These baked, American-style teriyaki tofu cubes are easy to make in your air fryer or oven. They’re a perfect, homemade alternative to pre-seasoned and baked tofu from the store, and they’re super versatile. Add them to bowls, stir fry dishes, or noodles for extra protein!
One of my small wins of 2022 was that I got back into the habit of preparing homemade staples.
What are staples? There isn’t a single or obvious answer, but for me, “staples” are everyday, household items that I use to build or enhance my meals.
Staples are items that I tend to have on hand at all times, because I turn to them so often.
They include the following:
Another “staple” category, for me, is the category of simple vegan proteins.
As far as macronutrients go, I never struggle to incorporate either carbs or healthful fats into my meals.
Protein can be a little trickier: it’s the macronutrient that I need to give conscious attention to.
For this reason, I often organize my meals reflexively around a plant protein source. When I wrote The Vegan Week, I intentionally started with the proteins chapter; everything else followed.
Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.
For years, I’ve relied on store-bought, marinated and baked tofu. Several mainstream brands, including Nasoya and Wildwood, make baked tofu that you can purchase, cube or slice, and eat right away.
I have nothing against naked tofu. But sometimes it’s nice to eat well-seasoned tofu that you didn’t have to season yourself.
That said, the pre-baked tofu products are more expensive than plain tofu. And I nearly always have all of the ingredients at home that I’d need to create something very similar.
As is often the case with me and cooking, the toughest thing is to stand up and get the preparation process started. Once I do that, the actual cooking is almost always less of a burden than I thought it would be.
The store-bought, seasoned tofu that I purchase most often is teriyaki tofu. So today, as a new month and new year begin, I’m sharing a recipe that I recently made as an alternative to buying it.
Is there anything terribly wrong with buying teriyaki tofu at the store? No, of course not. I’m so grateful that convenient options exist for me. But when I have just a little extra time and motivation, it sure is nice to eat a homemade version instead.
This one is particularly simple.
Before I say more about this recipe, it’s important to note that, in Japan, teriyaki refers not to a sauce or seasoning, but to a cooking method.
Teriyaki, which by my understanding translates to “glossy broil,” is a method of grilling food with a glaze of soy sauce, mirin or sake, and sugar. Garlic and fresh ginger can be added to the glaze.
Bottled teriyaki sauces and teriyaki sauce recipes in the US are often very different from the glaze mentioned above.
They might include, as my teriyaki tofu recipe does, vinegar. They might also include honey; mine includes maple syrup instead.
US versions of teriyaki sauce also frequently use cornstarch for thickening. In Japan, the thickening apparently comes from pan reduction and caramelization.
I learned a lot from this post by Namiko Chen, and I highly recommend it if you’d like to prepare teriyaki sauce with traditional Japanese methods and ingredients. As Chen notes, that sauce is all about delicate taste.
You may also enjoy, and want to recreate at home, the American versions of teriyaki sauce. The prepared teriyaki tofu I’ve grown accustomed to picking up in stores has an Americanized flavor profile. I follow that flavor profile for this recipe.
The “sauce” in my baked teriyaki tofu recipe is really more of a marinade than a sauce. There’s no cornstarch or other thickening agent.
Rather, the idea is for the marinade to reduce during baking. This is how the tofu cubes become darkened and deeply flavorful.
After baking, they won’t be glazed, but they will have a very concentrated flavor. When you pull them out of the oven or air fryer, they’ll have some crispy texture, too.
Here are the ingredients that I use to make my non-Japanese teriyaki glaze:
I use tamari shoyu in this recipe, as I almost always have it at home. I also like the Kikkoman organic naturally brewed soy sauce.
For more on history and varieties of soy sauce, you can check out this post.
I use maple syrup in place of the honey or sugar that’s often incorporated into teriyaki sauce recipes in America.
However, brown sugar will also work in this recipe. If you make that swap, you can use 3-4 tablespoons of sugar (adjust to your taste).
