Recipe: Tofu stir-fried with basil (Tao Hoo Pad Bai Kaprao)

August 31, 2004
Tofu stir-fried with basil

In my last column on tofu, I promised a tofu recipe. As I was wondering which of the many tofu recipes I should write, the plight of one of my friends came to mind. There she is, a vegetarian student in New York, trying to squeeze in some quick food between studying and working. She implored me to give her veggie recipes that don’t need hours to make. So this one’s for her.

While much of the hard work in making Asian food is in the preparation, tofu is fortunately easy to cut. Nevertheless, it’s essential to have a sharp knife handy as it reduces the chances of cutting yourself. Get a Wusthof or Global chef’s knife if you can afford it.

Now, back to the recipe. Today, we’re making a Thai favourite – a stir-fry of tofu with chillies, garlic, and basil. I absolutely love Thai basil (pad kaprao) stir-fries and half the week, I have it in one form or the other. This is my adaptation of the meat version of the dish.

(The red and yellow peppers aren’t terribly authentic, but I like them, hence their appearance.)

On with the recipe, shall we?

What you need

Firm tofu or deep-fried tofu – 100 gm (about 3.5 oz for you Americans) (Asian groceries will sell you deep-fried tofu if you can’t make your own)

Garlic – 3 cloves

Hot green chillies (preferably Thai bird chillies) –  4-6 (adjust this to your taste please; I like mine hot)

Shallots – 1 tbsp

Salt – 1/4 tsp

Light soy sauce – 1 tbsp

Dark soy sauce – 1 tbsp

Stock or water – 1/4 cup (about 4 tbsp)

Sugar – 1 tsp

Peanut oil – about 1 tbsp (adjust as required)

White pepper – 2 pinches

Holy basil leaves – large handful

How to make it

Mince the garlic cloves and chop the chillies fine. Cut the tofu into bite-sized chunks.

If you have the time, pound the garlic, chillies, shallots, and salt together into a paste. This makes the flavours blend better. If you’re in a hurry, let it be.

Heat a wok until hot. Add the peanut oil.

When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the pounded paste. If you haven’t pounded them together, add the chillies, garlic, shallots, and salt to the oil. Stir-fry on medium heat for about 10-15 seconds, taking care to make sure that the garlic doesn’t burn.

Add the cut tofu and stir-fry again for another minute. Then add the light and dark soy sauces, the sugar, white pepper, and stock or water.

Stir-fry for one more minute to allow the sauce to thicken a bit and coat the tofu. Then tear the basil leaves with your hands and add them to the wok.

Stir it around till the basil wilts. Check quickly for any adjustments to seasoning. If it’s all good, take it off the heat.

There, your dish is ready. Preparation time is about 3-5 minutes and cooking time is about 3 minutes. Serve this dish with white steamed rice or noodles or fried rice or anything else that’s not too assertive.


If you can’t find holy basil, you can use sweet basil or Italian basil. If you do, just add another 1/4 tsp of white pepper in the cooking stage.

Deep-fried tofu really does taste good in this dish

This dish is supposed to be fairly hot. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Just kidding! Adjust the chillies to your taste but don’t eliminate them because that would rob the dish of its flavour.

If you’re serving this with steamed rice, make sure it’s a little extra spicy and salty so that it will taste just right with the neutral flavour of the rice.

This dish tastes delicious with chicken or beef. Mince the chicken or beef by hand or chop into very small pieces and use it instead of the tofu. Increase the cooking time by another 2 minutes or so to account for the meat. Use chicken stock instead of water, and if you like, add oyster sauce instead of the dark soy sauce.

If you prefer regular veggies instead of tofu, that too will work. Pick robust veggies like cauliflower, baby corn, mushrooms, squash, etc. and stir-fry those. Once again, cook them for a few minutes longer so they’re done. You may have to add a bit more stock or water too so it doesn’t dry up.

Don’t skimp on the basil leaves. Remember that they wilt in the pan, so that large handful in your hand won’t be so much when it’s done.

Here’s a picture of the pork version – Pork stir-fried with basil (Moo Pad Bai Kaprao)

There is hardly anything in this recipe that can be called an “exotic” ingredient, so give it a try today. Don’t wait for the weekend. This dish only needs about 10 minutes.

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  • Reply Jahnvi August 31, 2004 at 4:33 pm

    Yummy! cant wait to try it tonight. Thanks for another vegetarian recipe.

  • Reply aqua September 1, 2004 at 1:35 pm

    for junta living in namma bengaluru, how do we get deep-fried tofu? and where can i buy “firm tofu”?
    thankx for the recipe!

