Thai Tofu Salad (Yam Taohu) – Recipe

 Thai tofu salad
Thai tofu salad (yam taohu)

Thai salads (yam) are tremendously refreshing, full of the bright flavors of herbs, citrus and chili peppers, balanced with salt and sweetness from either fruit or palm sugar. They are great with a beer, or as part of a complete meal with rice and a curry or noodle dish.

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The traditional way to eat these salads is to use Thai sticky rice to pick them up, or wrap them in lettuce or cabbage leaves.

Once you appreciate their basic aesthetic, you can readily improvise your own yams. Feel free to include just about any tropical fruit, raw or lightly cooked vegetable, or roasted peanuts. Go ahead and adjust the heat level to your preference, and add or subtract from the dressing. For example, you could replace the cilantro in this recipe with Thai basil or add garlic, or fresh ginger, or lemongrass … you get the idea!

A word about the chilis in this dish. The most typical Thai choice would be bird chilis. They are tiny, and wicked hot. If you don't have them, serranos or even jalapenos would be a good alternative. Remove the seeds and ribs and make the dressing an hour in advance if you want it mild, or include everything and mix the chilis in at the last minute if you want maximum kick.

Thai Tofu Salad (yam taohu)
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten free
Serves 4 as part of a larger meal

For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (be sure and choose a gluten-free variety if needed)
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (preferably palm sugar)
  • 1-3 Thai bird chilis or serrano peppers, seeds and ribs removed (or see above)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots, preferably the large red variety
  • salt
  1. Combine all ingredients. Taste and add salt as needed, and adjust other components to get a good balance of flavors. It should be very intense, it will seem much more mild when added to the salad.

For the salad:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/8" thick slabs
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup medium diced seedless English cucumber
  • 4 green onions, white and light green parts, cut into small bite sized lengths
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves + some for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  1. Heat the oil over a medium-high flame in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. Pat the tofu dry. Add in a single layer to the skillet and fry until quite brown on one side, about 3-5 minutes. Flip and brown on the other side. Remove to paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
  2. After the tofu has cooled, slice it thinly, about 1/8" or so.
  3. Toss the tofu and all remaining ingredients with the dressing.
  4. Garnish with a few leaves of cilantro and serve (with sticky rice, or lettuce leaves, or just a fork 🙂


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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, February 25th, 2010 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Salads, Vegan or Modifiable.

13 Responses to “Thai Tofu Salad (Yam Taohu) – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    February 25, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    gosh, this looks wonderful-so full of vibrant flavors to wake up my winter-deadened palate!

  2. Reply
    February 25, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    I love these flavors. Sounds like a delicious, healthy meal!

  3. Reply
    February 25, 2010 at 8:21 pm #

    Mmmm delicious… and gorgeous!

  4. Reply
    February 25, 2010 at 11:42 pm #

    Delicious! Funny how you say cilantro and I say coriander 🙂

  5. Reply
    February 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    I love how you describe the balance of the flavors! I might make it without the bird chili because I’m a big wuss 🙂

  6. Reply
    February 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

    Sounds like an amazingly delicious dish! Thanks for the recipe. Cheers~

  7. Reply
    March 3, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    I’ve been on a huge Thai food kick lately since discovering one of the only Thai grocery stores in NYC just a few blocks from my office. However, I’ve been in a drunken noodles, curry, and papaya/mango salad rut so when I saw this I knew I had to make it. So, I made it over the weekend to go with some drunken noodles and my husband and I loved it. The proportions and combination of flavors was just perfect. I literally had to slap my husband’s hand off the serving spoon because he almost ate all of it without letting me go back in for more! It actually tasted better the next day when all the flavors came together and soaked into the tofu, but was still wonderful served immediately.

    The strangest thing is that it tasted like there was fish sauce in it…not sure how those flavors combined to do that but it made it taste completely authentic.

  8. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    March 3, 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Thanks Roopa! I usually use a small amount of high quality soy sauce as the closest vegetarian thing to fish sauce. It doesn't have that same funkiness, but actually not having grown up with fish sauce, for me that is a plus. Especially when combined with the lime. I know there are plenty of people who *adore* fish sauce and think that recipes without it are missing the whole point, and there is no arguing taste. But in my book, I'm happy. I bet if you wanted to get an even closer analog, a little dried-shiitake soaking liquid would give an umami boost.

  9. Reply
    August 31, 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Just a note, but an important one: a clarification is neccessary when calling this Gluten Free…Soy Sauce contains wheat, therefore gluten. I know and learned this from many bad and mysterious experiences. It is a terrible bloat and pain from that tiniest bit of gluten. However, most gluten-free people I hope already know that. But some, when just starting out with dietary allergies, etc., find Gluten hides in so many processed foods and sauces. Tamari Wheat Free soy sauce is the best alternative I have found, and I keep a small vial in my purse for sushi emergencies!

  10. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    August 31, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Yes, you are absolutely right. I usually note this in the ingredient list but forgot to do it on this one! Will edit it now, and thanks for pointing that out.

  11. Reply
    October 11, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    My husband is from Burma and it’s hard to find recipes that are like his moms to give him that every now and then! So I am really enjoying this website and this salad sounds like a less spicy version of the one my mother in law makes! Thank you!

  12. Reply
    June 18, 2015 at 10:07 am #

    Made this for lunch today, I HATE tofu, but I ate a huge bowl!! Definitely converted me to healthy tofu, thank you.

    • Reply
      June 18, 2015 at 10:46 am #

      That’s what I like to hear!

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