageously good) Muhammara
- The Otsu recipe in Super Natural Cooking

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Cumin-spiked Tofu Recipe

It is important to let the marinating tofu do its thing (at the very least) for a few hours - preferably overnight. I'll also mention that I always seek out organic soy products.

12 ounces extra-firm organic tofu

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garam masala spice blend
6 medium cloves garlic, crushed then chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 7 or 8-ounce container of Greek yogurt

Unwrap the tofu. Dry it off by patting and pressing with a few paper towels. Cut the tofu into slabs roughly the size of a business card, with the thickness of a pencil.

In a wide, shallow rimmed dish (a tart pan or pie dish works great) whisk together all the remaining ingredients. Place the tofu in the marinade in a single layer and gently coat the tofu with the yogurt. Cover and refrigerate for (at least) a few hours. I sometimes leave it marinating for a few days, cooking the tofu when needed.

In a grill pan, or on a grill, cook the tofu (retaining some of the yogurt slather on each piece) over medium heat until the tofu is cooked through and the surface of the tofu has nice color. Flip once along the way. If the pan/grill is too hot the outside of the tofu will overcook before the inside is hot, so be mindful of this.

Serve over this carrot salad.

Serves about 4.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!
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In general, I’m in the “flavorless, amorphously textured, hippie food” camp when it comes to tofu.
However, this one actually sounds halfway decent. I may have to give it a go.
I especially appreciate the information you give about the different sorts of tofu. Very useful!

Bob Younce at the Writing Journey

all too often i just stirfry my tofu and forget about its wide range of uses. now that its getting warm again- grilled tofu may have to make a debut in my kitchen!


“There is a subset of my friends that can’t be convinced tofu is anything other than flavorless, amorphously textured, hippie food.”
That statement just shocked me. There was a book published 200 some years ago: “One hundred ways to cook tofu.” in Japan. I am sure this recipe was not in there. I should definitely try it.

vista bbs

This sounds so yummy and easy to make. Gotta make this for sure!

San Francisco Photos

I’m curious. Who did you feed this to and what was the verdict for them? yay or nay?
I love tofu and most people I know are willing to at least TRY what I make. It’d be great to get them to LOVE what I make 🙂


I would agree that everything should be eaten in moderation. With that said, I would not consider Tofu to be a “highly processed” food.
The only ingredients are soy beans + water + nigari (or other coagulant). (definition of Nigari: Hard, crystallized salt made from the liquid droppings of dampened sea salt. Used in making tofu.) You make the soybeans and water into soymilk, you stir in the nigari, you let it curdle and then you drain the whey off, put the curds into a cheesecloth lined tofu box and press. How to make tofu:
As for the yogurt questions, it is really easy to make soy yogurt at home. To make it like “Greek Yogurt” after you make the regular soy yogurt, you drain the yogurt for a couple hours in cheesecloth until it is the thickness you like. How to make Yogurt:


“There is a subset of my friends that can’t be convinced tofu is anything other than flavorless, amorphously textured, hippie food.”
That statement just shocked me. There was a book published 200 some years ago: “One hundred ways to cook tofu.” in Japan. I am sure this recipe was not in there. I should definitely try it.


since the recipe uses Indian spices, l thought I might share that we Indians generally dry roast cuminseeds on a griddle over a low flame until dark caramel brown and fragrant and then after it cools crush or grind and store to sprinklle over most salads etc.


I live half way across the world, in India. I am a regular here. But quite a few of the ingredients mentioned in your recipes are not available here. So, I substitute with a locally available ingredient. Like tofu is available in India but not so popular. The replacement for tofu here would be what we call “paneer”, a sort of cottage cheese. It’s readily available in the market and can be made at home too ( although, that’s not so popular ! ). I am told that paneer is available in USA too, in Indian stores. People seem divided about how good or bad tofu is from the point of view of health. For people who are in doubt, try out paneer – it’s healthy and it’s richness depends on whether it has been made from skim milk or milk with fat, it’s rich in protein, is easy to cook and doesn’t have a flavor of it’s own.


As someone of Asian descent (Chinese) tofu isn’t new to me. I’ve noticed that when most of my friends cook tofu, they forget to properly drain the tofu/marinade it. Tofu’s like a soaked sponge when it comes out of the container so it’s not going to soak up much flavor because of all the water that’s in it. It’s probably not necessary to drain if marinading, but it helps. On the other hand, if stir-frying, it’s going to be bland in the short time it’s in contact with anything of flavor.
I usually place a flat plate on top and lay a can of soup or something on top. This presses most of the water out. Gotta be careful with the softer tofus though…I’ve almost smashed on block to pieces with too much weight =0


Wow that looks great! Thanks for the recipe. I think I might try it for dinner this week, as it’s warming up here as well – Time to bust out the grill soon!