  • Reply Madhu (Ze Chef) September 1, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    You can make your own deep-fried tofu if you can’t get it. Instructions for that are in an earlier article.
    As for firm tofu, there are certain brands in supermarkets here (I can’t remember the name) that are firm. Use the press test to assess firmness.

  • Reply DB September 7, 2004 at 5:44 pm

    Congratulations on the Rediff feature. Nice :-)

  • Reply Naveen September 8, 2004 at 10:26 pm

    Got into your website from the article. I heartily appreciate your cooking passion and its really great to be sharing your business experience. Not many people do that. That was a sincere gesture which could motivate and assist many others to follow. Hats off to you. Being a catering graduate, i was not ensnared into IT but i just jumped into it desperately. Think its hightime i should also checkback on my real passion…

  • Reply alpha September 13, 2004 at 7:13 am

    hey madhoo!
    the recipe was awesome..just finished smaking our lips. I got all the ingredients except light soy sauce. I made-do without it…turned out great. tell me where cud I get hold of one. i live in the US.
    Also looking forward for the recipe for Penang Curry Vegetables.

  • Reply roshni tank September 14, 2004 at 1:08 pm

    Tried the recipe and it turned out to be great. Normally i am not a big fan of tofu but i really liked this dish. Would it be safe to try out the non-veg recipies too omiting the meat …keep the good work going.

  • Reply Madhu (Ze Chef) September 14, 2004 at 5:05 pm

    Alpha: It’s Madhu, not Madhoo. :)
    You can get light soy sauce at almost any supermarket there. Failing that, look in a China Town if there’s one. I quite like the “Pearl River Bridge” brand labelled “Superior Soy Sauce”.
    Roshni, some recipes can be modified to use veggies. Some just don’t work. Depends on the dish.

  • Reply Jahnvi January 14, 2005 at 5:02 pm

    Just to let you know that I recently tried this recipe with some variation – added peanut sauce to the curry just after the soy sauce. That added a fabulous, rich taste to the curry. And needless to say I used your recipe to prepare the peanut sauce. Thanks….

  • Reply The Sweet Sound of Patent Approval March 17, 2005 at 4:47 am

    Pan fried spicy tofu

    This YUM YUM YUM. My I’m-getting-a-cold-I-can-just-FEEL-it ass is eating some right now….

  • Reply kiki August 7, 2005 at 11:06 am

    this dish looks delicious! Can you use the same cooking instructions for tofu in a diffrent recipe?

  • Reply Vaman August 13, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    Hi Madhu
    Isnt Holy Basil Tulsi.
    Do you use Tulsi or the other BAsil?
    Can Triphal (Kamte Kai in Kannada or Kaatmurikku in Malyalam) be used instead of Sichuan Pepper?
    By the way I tried your Fried rice, Orange Lemmon Chicken and Butter pepper Prawns they are gr8

  • Reply jeanie May 22, 2007 at 5:28 am

    that is awesome! I love Thai basil and I just made it but I didn’t have white pepper so I used ground black instead. Would Sichuan pepper be good too?
    Post more recipes because these are all so delicious! thank you!!!

  • Reply Rashmi January 11, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I think this site is using your food pictures. Not sure if they have your permission. Thanks for the lovely recipes.

  • Reply rita May 15, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    my mom loves the vegetarian tofu dish!!! and i will have to make it for her! i looked for an easy version of this recipe before and could not find it ! thanks

