The best black pepper tofu (with cauliflower!) – this vegan sheet pan dinner with a delicious black pepper sauce can be made in just 30 minutes. Serve over steamed rice or your favorite grain for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.
Crispy tofu and perfectly roasted cauliflower covered in the most addictive sauce: black pepper sauce. This baked black pepper tofu and cauliflower hits all the perfect notes: a bit salty, sweet, spicy and savory.
Thank you to Stahlbush Island Farms for sponsoring this post. All opinions are my own.
What is Black Pepper Sauce?
This vegan black pepper sauce recipe is inspired by a Chinese brown sauce commonly available for stir-fry takeout. It’s a peppery brown gravy often served with fried beef, but here we use it as a quick homemade black pepper sauce for tofu and cauliflower!
Traditional Chinese black pepper sauce recipes often call for specialty items that tend to be harder to find outside of Asian markets: different types of soy sauces, and Chinese cooking wine. These recipes often include non-vegan ingredients like oyster sauce.
This black peppercorn sauce recipe is simplified and veganized with pantry-friendly ingredients for a very similar flavor profile, and might even be better-than-take-out!
If made as written, this vegan peppercorn sauce recipe will produce “medium” heat – leave out the chili pepper, and add more black pepper as you go if you’d like to closely manage the heat.
Bake or Stir-Fry?
Many black pepper tofu recipes call on stir frying using a skillet or wok. However, by roasting the tofu and cauliflower while you make the sauce, the meal comes together much faster because the cauliflower and tofu bake up nice and crispy whilst you make the pepper sauce. Stir frying to get these same results would require frying in batches which is time consuming, and requires much more oil. Sheet pan meals are also less messy than frying – good-bye oil splatter!
If it’s too hot to use the oven (or you don’t have one), you can cook the tofu and cauliflower in a wok or cast iron skillet but be sure to fry the tofu and cauliflower in batches. You’ll need additional oil for frying so that the food does not stick, and to get the crispy bits on the tofu and cauliflower that we’re after here.
Tips for Baking Tofu:
For the crispiest oven baked tofu that doesn’t stick to the sheet pan:
- Preheat the oven completely before baking the tofu.
- Press the tofu especially if it’s packed in water – first slice the block into 2 or 3 even pieces. Wrap with a clean, dry tea towel (or a couple of layers of paper towel), and then place something heavy on it (like a skillet or heavy pot.) Let it sit for about 10 minutes to release some water. I often don’t have time to do this, but get crispy tofu as long as I drain and pat the extra-firm tofu dry before tossing it in oil and cornstarch.
- Line the baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- If you don’t have parchment paper, grease the baking sheet evenly with about 2-3 tablespoons (30-45 mL) of neutral oil. Preheat in the oven for 5 minutes before carefully removing to add the tofu and baking.
- Don’t let any of the cubes of tofu touch – to get crispy, they need the hot oven air circulating.
- Use a thin spatula to flip the tofu, like a fish turner.
- Don’t flip the tofu until it’s crisp and lightly brown underneath, after about 20 minutes of baking.
- If you need to use 2 baking sheets to roast the tofu and cauliflower, place the one containing the cauliflower beneath the tofu. This way, the tofu is less likely to be affected by the steam released by the cauliflower.
Black Pepper Tofu Ingredients & Substitutions
Extra-firm tofu bakes up the crispiest because it has a lower water content, but firm tofu works well, too!
Don’t use soft or silken tofu as it will fall apart when trying to coat with cornstarch and when trying to flip it. It also has a much higher water content and resists becoming crisp.
If you love tempeh, it’s a nice, meaty substitute for tofu.
This recipe calls for about one large cauliflower. You can use frozen or fresh cauliflower.
I used Stahlbush Island Farm’s frozen cauliflower which is excellent roasted. Once defrosted, it releases a lot of its water and becomes more porous to absorb that delicious sauce.
With a sharp knife, carefully split the florets into bite-sized pieces. Ensure the pieces are all roughly the same size for even roasting.
The secret to crispy tofu is tossing it in cornstarch (aka corn flour) before baking or frying. If you don’t have any cornstarch, it can be omitted for a less crisp tofu.
