Have you ever seen those Red Lobster commercials – you know, the ones for their “endless shrimp” special? They’re kind of hard to miss. Anyway, while I can think of about a million things I’d rather have an endless supply of than cute little crustaceans, I was intrigued by their idea of tossing protein in flaky coconut and frying it to crispy perfection.
What better way to make this tropical dish vegan than with tofu, and what better time to do it than now – when we’re all freezing our buns off waiting for the first signs of spring? I love any excuse to experiment with fun flavors and cooking techniques, so I wasted no time testing my idea. Complete with a savory marinade and a sweet and spicy coconut cream sauce, this satisfying main tastes just like a beach vacation. And couldn’t we all use one of those right about now?
If you’re seeking relief from this never-ending winter, treat your taste buds to the tropical flavors of coconut and pineapple, cut with a sweet and (not too) spicy chili sauce. Spring is just around the corner, and this is just the dish to tide you over until the sun comes out to thaw your frozen bones. I suggest pairing the tofu with our Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts and a frosty piña colada for the ultimate experience.
- 1 14-oz. package extra-firm tofu
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup coconut sugar
- 1 small lime, juiced
- ½ Tbsp. fresh ginger, grated
- 2 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- ¼ tsp. baking powder
- 3 Tbsp. cold water
- ½ cup panko breadcrumbs
- ¾ cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
- ¼ cup vegetable or canola oil, for frying
- ½ cup coconut cream (from a 15-oz. can of full-fat coconut milk)
- 2 Tbsp. pineapple juice (I used the juice from a can of pineapple tidbits)
- 2 tsp. lime juice
- 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce (I used the Huy Fong brand)
- Cooked rice, for serving (optional)
- Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts or roasted veggies, for serving (optional)
- Press the tofu with several layers of paper towel to remove as much water as possible. Cut the tofu into ½-inch slabs and press with paper towels again. Alternatively, you can dice the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
- To prepare the marinade, first combine the soy sauce and coconut sugar in a small mixing bowl. Microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring in between, until the coconut sugar dissolves. This should take less than a minute. Add the lime juice and fresh ginger. Whisk to combine.
- Transfer the tofu to a shallow baking dish and pour in the marinade. Move the pieces around so each is completely coated. Cover and place in the fridge for at least two hours, flipping the pieces over and recovering with the marinade half way through. Put your can of coconut milk in the refrigerator at this time, too.
- While the tofu is marinating, prepare the batter. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and water in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Set in the fridge until you’re ready to cook the tofu.
- Once the tofu is done marinating, remove it from the refrigerator along with the can of coconut milk. Pour the panko breadcrumbs and shredded coconut onto a large plate and use your hands to mix it up. Remove the batter from the fridge and stir. The texture should be similar to pancake batter. If it’s too thick, add another teaspoon of cold water. Line another large plate with a layer of paper towels and set it next to the stove.
- Heat ¼ cup of vegetable or canola oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, the oil should glide easily across the pan. Take the first piece of tofu and dip it in the batter. Shake gently to remove any excess, and then dredge it through the panko/coconut mixture so it’s coated on all sides. Carefully place it in the skillet – it should sizzle right away. If it doesn’t, your oil isn’t hot enough yet.
- Coat each piece of tofu in batter, followed by the panko/coconut mixture. Working in batches, cook tofu for about 3 minutes on each side, until crispy and golden brown. Transfer cooked tofu pieces to the paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil. You may need to switch out the oil halfway through if there’s a lot of debris floating around in it. Those little coconut flakes burn quickly!
- While the tofu cools, prepare the sauce. Flip the can of coconut milk upside down and open it from the bottom. Pour off the liquid and scoop ½ cup of the solid coconut cream into a blender. Add the pineapple juice, lime juice, and chili garlic sauce. Blend until smooth. Alternatively, you can whisk the sauce by hand in a small mixing bowl. Adjust flavors to taste.
- Serve tofu warm over rice (optional) and a side of Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts or roasted veggies, if desired. Drizzle with sweet chili sauce and a squeeze of lime.