  • Reply Holly B. August 5, 2008 at 11:21 am

    This dish looks positively “nummers!” Before I leave, I have a question for the lovely lady who runs this site.
    I live in Mexico. I love Mexican food, and I’ve learned that there are times that a recipe is prepared very similarly to an Oriental stirfry. The aromas it kicks up are also quite reminiscent of Oriental restaurants.
    In my retirement, I’ve also gotten seriously into Oriental cookery. For the taste mostly, but also the quickness (I have a spinal disability) and the nutritional benefits. A Chinese takeout place in my hometown served the BEST I’ve ever tasted, in spite of travels to many places like San Francisco. I judge my own preparations by the standard I grew up with – which is mighty high, I promise you!
    I think Oriental cuisine is the world’s best. Though it isn’t an easy choice!
    Here, there are many kinds of chiles, although I doubt that Mexico could boast of having most of them. There are simply too many.
    Among chiles, though, there are very few which can be called “fleshy.” Most are small, and are ground into paste to use as hot seasonings. Two of the Mexican chiles are fairly fleshy, the jalapeno and the poblano (sometimes called an “ancho”). The former is quite hot, especially used as a vegetable! But the poblano is remarkably mild. Both are easily available in large supermarkets in the States.
    I love a moderate level of “chiloso,” but age has deprived me of the ability to indulge as I once did. I have never enjoyed weeping on the porcelain pony! The poblano, though, is wonderful!
    What I’d do with this recipe is to include the red and yellow bell peppers. I’d omit the hot chile and substitute poblanos. All three peppers, I would first roast till blackened, remove the skins, and cut in bite-sized pieces. In the stirfry part, they’d only need warming through, and mixing with the other ingredients.
    ANY pepper is improved by roasting till black. Once in a while I get a hankering for a crisp, cold red bell, stuffed with savory delights, but most of the time, I roast ’em. SO GOOD! They’re great just sliced, mixed with oil, vinegar, salt and a touch of garlic. Add to sandwiches, or eat on crackers, or chop small and add to dips or sauces. Or just eat them out of the jar. On a pizza, I like to have some roasted and some fresh bells, because both are good in their own ways. Sometimes I soak the fresh bell pieces in the pizza sauce and only add them during the last 5 minutes of baking, so they stay crisp.
    Roasted ancho/poblano peppers can be treated the same way. I also like to stuff them with a good melty yellow or white cheese, then roll in some water with a touch of egg white, then into bread crumbs, flour, potato chip crumbs or cornflake crumbs, then fry crisp. They’re rich, so side dishes should be cool, refreshing and light, like a cuke salad, and maybe a jello dish for dessert. Just remember, that the longer a poblano sits around, the redder it gets – and the HOTTER! For maximum mildness cook and eat them when a dark forest green. They can never be eaten raw. Just doesn’t work. I don’t use the oven or broiler to roast peppers. I use a cast iron griddle. Easier to supervise the blackening process, but also…the aroma!! Then pop them in to a bag to let the steam loosen the skins for a few minutes. Tho it may cost some flavor, I skin them under thin running water. Don’t let much black remain; it’s like chewing cardboard, although a fleck here or there adds flavor. You don’t have to get off all the skin, either, just the stuff that got hardened.
    BTW, in Mexico, they always ROAST and peel their hot chiles, even if they’re going to make them into a paste. It’s more tasty. No Mexican home is complete without a molcajete, a concrete mortar and pestle set. Sometimes soups or stews are even SERVED in molcajetes!
    Basil is a marvellous herb, but you could also try substituting a big handful of coarse-chopped cilantro. Or perhaps a big handful of fresh Italian parsley.
    And, if you want some serious “greens” in there, try a few handfuls of fairly finely-chopped spinach, beet leaves, or other dark green leaf. We can never eat enough of these intensely nutritious leaves (including basil and cilantro).
    I put greens into things as humble as ordinary chicken or beef soup or stew. Stems and all (but not the dirty roots). They add a unique flavor that is truly delightful. Try it sometime. Then squeeze some fresh lime or lemon over each serving, and top it with a variety of chopped raw veggies, like onion, lettuce, cabbage, radish, hot or sweet peppers, tomato, and, of course, croutons. You’d be amazed how GOOD just some lemon or lime juice tastes in almost any soup or stew. Adds vitamin C, too, and heightens all the other flavors similar to what salt does.
    I wonder what these soup/stew additions might be like on top of this oriental dish? It might be fun to find out.
    Such fun…
    Okay, here’s my question. No matter WHAT I do, I can’t make eggrolls or springrolls that don’t get soggy and let the filling come out into the hot oil. What am I doing wrong? I stirfry the filling, drain it all I can, but it continues draining, even if I make them one at a time and toss them right into the oil – they still get sogged and break.
    What’s the trick? I’ve taken to just making the filling, then frying little squares of wonton and eating them from separate dishes – a bite of one, then a bite of the other. It’s the same taste, but not QUITE the same thing, y’know?
    What can I do to make mine come out as perfectly as the Oriental restaurants always do? Even when they don’t break, they don’t get that “bubbly” textured surface. They fry crisp, but flat. And only when I’m lucky!
    I’d really appreciate your help.

  • Reply Sean September 11, 2008 at 2:53 am

    I order this dish twice a week or more at a local Burmese restaurant. I love it, thank you so much!

  • Reply Mea September 6, 2009 at 1:38 am

    Excuse me. Be careful that victories do not carry the seed of future defeats.
    I am from Guatemala and bad know English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: “Minutes may all be then lost and saw; there must be swedish potential or archived agenda of inanimate neck.”
    Thank you so much for your future answers :). Mea.

  • Reply Eric September 6, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Give please. He had learned over the years that poor people did not feel so poor when allowed to give occasionally.
    I am from Malta and learning to speak English, tell me right I wrote the following sentence: “Greggs is reached into the explored voluntary cities experience by lester freamon.”
    Thanks :-). Eric.

  • Reply Thuy November 20, 2009 at 4:26 am

    I just randomly found your site and I have to tell you that your food looks amazing!! :) I can’t wait to try out your recipes. Thank you a million!

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