This is really interesting. I’ve never tried marinating tofu for more than a few minutes, and I’ve never tried yogurt with tofu at all. It does look good, and very convenient if the tofu marinates for a couple of days.

Fearless Kitchen

Hi Heidi,
I would like to share some of my vegetarian recipes with you. Is that possible ?


The soba and crumbed tofu recipe really got me interested in cooking with tofu. I’ll definitely be giving this recipe a try!


Hiedi, thanks for the link about tofu. I’ve been eating tofu my whole life and love it but was wondering recently why it doesn’t get lumped in with other processed foods as an eat-in-moderation food. I agree with Ellen that fresh tofu with some grated ginger, soy suace and green onions is delicious. Good, fresh tofu really has its own flavor, I think. I’ve been inpsired to do a little research about the health benefits of tofu. I love that not only do I get great recipes here but I can learn so much about food from you and your well-informed and curious readers!


If I were still a vegetarian, I might have liked this. I hated tofu back then, because I thought it was bland and unflavorful…but this recipe proves me wrong.


mmm…wonder if this would work with halloumi cheese too?

Anna Helm

your food is so nice my mom made it and i liked it so much from saul.

saul fine

One more comment–if you’re vegetarian, leave off the bonito flakes–will still be delicious. I’m also a fan of yuzu-flavored vinegar on high-quality cold tofu.


(Will preface the comment by saying I’ve lived in Japan for six years and grew up on Japanese food.) Quality matters, a lot. High-quality tofu–whether soft or firm (in Japan they don’t have the super-firm stuff that they do here, since people don’t think of it as a meat substitute to be grilled, etc….the two kinds are either momen, cotton-strained, or kinu, silk-strained tofu)–is delicious raw. Try eating fresh tofu with just a little soy sauce, green onions, bonito flakes, and grated ginger on top. (Hiyayakko.)


Nona, the “greek yogurt” we have here is sort of a recent fad, I think. It is thick (about as thick as American sour cream, if that helps), unsweetened and tangy. I would guess that your homemade yogurt would be a good substitute.
Heidi note: yes, homemade yogurt would be great. Alternately you can drain regular plain yogurt that you buy here in the US through cheesecloth for a couple hours, and that will thicken it right up.Thanks for the comment Angela.


I have the same problems with my friends and tempeh. It’s usually all over when they ask for the description. I wish I could say something other then compressed soybean cake. . .
Great recipe, I’m always looking for more tofu ideas!


Hi Heidi – I just love your approach to cooking and have been lurking on this blog for months now – even though I live halfway across the globe…
pl tell me, what is Greek Yoghurt? I live in India and its not availble here. Here we make yoghurt at home. We call it “dahi”, its reasonably firm (can be made firmer by hanging it up in muslin), its fresh, and unsweetened. Will this do?


i was one of those tofu-haters until i started hanging out with vegetarians and became curious. so one day i was out at a local burrito/wrap chain here in boston (it’s called boloco) and decided to get my usual summer wrap (White Tortilla, Jack Cheese, Lime Rice, Black Beans, Mango Salsa, Cilantro) with baked tofu in it instead of chicken. heavenly! i order tofu when i go out because there’s no way my husband will eat it… but maybe grilling could fool him into trying it!


How can one make soy yogurt if access to these products is limited? I live in northern Ontario, Canada and vegetarianism (let alone veganism) is a very revolutionary concept. I find that I have a very limited supply of ingredients, yet these recipes look so wonderful. Usually I have to substitute tofu and soy for some ingredients, but it certainly wouldn’t make sense to substitute plain tofu for a yogurt marinade!
Thank you for any advice that I can get. And thank you for these great recipes. They open up a whole new world for my husband and I.


This recipe looks DELICIOUS, not to mention Easy AND Gluten-Free!!
Thanks so much for sharing – I’ve only recently discovered 101 Cookbooks and I’m so glad I did.
Amber 🙂

amber :)

Too early for grilling in S.F.? No, ma’am! I survived last Friday night’s gale force (ok, slight exageration…) winds on a west-facing Potrero deck to grill-up the tastiest ribs.
I cube, marinate (usually garam masala + extra cumin) and then bake (425 for 30 min) a big loaf of Wildwood super-firm tofu once a week and add it to a variety of dishes. You were my inspiration for this – although I rarely grill it. The yogurt slather sounds good – no, very good. Thank for all the superb recipes – you’ve inspired me on many occasions.


I loved the tofu recipe. I am a vegetarian and I am always in the lookout for new ways to try tofu. I also wanted to say I love your blog… and now that I am starting my own blog, its an inspiration!!


This looks yummy…love tofu & luckily have a meat eating bf who actually likes it too! I just tried your caramelized tofu last night, which was great, and looking forward to trying this soon too.


