This tofu salad recipe features crispy barbecue tofu, vegan ranch dressing and a rainbow of vegetables. This quick salad is ready in less than 30 minutes!
If you’ve been to this blog before, you’ll know that salads are never a side dish for me but always a main dish.
Every salad I make must be hearty and packed with wholesome ingredients to fill you up. I’ve even compiled an epic list of 50 vegan high protein salads.
Tofu is very healthy and full of protein but maybe you’ve never thought to put it in a salad before.
The tofu salad recipe I’ve created here is a sort of vegan BBQ chicken salad where tofu replaces the chicken.
With an easy homemade ranch dressing made from vegan yogurt instead of mayo, this salad is the most delicious way to eat the rainbow!
Which tofu is best for salad?
Firm or extra-firm tofu is perfect for this salad.
Look for Chinese-style tofu, which is the one in plastic packaging in the refrigerated section. Do not use Japanese silken tofu which is sold in a tetra pak.
If you’re new to tofu, the different types and their uses can be confusing. Check out my Tofu For Beginners post for some helpful tips and recipes.
How to prepare tofu for salad
There’s a lot of debate about the “right” way to prepare tofu!
To press or not to press? To marinate or not to marinate?
Personally, I’m lazy and like my meals ready quickly so I rarely take the time to press my tofu.
Also, I subscribe to the idea that the sauce is much more important than a marinade so I usually skip marinating it in favour of giving it a crispy coating.
So to prepare the tofu for this salad I first drain it and then use my hands to give it several good squeezes to get out most of the extra water.
If you want to press it, you can. You don't need a fancy tofu press. The best way is to slice it first, place the slices between paper towels, cover with kitchen towels and put something heavy on top. This is faster than pressing the whole block.
Then dice the tofu into cubes. To make crispy tofu, the trick is to coat it in cornstarch before frying.
Just transfer the tofu to a container and sprinkle over a couple tablespoons of cornstarch. Close the lid and shake it up.
The cornstarch trick doesn’t work as well if you marinate the tofu first.
Now you can fry the tofu until the cornstarch coating is crispy and golden brown.
Finally, to flavor it, add the barbecue sauce over the tofu in the pan and toss to coat well.
See how easy that was?
Tofu salad ingredients
Like any salad, you can adapt the ingredients depending on what you have on hand and what types of vegetables you prefer. Here’s what I like to put in mine:
Lettuce. Any type of lettuce. I used gem lettuce, which is just a miniature variety of romaine. You can use regular romaine or even iceberg if you like.
Tofu. As mentioned above use firm or extra-firm tofu. Do not use silken tofu.
Tomatoes. I used cherry tomatoes but any type of diced tomato is fine.
Cucumber. I love cucumber in salads. They add a great crisp texture and are juicy.
Red onion. I add sliced onion without any preparation. If you find raw onion a bit strong, you can soak the sliced onion in ice water for 20 minutes to take off some of the edge.
Avocado. Amazing creaminess and delicious paired with the bbq tofu.
Chickpeas. Helps to make the salad even heartier and also full of protein.
Cilantro. I love the freshness that cilantro adds to everything. Not everyone is a fan so it can easily be left out.
Barbecue sauce. For flavouring the tofu choose your favourite barbecue sauce. Read the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t have honey and is vegan.
Vegan ranch dressing. You can use a store-bought vegan ranch to save time or you can use my yogurt-based vegan ranch dressing recipe I’ve provided.
Cornstarch. For coating the tofu to make it crispy!
Tofu salad dressing
As I mentioned before, this is a vegan version of BBQ chicken salad, which apparently is a thing at Panera.
I’ve never been to Panera so this isn’t supposed to be a copycat recipe, but there are many copycat Panera recipes online and they usually call for ranch dressing.
If you live in the US, lucky for you that vegan ranch dressing is now relatively easy to find in large supermarkets.
Feel free to take a shortcut and use your favourite store-bought ranch dressing for this recipe.
If you, like me, can’t find ranch dressing in stores or if you prefer to make your own, then I’ve included my recipe here.
