This coconut crusted tofu recipe is packed with delicious flavor! Each bite of these beautifully golden-brown toasted coconut bites will leave you wanting more. Serve with sweet chili sauce for a spectacular vegan and gluten free appetizer.
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Is Coconut Crusted Tofu Vegan?
Coconut crusted tofu may be vegan if it does not include dairy or eggs. While restaurant and grocery store breading options often use eggs, homemade coconut tofu bites can be easily made vegan with a simple breading process that I’ve used in other breaded tofu recipes!
As a vegan or plant-based eater, you may want a coconut tofu recipe to replicate coconut shrimp. Coconut shrimp inspired this recipe, but it’s not a direct replacement and rather a delicious appetizer of its own. Tofu simply doesn’t have the taste or texture of shrimp, at least not enough to call this a vegan coconut shrimp alternative.
However, the recipe’s tofu marinade and breading add lots of flavor. There are a few dry and liquid ingredients that will boost its coconut flavor while also introducing a subtle taste of seafood.
Ingredients to Make Crispy Coconut Tofu
This recipe’s ingredients are simple to find, but several forms of coconut are needed to get the boldest flavor possible. I’ve packed in sweet coconut flavor into every step of this recipe!
Tofu Marinade Ingredients
- Extra firm tofu: I always buy extra firm tofu whenever I want to bread it. It holds together perfectly when working with it, doesn’t require pressing, and creates a delicious texture with no effort required!
- Soy sauce: Tofu has no flavor on its own, so we’ll marinate it to taste amazing. Soy sauce offers plenty of salt to boost the flavor of the tofu and help it more closely resemble seafood.
- Lime juice: Adding the juice of one lime in your tofu marinade is ideal for acidity. It offers bright, citrus notes – perfect to go along with coconut!
- Mirin: A Japanese cooking wine, mirin adds a boost of slight sweetness to the marinade.
- Sesame oil: Sesame oil has such a unique and rich flavor. It’s by far my favorite oil and a fantastic one to use for maximum flavor when marinating tofu.
- Nori sheets: I’m not going to claim this recipe tastes exactly like coconut shrimp, but a couple sheets of nori (seaweed) cut up into the marinade introduces a beautiful seafood-like flavor.
- Coconut milk: In the marinade you’ll use half a can of coconut milk to infuse the tofu with coconut flavor while also providing enough liquid to help other ingredients mix thoroughly.
Coconut Crusting/ Breading Ingredients
- Corn starch: I use a 3-step process for breading tofu and it the first step is to coat it in starch. When starch-covered tofu is dipped into coconut milk, it creates a nice, sticky surface for the coconut cling onto. This method works so well!
- Coconut flour: Adding coconut flour into the starch mixture is optional, but it’ll boost the coconut flavor even more! If you don’t have coconut flour, you can just use more starch and the final product will still have plenty of coconut flavor.
- Garlic and onion powder: Add some onion and garlic powder to the starch and coconut flour blend for even more flavor! As you dip the marinaded tofu into this mixture first, these two spices will cling to each bite and make it truly delicious.
- Coconut milk: In the breading system you’ll use the other half can of coconut milk along with some water to help the outer layer of shredded coconut stick well.
- Shredded coconut: Shredded coconut is the final tofu breading layer. It’ll brown and get super crispy when pan fried! The result is a flaky, sweet and decadent coating that you’ll love the moment it hits your tongue.
- Vegetable oil: While you could certainly bake these coconut tofu bites, they are even more delicious pan fried in vegetable oil.
How to Make Coconut Crusted Tofu Bites
Making coconut tofu bites is a fairly simple process. Just marinate some tofu, coat it in a delicious coconut crust, pan fry and serve! There are only a few important points to keep in mind which I've outlined below!
Step 1: Prepare and Marinate Tofu
Select extra-firm tofu for this recipe. Extra-firm tofu has the best texture for any recipe that requires breading tofu!
Slice the block of tofu every ¼ inch (½ centimeter), then cut these in half diagonally, creating triangles. If there’s another shape you prefer, you can also cut it that way.
Place the tofu into a container with a secure fitting lid. Add the marinade ingredients, place the lid on the container and shake to combine. The marinade will be very thick and coat the tofu evenly!
Place into the fridge for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight. The longer tofu marinates, the more flavor gets absorbed! You won’t rinse off the marinade, so a lot of its flavor will be present in the crusted coconut bites!
Step 2: Crust Tofu
When the tofu is marinated, prepare a 3-step breading station. If possible, select bowls that have a flat bottom. This will make it easier to crust the tofu with little wasted breading.
In one bowl, mix the corn starch, onion powder, garlic powder and coconut flour. Coconut flour is optional, and you could use more starch in its place. However, to maximize the coconut flavor in this recipe, coconut flour is a great choice.
In your second bowl, pour in the canned coconut milk leftover from your marinade. Dilute this with water to get the right texture for breading. If the coconut milk isn’t watered down, the breading becomes too thick and won’t cook properly.
In the final bowl, add 1 ¼ cups of shredded coconut. Select an unsweetened medium-sized shred or desiccated coconut.
When ready to bread your tofu, remove a piece from the marinade and allow excess liquid to drip off. If desired, remove nori that may be stuck to the tofu (although it tastes great left on too).
Place the tofu into your starch-coconut flour mix and lightly press the starch into the tofu on both sides. If there’s any large clumps of flour sticking to the tofu, brush it off; otherwise, dunk the tofu into your bowl of coconut milk.
Remove from the coconut milk and place into your third bowl filled with shredded coconut. Firmly press the coconut into the tofu piece on both sides.
Repeat until every piece of tofu is crusted with coconut! I like to place all finished tofu pieces onto a baking tray or a couple large plates. This will keep your breading system more efficient and make the coconut crusted tofu easier to transfer onto a frying pan.