Sesame oil adds a nice nutty, umami flavor to the sauce. You can use peanut oil, or a neutral oil like sunflower or canola if that’s what you have on hand. Just make sure the oil you choose has a high-smoke point so you aren’t setting off any smoke detectors while roasting the tofu and cauliflower at 425°F/220°C/gas mark 7.
This recipe calls for shallots, but a medium red, white or yellow onion will work, too.
Make sure to use freshly cracked black pepper.
Pre-ground pepper tends to lose its flavor and potency over time. Pre-ground pepper tends to be much finer than freshly cracked pepper. Some small peppercorn chunks are nice for pops of heat, rather than an even blanket of pepper. Using a pepper mill or spice grinder works well here. If you don’t have one, you can use a mortar and pestle, or place the peppercorns in a plastic bag and beat them with a blunt food safe object like a wooden rolling pin or tenderizer.
While black pepper is what I used here, a peppercorn medley also tastes great!
The best flavor of vegetable broth for this sauce is beefless or mushroom because they have the most umami flavor. But any broth will do – use sodium-reduced if you’re watching your salt intake, or simply use water (keeping in mind you’ll be losing some flavor.)
Soy sauce is one of the star flavors in this Asian-inspired sauce. Use tamari for a gluten-free option, or reduced sodium (light) soy sauce if you’d like to control the amount of salt until serving.
Garlic & Ginger
Fresh garlic and ginger have the absolute best flavor by a long shot, and I always recommend using them in savory recipes where they are the pronounced flavors like in this black pepper sauce.
That said, you can experiment and use dried aromatics if you normally don’t use fresh aromatics. Dried powdered garlic and ginger are more concentrated than fresh garlic and ginger, and so you’ll need to use less. To convert fresh ginger to dried powdered ginger, start with ⅛ teaspoon and adjust to taste. To substitute fresh garlic to dried powdered garlic, start with about ½ teaspoon of powdered garlic.
Want More Veggies?
Here are a few vegetable options to add in with the shallots when making the pepper sauce:
- 1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms, and/or,
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced, and/or,
- handful or two of snap peas or green beans, cut in 2” (5 cm) pieces.
How to Make Black Pepper Tofu & Cauliflower
For this black pepper sauce recipe, we’re going for medium heat. Some versions call for as much as 5 tablespoons of peppercorns which is a lot of heat – the one thing with spicy food is that you can always add more heat, but you can’t remove the spiciness once it’s in here. Start with the 1 ½ teaspoon (about 3.5 g) of cracked black pepper, and add more as desired.
- Bake the cauliflower and cubed cornstarch-coated tofu.
2. Whisk together and simmer the black pepper sauce.
3. Add the baked tofu and cauliflower to the sauce.
4. Serve over steamed rice, or your favorite grain or noodles!
Serve the baked black pepper tofu and cauliflower over hot steamed rice (basmati, brown rice, etc), quinoa, rice noodles, or soba noodles! It’s also amazing served in a wrap with rice, strips of fresh bell pepper, and avocado for an easy lunch on the go.
Storage & Reheating Suggestions
This easy meatless dinner is best served immediately. Leftovers are delicious although the tofu will no longer be crispy.
Leftovers: Store leftover black pepper tofu and cauliflower in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrosted black pepper tofu and cauliflower will have a softer texture.
It’s safest to serve rice the same day it’s cooked. If you chose to make more than you need for leftovers, keep is no more than a day in a shallow container in the refrigerator.
Reheat the black pepper cauliflower and tofu on stove top over medium-low heat in a lightly oiled skillet. Add a wee splash of water if the sauce needs to be thinned slightly. Or, reheat in the microwave in 30 second bursts, until hot throughout.
More Easy Vegan Weeknight Recipes
- Garlic Miso Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower
- One-Skillet Greek Orzo & Chickpeas
- Thai Peanut Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
- 15-Minute Garlicky Breadcrumb Pasta with Shredded Brussels Sprouts
If you make this Black Pepper Tofu & Cauliflower, please give it a rating in the recipe card and leave a comment below! Follow along on Instagram and Facebook where you can tag me in your creations using my recipes! You can also follow me on Pinterest for vegan recipe inspiration. Thank you for reading!
