A bowl of warm tofu topped with sesame scallion sauce.

When I read Ruth Reichl’s description of this warm tofu with spicy dipping sauce — “a beautiful dish, which takes ten minutes, costs very little, and is so utterly delicious” —  in this month’s Gourmet, I couldn’t not make it.

And I’m so happy I did. This is by far the easiest — my friends who hate to cook are you listening? — method of preparing tofu I have encountered:

First, you simmer tofu in water — yes, water — then you make a simple sauce, a mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, chile flakes, and scallions; then you pour this sauce over the tofu.

It is as delicious as Ruth promises. Truly. Please try it. I think you will be pleased.

Here’s the play-by-play: Gather your sauce ingredients: soy sauce, sesame oil, chile flakes, scallions, garlic (if you wish), sugar, and sesame seeds.

A board of scallions, spices, and soy sauce.

Toast the sesame seeds:

Toasted sesame seeds in a skillet.

Place a block of firm tofu in a skillet and cover with water. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat to keep warm.

a block of tofu simmering in water.

Often I’ll cut the block in half before simmering it.

A halved block of tofu simmering in water.

After about 20 minutes, place each tofu half into a bowl.

Two bowls each with a halved block of tofu inside.

And spoon the sauce over the top.

Two bowls of warm tofu topped with sesame-scallion sauce.

Serve with vegetables on the side. I love this spicy broiled broccoli but steamed edamame (see below) is a great, simple option.

A bowl of tofu with spicy sesame scallion sauce aside spicy broiled broccoli.

Way back in the day, I worked at a catering company in Philadelphia. At nearly every party I worked, ‘peking duck rolls’ served straight from a bamboo steamer were passed with a soy dipping sauce … everyone raved.

Of course I went to Chinatown immediately following the first party I worked to purchase one of these three-tiered bamboo steamers. And while it is not a gadget I use often, I find it comes in handy here and there, and it’s kind of fun, too.

I love using it for edamame, which steam in under five minutes. If you have one, place it right into a wok filled with just enough water to reach below the first tier. Bring the water to a boil and then place edamame pods into one of the tiers. Cover and steam until done. Sprinkle with a nice sea salt according to taste.

Edamame steaming in a bamboo steamer basket in a wok.
A bowl of edamame with nice salt.

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A bowl of warm tofu topped with sesame scallion sauce.

Warm Tofu with Spicy Garlic Sauce

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Adapted from Gourmet


The original recipe calls for both toasting and crushing the sesame seeds. For simplicity, I often just toast the seeds. If you want to also crush the sesame seeds, you can mince them with some of the garlic and the scallions, which helps keep the seeds from flying off the cutting board.

The sauce can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Bring to room temperature before using. Consider doubling it if you want to serve it with rice

Regarding Korean hot red pepper flakes: you can use crushed red pepper flakes in their place or a chili paste such as Sriracha or Sambal Oelek. 

The tofu can be kept warm for as long as 4 hours.

As noted in the post, I love the tofu with this broiled broccoli. 


  • 1 (14- to 18-oz) package firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • ¼ cup chopped scallion, or about 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, toasted, see notes above
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce, low sodium or Tamari if you are sensitive to salt
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Korean hot red-pepper flakes, see notes above
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar


  1. Place the tofu in a shallow sauce pan and cover with cold water. Noe: I like to cut the block of tofu in half. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then keep warm, covered, over very low heat for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, mince and mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt. Stir together with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Just before serving, carefully lift the tofu from the saucepan with a large spatula and drain on a towel (or simply use a slotted spatula and skip the drying step). Transfer the block or blocks of tofu to a shallow bowl or bowls. Spoon the sauce over the tofu and serve warm. 
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Tofu
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Asian