It’s basically my vegan ranch dip recipe but with a few splashed of plant-based milk to loosen it up into a pourable consistency.
I make my ranch with a base of unsweetened vegan yogurt. Since it’s already a bit sour, you don’t need to make vegan buttermilk or add any lemon or vinegar.
My preferred vegan yogurt is soy. I find soy to be the thickest and with the most neutral flavor.
Even if you don’t like soy yogurt on its own, you’ll find that after adding the spices and seasonings, it tastes just like ranch and you can’t taste any of the soy flavor.
I found that this homemade vegan ranch dressing still needed a bit of fat to make it creamy so I add a few tablespoons of vegan mayo as well.
This vegan ranch dressing recipe is much healthier than both store-bought ranch dressings and other recipes that are mayo or cashew based.
How to make tofu salad
To make this tofu salad, it’s best to start with the dressing to give the flavours time to meld.
In a medium bowl, combine the vegan yogurt, mayo, garlic and onion powder, fresh parsley, dried dill, chives and salt. Stir it well and set aside.
Now you can chop up all your veggies and drains and rinse the chickpeas.
Prepare the tofu last so that it stays nice and crispy.
Squeeze out as much water as you can, then dice it up and transfer to a container with the cornstarch. Shake it up and then fry it over medium-high heat until crispy and golden brown.
Finally, pour over your barbecue sauce and stir well to coat.
Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl.
Add a couple splashes of your favourite unsweetened plant-based milk to the ranch to loosen it up into a pourable consistency.
The reason why I do this last is because the dressing continues to thicken after the milk is added so it’s best to do it right before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can bake the tofu. There are many recipes online for baked BBQ tofu. I tried it but personally I don’t like it because the tofu dries out a lot in the oven and takes on a cardboard-like texture. That’s why I recommend frying the tofu but if you don’t like to fry, feel free to try a baked tofu recipe.
You can add whatever you like. Try swapping out the chickpeas for black beans or adding corn or grated carrots. Tortilla strips and vegan cheddar are popular additions.
This salad can be made ahead however the tofu will lose some of it’s crispiness as it sits. It still tastes good, though! I recommend not slicing the avocado until you’re ready to serve so that it doesn’t turn brown and keeping the dressing separate from the salad until serving time.
As these are fresh vegetables, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 - 3 days. I recommend not dressing the entire salad if your going to have leftovers but rather storing the dressing separately.
For the salad
- 5 cups (275 grams) chopped lettuce, your favourite type: romaine, gem, iceberg, etc.
- 20 cherry tomatoes halved
- ½ small red onion sliced
- 1 avocado diced
- 1 medium cucumber chopped
- 1 can chickpeas drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup (4 grams) chopped cilantro
For the tofu
- 1 block (14 oz / 396 grams) extra-firm tofu
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons neutral oil
- 4 tablespoons barbecue sauce
For the ranch dressing
- ½ cup (125 ml) unsweetened vegan yogurt, I use soy
- ¼ cup (75 ml) vegan mayo
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried chives
- 1 teaspoon fresh parsley or ½ teaspoon dried
- ½ teaspoon dried dill
- ½ teaspoon salt
- A few splashes unsweetened plant-based milk as needed to thin
- Start with the dressing to give the flavours time to meld. Combine all the ingredients EXCEPT the milk in a bowl and mix well. Set aside.
- Chop all the vegetables for the salad and place them in a large bowl.
- Drain the tofu and squeeze it between your hands to get out as much excess water as possible. Optional: I don’t press my tofu but if you want to the best way is to slice it, place it between towels and put a heavy book on top for a few minutes.
- Cube the tofu and transfer it to a container. Sprinkle over the cornstarch. Close the lid and shake it well to coat the tofu in the cornstarch.
- Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Fry the tofu, flipping as necessary, until it is golden brown and crispy on all sides. Turn off the heat and add the barbecue sauce and mix to coat. Add the tofu to the salad and toss to combine.
- Add a couple splashes of milk to the ranch dressing to thin it to a pourable consistency. I like to keep it rather thick so that the ranch flavour doesn’t dilute too much. Serve the salad with the dressing on the side.