Step 3: Pan Fry Tofu
Depending on the size of your pan, you’ll need to fry the coconut tofu in 2-3 batches. Each batch should be a single layer with space around each piece of tofu.
To pan fry the tofu, heat half to one third of the vegetable oil over medium heat (half if you’re doing two batches, one third if three batches are required). The oil should completely coat the bottom of the pan in a very thin layer.
To test if the oil is hot enough, place one piece of tofu into the pan. It should begin to sizzle lightly immediately after placing in oil.
When the oil is hot enough, add ½ or ⅓ of the tofu to the pan, in an even layer. Make sure each piece is added into the hot oil and not onto the pan directly.
Cook for 2-3 minutes on either side. The coconut should be nicely golden brown across the whole piece of tofu. If only parts of the coconut are browning, more oil is likely needed (without enough oil, only the pieces of coconut touching the pan directly will brown).
After the first batch of tofu is cooked, remove it onto a paper-towel covered plate (which absorbs excess oil).
** Clean Pan Between Batches **
It’s VERY important to wipe the pan clean before starting your next batch. Some shredded coconut will fall off the tofu as it cooks and can quickly burn. If you don’t clean these coconut bits, they will burn and stick to your second or third batch of coconut tofu.
To clean the pan, I like to hold a piece of paper towel with tongs. Wipe any coconut pieces out before starting into the next round of tofu. My video below shows how to do this; be careful not to burn yourself!
After the pan is clean, heat more oil and repeat the cooking process.
Step 4: Serve with your Favorite Dipping Sauce
Once all the coconut tofu pieces are cooked, serve with your favorite dipping sauce. For me, nothing beats the combo of coconut tofu with sweet chili sauce!
Sriracha mayo is also a delicious, creamy option!
This recipe is intended to be an appetizer but can also star as the protein of a main meal. To turn this into a full meal, serve with lots of veggies and some carbohydrates. The easiest way to do this is create a bowl meal, like a sushi bowl or large salad!
Coconut tofu, sushi rice and veggies (think cucumber, carrot, sweet potato, edamame, pickled ginger, red cabbage, etc.) along with a sauce (sweet chili, soy sauce, etc.) is a delicious meal!
Refrigerate and Reheat Coconut Tofu
I haven’t needed to store any leftovers for this recipe since my family eats it all right away! Coconut crusted tofu is a huge hit whenever I make it, and I hope it’s popular in your household too.
If you have leftovers, they’ll be okay to store in the fridge, in an airtight container for up to a week.
To reheat and keep them crispy, place the coconut tofu bites onto a baking tray and reheat in the oven at 350 °F until warmed through! An oven (or toaster oven) instead of a microwave helps keep crispy foods, like this coated tofu, crunchy and delicious.
If you make this recipe, please rate and comment below to help others benefit from your experience!
Coconut Crusted Tofu (Vegan & Gluten Free)
- 3 Bowls (medium-sized)
- Frying pan
- Slice the tofu into ¼ inch (½ centimeter) thick slices. Cut each of these slices diagonally, forming triangles.350 grams extra firm tofu
- Place the sliced tofu into a container along with soy sauce, lime juice, mirin, sesame oil and half of the canned coconut milk (save the other half for breading your tofu).2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, ¾ cup coconut milk
- Rip or cut up the nori sheets and add them into the tofu marinade.2 large sheets nori
- Place the lid on the tofu and shake well to combine the marinade ingredients.
- Put into fridge and allow to marinate for 30 minutes, up to 24 hours.
- To bread the tofu, set up three medium-sized bowls, ideally ones with flat bottoms.
- In one bowl, place the remaining coconut milk and stir in water to thin it out.¼ cup water, ¾ cup coconut milk
- In the second, mix together corn starch, coconut flour (or more corn starch), onion powder and garlic powder.¼ cup corn starch, ¼ cup coconut flour, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- In the third bowl, add shredded coconut.1 ¼ cups shredded coconut
- Take a piece of tofu from the marinade (remove nori pieces if desired) and lightly coat it in the coconut flour and starch mix.
- Then, fully dunk the tofu piece into the coconut milk.
- Move the tofu into the shredded coconut and firmly press coconut onto either side of the tofu piece.
- Place the tofu onto a baking tray (or wherever you want to collect all the pieces before cooking them).
- Repeat until all the tofu is crusted with coconut!
- Depending on the size of your pan, you will need to pan fry the tofu in 2-3 batches.
- Coat the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of oil (½ or ⅓ of total, depending on how many batches you'll work in). Warm, over medium heat, until the tofu pieces sizzle when placed into your pan.⅓ cup vegetable oil
- Once the oil is hot enough, add the tofu in a single layer in the pan, making sure each piece is in some oil.
- Allow to cook for 3-4 minutes on either side, until the coconut is nicely golden brown on either side.
- Remove cooked tofu from the pan onto a plate or baking tray covered in paper towel (to absorb excess oil).
- Carefully brush out bits of coconut from the pan before heating your second round of oil to cook more tofu (otherwise the leftover coconut will burn and ruin the next batch(es)). Use a piece of paper towel held with tongs to prevent burning yourself. It’s best to brush the hot coconut/ oil into a sink rather than garbage bag directly as the plastic could melt.
- Repeat the process until all the coconut tofu is cooked.
- Serve the hot coconut crusted tofu with a dipping sauce of your choice – sweet chili sauce or sriracha mayo both taste amazing!
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About Nicole Stevens
Nicole is a vegan Registered Dietitian (RD) and founder of Lettuce Veg Out.
She helps people thrive on a vegan diet with balanced recipes and easy-to-understand nutrition science.