Five Spice Crispy Tofu

By Monica Shaw •

Food is a big part of Chinese New Year, and on the 13th day, people eat purely vegetarian food to clean out their stomach after so much indulgence during the preceding two weeks.  Monica shares a quick and delicious dish for tofu that goes well with purple sprouting broccoli.

Photos by Rob Wicks

For many of us, the New Year has come and gone, but for those who use the Lunar calendar, the celebration has yet to begin. Chinese New Year begins at the end of January and is the biggest celebration in China of the year. The Chinese use the lunar calendar to time their festivals, and so Chinese New Year is timed according to the phases of the moon. This year, Chinese New Year starts on 31st of January and lasts for 15 days, ending on the date of the full moon. 
Food is a big part of Chinese New Year, and on the 13th day, people eat purely vegetarian food to clean out their stomach after so much indulgence after the preceding two weeks. Fortunately, Chinese cuisine is very adaptable to vegetarian cuisine, and a recent class at The Vegetarian Cookery School led by chef Sachiko Saeki showcased a range of ingredients and recipes for a vegetarian Chinese New Year. Sachiko explained that the Chinese New Year meal has special significance and requires much thought and planning, often taking days to prepare. For example, her “Father’s one day old yam” involves soaking tofu and yam for a day in a marinade in order to let the flavours fully absorb.
For those of us without that kind of time, here is another vegetarian Chinese recipe from the Vegetarian Cookery School that makes use of Chinese Five Spice Powder to create a quick and delicious dish for tofu that goes great with purple sprouting broccoli. Chinese Five Spice gets its name not from the quantity of spices it contains but from the five elements: wood, earth, fire, water and metal. Five spice powder balances these elements in the body, but also tastes amazing. It is easy to find five spice powder in the shops but it is great to make your own (see recipe below).
How will you pay tribute to Chinese New Year this year? 

Five Spice Crispy Tofu

Serves 4-6 | Dietary: vegan, wheat free
1 block of plain firm tofu (not silken)
60ml shoyu (good quality soy sauce)
A thumb of ginger, grated
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
Apple juice to cover
2 tsp Chinese five spice powder (shop bought or homemade, see recipe below)
1-2 tbsp sesame seeds (regular or black or a mix)
2 tbsp corn flour
½ tsp chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper


Mix all of the marinade ingredients together in a bowl-slice the tofu into thick chunks and place in the marinade for at least an hour but up to 3 days- it will taste stronger over time.
Remove the tofu from its marinade, drain on kitchen paper and gently squeeze, covered in kitchen paper.

Mix together the cornflour, sesame and spices and press the tofu in the spice mix.

Heat approx. 50ml vegetable or sunflower oil in the wok and heat until hot-test by dropping in a small piece of tofu (or bread) -it is hot enough when the tofu floats to the top straight away and becomes crispy and golden. Fry the tofu in 2 batches until golden and crispy, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper and repeat with the remaining tofu. Set aside.

Chinese Five Spice


1 stick cinnamon
2 whole star anise
10 cloves
2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
½ tsp white peppercorns
1 tsp fennel seeds
Heat a heavy frying pan (with no oil) add the spices and keep them moving by tossing or with a wooden spoon. The spices will smell and lightly smoke when they are toasted. Transfer immediately to a bowl or plate to cool. Grind the spices in an electric spice grinder.

Inspired?  For more Chinese New Year recipes visit Great British Chefs collection.



Monica Shaw

Monica Shaw is web consultant working with chefs, restaurants & food producers, to help them make use of the internet to improve their businesses. She's also a freelance writer, her credits include The Daily Telegraph, Chef Magazine and food mag. Monica enjoys experimenting with vegetables & creating delicious & healthy dishes, a topic covered on her blog SmarterFitter.com. She is working on The Healthy Vegan Breakfast Book, due to be published in March 2013

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