Citizen Jane and in Berlin:
I’ve experiemented with soy yogurt in place of regular in recipes and things turned out fine. Silk makes a plain soy yogurt-I think the consistency is similiar to regular. I’ve used it for dips like tzatziki sauce and dressings for pita salads.


Heidi —
I realize you don’t generally respond to comments, but I’m hoping you might make an exception in this case… Could you suggest a way of making this vegan? What else might achieve what the yogurt does?
your biggest expat fan
p.s. we have wonderful tofu here in Berlin!

in Berlin

Tofu is one of those foods that tends to be in the limelight quite a lot recently – for good and bad. Sure, you can call it a processed food (just as one might consider beer a processed beverage, or homemade ricotta a processed food) – I’m easily able to explain to individuals the general steps that go into making good-quality tofu.
You can even make it at home:
Much different in my mind than what you find in power bars, cereals, many veggie burgers, and the like – soy isolates, etc. I’ll let everyone inform themselves on the nutrition front, but tofu has been enjoyed in moderation since ancient times in many cultures.


ALL tofu is just so yummy, and this will be no exception! Heidi, can you see if you can locate a recipe for “Rotten Tofu”? Sounds nasty, I know, but ’tis so good. Tasted some on a trip to China a few years back, didn’t get the recipe – my bad. I guess one might liken it to a pickle? Slightly fermented, firm & dry enough to stay on a stick like a popsicle. It’s sold on the street as a snack…


wow Heidi, that sure looks like something I’d like to try! I don’t like tofu as much as cottage cheese, so I’m always looking for ways to make it taste better:)


I’m with Michelle,Tofu is one of those foods eaten in moderation but a healthy alternative for frequent use? Not really I don’t think.Nutritionally the jury is still out on the pros and cons. Some things to ponder; as Michelle said, it’s a highly processed food, also it is high in phytoestrogens which can have oestrogen like effects. There needs to be caution before consumption by possibly vulnerable groups.Men, pregnant women, breast cancer victims, and definitely infants. That said, there is probably no reason why healthy people can’t eat it in moderation. Finally it is also a byproduct of the soya bean oil process, which is partly the reason it needs to be so highly processed


It’s funny how split people are when it comes to tofu. It’s almost like Marmite…Been looking for a tofu recipe to try on my tofu despairing boyfriend. This one fits the bill brilliantly: heady spices with “masculine” cooking technique.Thanks!


I am in the never have tried it camp. I bought some a couple of months ago to try. I pressed it and marinated it, while it was marinating my husband called with a dead battery so I had to go pick him up. The tofu was in the marinate for about 2 hours on the counter by the time I got it home so I threw it out not knowing if it was safe to eat.
Will definately have to try this.


I love tofu and am also a meat eater. My “gateway” to tofu recipe is also grilling it. Cut very firm tofu into slabs at least 1/2 inch thick and marinate with tamari (I use a wheat free variety), dark roasted sesame oil, fresh grated ginger and garlic. Marinate some red onion, green or red peppers and zucchini slices along with it and then grill th the tofu slices until they are crisp on the outside. For extra zing, I add a little asian red pepper sauce. In Michigan most of the food co-ops have a homemade version of tofu available. Oryana in Traverse City is hands down the best stuff around! For the pescatarians, the same recipe is great with shrimp.


We love tofu. For years, I have cut firm tofu into chunks (first in half through the center making two flat slabs, then cut into cubes about 1″x1″) marinated it all day in the classic Asian marinade: soy sauce,lots of garlic, toasted sesame oil, honey, a little plum wine, optional ginger. Then skewered it onto two skewers for each kabab, like you do shrimp so it won’t swivel around when you turn it, and grilled it on hot hot hot until pronounced grill marks and toasted surface. Sprinkled with minced scallion and served with a pile of rice and sauteed garlic boc choy, or yau choy or some other chinese vegetable, it is fabulous. Use the reserved marinade, as it hasn’t been contaminated, as a sauce!


This is a good follow-up for the lazy day peanut noodles! The tofu in that was too bland for me, though I browned it with some garlic first. I’m not sure how the cumin flavor of this would work with the peanut sauce, but I’ll try it, and maybe experiment with some other seasonings, too.
Thanks for the recipe!


If one were vegan – could she use soy yogurt in place of that lovely greek yogurt with similar results? I’ll probably try it, but just wondered if anyone had insight.


