Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu Recipe

Simple to make, this lemon achiote grilled tofu recipe gets a nice tangy backbone from and achiote and cayenne-spiked marinade made with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a bit of brown sugar.

Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu

A mouthful to pronounce, but relatively simple to make, this lemon achiote grilled tofu recipe is a favorite of mine this time of year - meaning the time of year we pretend there's a real grilling season in San Francisco. All I need is a jacket (or a ten minute break in the wind and fog), and we're in business. I'll be back from South America in a few days, and wrote this up before I left, the beautiful brick-colored hue you see on the tofu comes from using achiote powder in the marinade. It gives the tofu a deep, rich, earthy flavor profile, making it a crowd-pleaser with vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I'll grill up a bunch of this tofu and use it as a component in rice bowls or grain salads, thinly sliced in sandwiches, or even cubed into "croutons" in soup. The marinade gets a nice tangy backbone from cayenne-spiked, freshly squeezed lemon juice, and is rounded out with a bit of brown sugar.

Pronounced ah-chee-oh-tay, our title ingredient is available as a powder (or paste) made from ground annatto seeds. It seems like many in-the-know cooks who tire of chipotle, graduate to achiote. I use achiote powder and not the achiote paste. Two of the pastes I've found use red dye and preservatives (interesting because annatto is often used as a coloring agent). The pastes are also made with other ingredients like vinegar, and garlic, whereas the powder is simply ground annatto. Let me know if you know a brand of paste that you like that is all-natural, I haven't seen one - but to be fair, I haven't tried very hard.

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Lemon Achiote Grilled Tofu Recipe

Look for achiote powder in Mexican markets.

2 tablespoons achiote powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon raw cane sugar (or brown sugar)
3 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 big pinches of salt
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
12 ounce package of extra firm tofu, cut into 4 slabs

Whisk together achiote powder, cayenne pepper and sugar. Sprinkle the salt over the garlic, smash it with your knife, and mince it into a paste. Add this to the achiote mixture along with the lemon juice. Whisk until combined.

Place the tofu into an 8x8 baking dish and pour the achiote marinade over the tofu - flip it, flop it....make sure you get coverage on all sides. I rub the marinade into the tofu a bit. Place in the refrigerator for at least one hour, if I remember I'll flip the tofu once or twice along the way.

Place the tofu on a medium hot grill. Brush the top of each piece of tofu with some of the leftover achiote marinade, grill until the tofu is golden on the bottom with nice grill marks (rotate the tofu 90 degrees halfway through the grilling of each side to get those nice marks). Flip, cook the other side, brush the side facing up with more leftover marinade, and cook until the bottom is golden as well. Remove and serve over a salad, on a bun with all the fixings, or any other way you can think of .

Serves 4.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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What is Achiote powder made of

Nilesh Shah

This looks delicious! And very beautiful, I can't wait to try out the paste too, it's the first I've hear of achiote.


I was so worried we'd be completely Heidi-less while you were away in South America, so thank you for giving us something to tide us over 'til you get back! That being said, this looks amazing... something different to do with tofu (like Jen, I'm a proud omnivore but LOVE tofu), and I've been trying to figure out different ways to use achiote as well. Can't wait to try this!


The recipe sounds great, and I love tofu, but I havbe a terrible time grilling it. Last time I tried most of it ended up crumbling and falling between the grates, and I ended up with nothing for dinner! We are talking an outside BBQ grill, right? Or do I need to invest in a grill pan? Any help here would be most appreciated.


Funny comment, Sudi -- but I disagree. Tofu is so versatile and wonderful, when prepared well. Heidi, this grilled version sounds and looks delicious.


Tofu has to be the world's worst ingredient. I would rather eat whale meat.... And I never plan to eat whale meat.


I have been purchasing my own annatto seeds and making my own powder. All you need is a small coffee grinder. (Spices only, you don't want to taint your coffee) It's cheaper than the pastes and powders as well. Depending on your locale, you can usually find them in the Latin food section at your grocery store. BADIA is the brand I normally buy. Nice to see someone raising awareness on this earthy seed. Maybe it will make them even easier to find in the future. Be warned though...achiote powder does NOT wash out. So if you are a kitchen clutz like me, don't wear anything that you aren't afraid of staining! :D


I found this paste (on amazon!) which does not have added coloring: El Yucateco Achiote Red Paste I'm not sure if it is "all natural" though...


This looks absolutely fantastic. I've only used annatto seeds to make achiote oil for a couple of chicken-and-rice dishes, but I'll definitely bookmark this recipe and give it a try soon.

Amy at Minimally Invasive

I am so excited to have a new and very different marinade to try for tofu. Thanks for this recipe and keep these great vegan recipes coming!


That looks so delicious, and I'm even not a huge tofu fan. They seem so crunchy with a nice bite. mmm I've got to try and look for the achiote powder. I love how your recipes send me for the search after interesting ingredients.:)


Oh wow that looks good. I can't wait to try this. We grill pretty much 365 days a year here in Georgia, even during that one week in January when it might snow. LOL. I think we're just grill fanatics, so I can't wait to try this tofu recipe. I'll post how it turns out on my blog if anyone's interested. I was craving tofu last night so this just might be dinner tonight!

Life Chef

I use tofu to make scrambled eggs, but never think of grilling it. The dish looks really good with some rice and veggies.

Kim (ayankeeinasouthernkitchen)

Oh Dear..another ingredient that we don't have here in the UK. Haven't herd of this one either. I take it that it is a spicy mexican flavour? I wonder if smoky paprika would do?


we don't have the powder around here. we do have the annato seeds in our markets and we usually soak them in water to get the color. if i were to use the seeds, how would i go about it in this recipe?


I love your cumin-yogurt grilled tofu and this looks like another great way to grill tofu! I've never heard of achiote powder, so next time I stop by the Mexican grocery store I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Catherine Melton

I love your cumin-yogurt grilled tofu and this looks like another great way to grill tofu! I've never heard of achiote powder, so next time I stop by the Mexican grocery store I'll have to keep an eye out for it.

Catherine Melton

Wow Heidi! I see you have a new recipe using my favorite....achiote. I have been using this on chicken, pork, and seafood for many years now, learning to cook with it in the Yucatan. This tofu recipe looks yummy. Need to try it right away. For those unfamilar with achiote, is is also known as Annato Seed. You should try to get it powdered(Badia makes it), or as a paste in a Mexican grocery. Thanks for the great recipes always coming my way.


this looks delicious! I love tofu (this coming from an omnivore), and am always looking for interesting ways to prepare it. I feel like most of the recipes I see for tofu get stuck in pan-asian / asian-fusion rut, so I'm happy to see your unique take here. and a question -- does achiote powder have the same smokiness as chipotle?

Jen (Modern Beet)

wow looks great! I think i'd like it in a Rice bowl MMMMMMM


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