Black Pepper Tofu & Cauliflower
For the Crispy Baked Tofu & Cauliflower
- 12-14 oz extra-firm tofu, drained, patted dried/pressed and cut into ¾” (2 cm) cubes (See Notes on pressing tofu)
- 1 tbsp neutral oil (e.g, sunflower, avocado, etc)
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- ¼ tsp fine sea salt
- ¼ tsp cracked pepper
- 30 oz cauliflower florets (1 large head or about 4 cups) (defrosted and drained if frozen)
- 3 tbsp neutral oil (e.g. sunflower, avocado, etc)
For the Vegan Black Pepper Sauce
- ½ cup vegan beefless or mushroom broth (or water) (cold or room temperature)
- 4 tbsp soy sauce (or tamari to make this gluten-free; sodium-reduced if desired)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 shallots, diced (or 1 medium onion, diced)
- 1 ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper (not pre-ground), more to taste
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp fresh ginger, minced or grated
- 1 red chili pepper, thinly sliced (optional)
- hot steamed rice, or grain of choice for serving
- 1 bunch green onions, sliced thin for serving
Baked Crispy Tofu and Cauliflower:
- Preheat the oven to 425°F/220°C/gas mark 7. Line one extra large or two large baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. If you don’t have parchment paper or silicone liners, drizzle about 2-3 tablespoons (45-60 ml) of oil on each of the baking sheets and place them in the oven to get hot, about 5 minutes before you'll be placing the tofu & cauliflower on them.
- Place the cubes of tofu in a medium bowl, and drizzle with the oil. Toss gently to coat. Sprinkle the cornstarch, salt, and pepper over the tofu, and toss again to coat evenly. Spread the tofu on a prepared baking sheet, ensuring none of the cubes are touching each other.
- Cut the cauliflower up into evenly sized florets (for even roasting.) Place in the bowl you tossed the tofu in. Drizzle the cauliflower with the 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of oil. Spread the cauliflower out on a prepared baking sheet, ensuring there's space between each floret and the sheet is not overcrowded.
- Once the oven has preheated completely, place the tofu and cauliflower into the oven and roast for 30-35 minutes, tossing once at around 20 minutes. If you're using 2 baking sheets, place the cauliflower a rack or two lower than the tofu so the steam doesn't hover over the tofu preventing it from crisping. Resist flipping the tofu earlier than 20 minutes so that the cornstarch has time to set up and crisp.
Vegan Black Pepper Sauce:
- While the tofu and cauliflower roasts, prepare the sauce. Whisk together the broth, soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. Set aside.
- Place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sesame oil. Once shimmering, add the shallots and fry for 1-2 minutes or until softened, stirring frequently. (See Notes below if adding other vegetables.) Add the cracked black pepper, garlic, ginger, and chili pepper (if using), cooking for another 30 seconds until very fragrant. Whisk in the prepared sauce. Bring to a simmer, and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Do not overcook. Taste for heat, adding more cracked pepper, if desired. Remove from the heat.
- Just before serving, add the roasted tofu and cauliflower to the skillet and stir to coat evenly with the sauce. Cooking longer will soften the crispy tofu. Serve over hot steamed rice, or your favorite cooked grain or rice/soba noodles. Serve topped with sliced green onions, and more black pepper or hot sauce, if desired.
Stove-Top OptionIf it’s too hot to use the oven (or you don’t have one), you can cook the tofu and cauliflower in a wok or cast iron skillet but be sure to fry the tofu and cauliflower in batches. You’ll need additional oil for frying so that the food does not stick, and to get the crispy bits on the tofu and cauliflower that we’re after here.
Pressing TofuPress the tofu especially if it’s packed in water – first slice the block into 2 or 3 even pieces. Wrap with a clean, dry tea towel and then place something heavy on it (like a skillet or heavy pot.) Let it sit for about 10 minutes to release some water. I often don’t have time to do this, but get crispy tofu as long as I drain and pat the tofu dry before tossing in oil and cornstarch.
Want More Veggies?Here are some options to add in with the shallots when making the pepper sauce:
- 1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms, and/or
- 1 bell pepper, seeded and sliced, and/or
- handful or two of snap peas or green beans, cut in 2” (5 cm) pieces
The Nutrition Information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the Nutrition Information for any recipe on this site cannot be guaranteed.
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