I like that phrase “Cut the tofu into slabs roughly the size of a business card, with the thickness of a pencil.” Nice food writing 🙂


Not to be a wet blanket but I’d just like to temper some of the ideas about tofu in these comments. Tofu certainly is low in saturated fat and a great meat alternative. But it is a highly processed food nonetheless. Don’t get me wrong–I use plenty of soy milk and tofu all the time, and this recipe sounds great! But it’s not necessarily the most ‘whole’ or ‘natural’ food to eat. That’s all 🙂


I plan to do this and smoke them at about 275 for an our with alder or apple. I’ll post when I do. Maybe this week.


when executed well and with the finest of ingredients there is nothing that i won’t love…
i think that is the key to making anything truly delicious. although
well, that and i’m an eater…

Claudia (cook eat FRET)

I didn’t know that tofu can be eaten grilled.
It’s always an experience to come and read you Heidi.


Oops! My previous comment should read :
Mountain View and Palo Alto FARMER’s markets!

Jen (Modern Beet)

If anyone happens to live around the Bay Area, I’ve found homemade tofu at both the Mountain View and Palo Alto (both California Ave and Gilman St) markets that is SUPER DELICIOUS!
If I can’t make it to the market to get my tofu, I tend to go with Wildwood Organic tofu, which (I believe) is widely available. Just as cuts of meat vary widely in quality, so do different brands of tofu — if you don’t like one, I’d recommend you try another because it will probably taste different and have a different texture

Jen (Modern Beet)

First, I’m glad to hear you have the same Le Creuset grill pan as I do. It’s the most versatile (at least the most used) pad I own, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.
I’ve grilled sliced tofu like this (both my fiance and my vegetarian daughter like tofu), and I’ve been wanting some ideas for new ways to flavor it. This recipe sounds excellent. I love the way you can create those lovely criss-cross sear marks.
And may I say finally I am jealous of your abundant and apparently high-quality citrus. Here in northern New England we’ve been getting horrible citrus (and expensive) since the big freeze happened in FL more than a year ago. Dried, brusied, and discolored lemons and limes cost nearly a dollar apiece, and they’re all that’s available. Sigh.


I grew up as a meat-eating Ohioan and I’m proud to say that my children have an eclectic appetite that includes snacking on tofu instead of twinkies. Maybe I can use this recipe the next time my brothers are in town.

RookieMom Heather

My palate has also found pleasure in the simple uncooked slab of tofu, but I can’t say I’ve ever come across an artisanal variety.. can anyone recommend one?


Thanks for the tofu lesson. I really have enjoyed it in restaurants but at home it’s just been off. I think I’m going to give it another go.


I must admit I’m one of those people that thinks tofu is flavourless. Not hippy food, just flavourless! I did try some a few weeks ago from my local health food store, I cooked it up with soy, ginger and other asian flavours but it just didnt do it for me. I’m not vegetarian though so I guess it might be nice to eat something with a meaty texture if you are a veggie. Perhaps I should experiment with it more, especially considering it is so good for you.


I never though I’d touch tofu, but now I’m buying a soy-based sausage regularly mostly because it tastes great but it’s super healthy to boot. Tofu is fairly flavorless, but so is chicken breast. Even a cheap cut of beef is fairly flavorless. It’s all about the seasoning and cumin is definitely the way to go. Cumin and chipotle chile powder are now my favorite spices to use when seasoning.
The Peanut Butter Boy


I recommend taking a 12-oz package of extra-firm tofu, freezing it overnight in its packaging, and then thawing it completely before marinating. As it freezes, the water expands inside the ‘fu, making little air pockets and a nice spongy texture when it thaws. This makes pressing it super-easy, and it allows the tofu to more easily absorb whatever marinade you’re using, which of course ups the overall flavor. I tried this technique recently and haven’t looked back! [I love your site by the way!]


I love cumin and garam masala! This is perfect for the carrot salad you posted on Friday.
Even though I’m a meat eater, I love tofu. In fact, I’ve got some in my lunchbox right now. I love the way it soaks up the flavor of whatever’s around it.
Anyway – can’t wait to try it!


I’ve never been all that keen on tofu but I am starting to experiment a little more with it lately. I’ll keep this on my list of things to try.

Paula from Only Cookware

My boyfriend’s mother makes homemade garam masala for us. It’s the best. I think I’ll try using it in this recipe! Thanks.


I’m definitely not new to tofu but I’m always looking for new ways to spice it up… this sounds so good, and gives me an excuse to buy the garam masala I’ve been wanting to experiment with for months.
I might try using the frozen/thawed tofu method though, since I have had trouble grilling it straight out of the package before.
Thanks for the recipe!


Tofu is one of my favorite foods, and cumin is one of my stand-by spices, so I’m looking forward to this one. I can never quite get my tofu to get that nice, grilled, meaty texture and density that this image shows though. I’ve tried grilling, broiling, and pressing the heck out of it — I wonder why that consistency eludes me? I may actually try putting it in the smoker, doing a slow smoke — could be interesting.

Becky And The Beanstock

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