Crispy Lemon Tofu & Mushroom Pilaf

I’m going to start this off with a disclaimer: I am not a vegan. However, a couple of days ago I looked dead into the eyes of a chicken (with whom I had fallen in platonic love and named Vera) and she stared. Me. Down.


So I guess I don’t eat chicken anymore.

Tofu, however, is fair game. And if you think you don’t like tofu then you CLEARLY haven’t fried it – because let me tell you, there is nothing in this world that cannot be improved by frying. The tofu part of this recipe is very loosely inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s black pepper tofu, which was made for me by my cousin and his wife earlier this year. It kind of knocked my socks off — though not as much as the Scotch Bonnet chilli I foolishly agreed to take a bite out of during food prep. I didn’t know I was capable of producing that much drool (try not to swoon).


But anyway. I had a honkin’ big packet of tofu and a hankering for some good old-fashioned fried protein, so this seemed like the way to go. We’re trying to eat a vegan evening meal in our house at least once a week this year and, while we haven’t been completely successful, this recipe fits the bill perfectly.

One final disclaimer: this… is not a healthy recipe.


Crispy Lemon Tofu & Mushroom Pilaf (vegan, gluten-free)

Serves 2
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 25 minutes


Wide-based pan for frying (preferably non-stick); medium saucepan with lid; either a metal slotted spoon or a pair of tongs; paper towels; a bowl big enough to hold your tofu; chopping board and a sharp knife; zester or box grater with a side for fine grating; a willingness to take life by the fork*.


For the tofu:

  • 1 block plain tofu (e.g. Cauldron 396g pack)
  • 2 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 lemon (zest the whole, juice half)
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce (gluten-free versions are now readily available)
  • Vegetable/sunflower oil (enough to cover the bottom of your frying pan by about 1.5cm/1inch)

For the rice:

  • 12 white onion
  • A handful of mushrooms (roughly 100g)
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 34 mug brown rice (use a standard mug from your cupboard, not one like this please)
  • 12 mugs cold water
  • 1 vegetable stock cube (again, make sure this is vegan/gluten-free according to your needs)
  • 1bunch coriander (about 10-15g)
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • Pinch of salt & pepper
  • Splash of oil


  • Green vegetable(s), such as broccoli, asparagus, or kale


  1. Start with the rice, as brown rice tends to take longer to cook than its pasty pale counterpart. Heat a splash of oil in your lidded saucepan on a medium-high heat and prepare the veg for your rice dish; dice your onion, mushrooms, and garlic as finely or as roughly as you like – this is your pilaf, buddy. Once the oil has heated up, add the onion and paprika, along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Leave to soften, stirring occasionally, while you deal with the tofu.
  2. Drain the tofu in the packaging, then turn it out onto at least a double layer of paper towels; your best bet is to do this where you drain your dishes, as the liquid that comes out is harmless, and you can clean it up easily later. Press down firmly with another couple of paper towels and pat the edges dry. Going back to your chopping board, add the mushrooms and garlic to the onions and give it all another good stir. Move the tofu to your (now clear) board and cut it into bite-sized chunks – don’t go bigger than 3cm in diameter, or you won’t get as much crisp for your coin.** Put the tofu in a bowl and add your black pepper, salt, lemon zest and cornflour, combining everything gently with your hands or a spoon. The tofu is definitely going to break up a bit, but don’t sweat it; those jagged edges are only going to give you a crispier texture.
  3. Get your pan of oil on – if you’ve got kiddos (or large, unruly dogs/maine coons), use a back burner for frying to avoid any nasty spills. Use a medium-high heat and watch closely for the shimmering surface that tells you it’s ready to go (you can also drop the scraggiest bit of your tofu in to see if it sizzles). While the oil is heating up, add your rice to the saucepan and stir until the grains are coated with the oil and paprika. Add your stock cube and cold water, stir again, then put the lid on and leave untouched for 20 minutes on a medium heat (or until the water has been absorbed and little holes are starting to appear in the surface of the rice).
  4. Once your oil is ready to go, place each piece of tofu carefully into the pan with your tongs/slotted spoon until it’s all in there. You don’t want to “crowd the pan”, as they say, so you might need to do this in batches if yours isn’t big enough. They will take about 4-5 minutes on each side to crisp up, but it’s all down to personal preference – go with what looks good to you (or use the picture above as a guide). While this is going on, give the bowl in which you dredged the tofu a quick rinse and pat dry, as you’ll need this for dressing at the end.
  5. OPTIONAL: If you want to have a bit of extra green with this – which I would recommend, because heart attacks are no fun for anyone – put some veg*** into a microwave-safe bowl and cover with clingfilm, popping a small hole in the top to let steam escape. Put it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes for literally the easiest method of veg preparation known to humankind.
  6. Time to pull it all together. Once your rice is done, pull it off the heat and leave the lid on for another five minutes to steam. Take the tofu pieces out of the pan and place on a double layer of paper towels to drain off the excess oil, then move the pan to a heat-proof surface or a cold burner to cool down. Please don’t pour the hot oil down the drain then shout type loudly at me when you screw up your drainage system.**** Chop the coriander and stir into the rice. Pop the drained tofu into your bowl and add your lemon juice and soy sauce, tossing to coat. Serve the tofu alongside your pilaf, some green veg, and a wedge of lemon. Right on.

Such crisp. So tofu. Wow.

Let me know what you think of this recipe, or indeed what you think of my stylish, Great Gatsby-esque table cloth. I’m very fond of it, and it covers up the fact that my Argos dining table has seen better days.


*You all know your Pratchett, right? Right.

**What a wordsmith. Honestly.

***As you can see from the pictures, I’ve used asparagus and tenderstem broccoli, but if you’re in a new relationship and for some reason you don’t want them to know yet that you have bodily functions, maybe avoid the asparagus. They will know you weren’t in there powdering your nose. Everyone will know.

****I think my footnotes are getting a little out of control, but this one is important: the best way to get rid of your oil is to wait until it’s cool, then pour it into an old jar – or similar receptacle with a lid – before chucking it in the bin.

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