Rice vinegar will add a touch of acidity and tartness to offset the sweet and salty flavors of the sauce. You can substitute cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, or distilled white vinegar if that’s what you have at home.
Refined avocado oil is my go-to for high temperature cooking, including baking and roasting. You can substitute another vegetable oil that’s neutral in flavor and stable at high temperatures, such as safflower or grapeseed.
I like to use ground spices in marinades for easy coating and smooth consistency. I like to use ground ginger here, but fresh minced ginger is also fine. The ginger is optional.
As with the ginger, I use a ground form of garlic powder here. If you prefer to use minced garlic cloves, go for it! And you can also omit or increase the amount of garlic to suit your taste.
Baked or air fried, I should say!
I tested the teriyaki tofu cubes in both my air fryer and my oven. Both work nicely, and I’m sure that I’ll use both methods often.
If my oven is on because I’m in the middle of my vegan meal prep for other things—roasted veggies or a sheet pan meal, for example—I can pop the teriyaki tofu into the oven as I’m ready.
If the oven isn’t on, the air fryer is often a quicker option. I’ve used it often to make my tempeh nuggets in the last few months, and it’s perfect for this tofu recipe as well.
I cut my block of tofu into 32 cubes in total. Each should be about 3/4″ on each side.
A mere 2 hours of marinating time will be enough for the tofu to soak up some flavor.
However, if you have the time to marinate the tofu overnight, then I recommend marinating it overnight. It will soak up all of the sweet and salty boldness of the teriyaki marinade.
I often find that an overnight marinade is even easier than a short one, since it helps to break my meal prep process up into steps.
You have two options for cooking the marinated tofu. One is to use an air fryer, if you have it.
The advantage of an air fryer is even, quick cooking. Hot air will circulate around the tofu as it cooks, which speeds cooking time. If you air fry, the tofu will need about 10 minutes at 400F.
In the oven, the tofu cubes will need 12-14 minutes. The cooking temperature will be the same: 400F.
No matter which method you choose, I find it’s helpful to “baste” the cubes a little with leftover marinade halfway through their cooking time.
Doing so helps to give them the glazed quality that’s associated with the teriyaki cooking method, and it simply adds more flavor.
I use a simple silicone basting brush to do this. In the air fryer, I shake the basket to redistribute the cubes after five minutes, then use the brush to gently brush more marinated over them. You don’t have to be overly fussy about this; just coat them with a little extra liquid.
In the oven, I brush the top sides of the teriyaki tofu cubes with marinade after 6 minutes of cooking. Then I flip the cubes on their baking sheet and return them to the oven for another 6-8 minutes.
In the end, cubes should have a nice, deep color, thanks to the soy sauce, and they should appear firm and slightly browned at edges.
The teriyaki tofu cubes can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. You can also freeze them for up to 6 weeks.
Serving the teriyaki tofu cubes may be as simple as placing them in a bowl with some cooked rice, some veggies, and your favorite vegan sauce.
You can also toss a bunch of the cubes into a hot or cold noodle dish for added protein. I think they’d be great as an addition to a spicy, brothy winter soup.
Here are a few other recipes that I like to use these cubes in:
I’m sure that there are so many other ways to use the cubes. I’ll find more of my own, and you’ll find your own if you make the recipe, too.
With that in mind, here’s how to do it!
I love starting my week with the knowledge that I have some sort of nutritious vegan protein in my fridge.
It’s absolutely fine when that protein happens to come from the store. I’m thankful to have some vegan meatballs and chick’n in my freezer now, along with seitan deli slices in the fridge that I definitely didn’t make from scratch.
Yet it feels unmistakably nice to whip up a protein from scratch and realize that it probably took less effort than running to the store would have.
I hope that these little salty/sweet flavor bombs will find their way into some of your simple meals soon. And I’ll be back around this weekend for the usual roundup.