Vegetarian Char Siu Recipe (Tofu Xa Xiu)

Vegetarian Char Siu Recipe (Tofu Xa Xiu) Recipe

If you've been to an Asian market, you've probably noticed the long pieces of Chinese-style barbecue meat glistening with red sauce on hangers. The red sauce is char siu sauce (in Vietnamese, it's called xá xíu). Since my husband Lulu is a vegetarian, I made a tofu version and coated the fried tofu with the sweet sauce. It's made with honey (but I used date syrup for a darker color), hoisin sauce, reduced soy sauce, dry sherry (optional), fresh ginger, five spice powder and sesame oil. I added a little red food coloring to reach the typical char siu color but really, it's up to you. To finish the dish I sautéed the tofu with shiitake mushrooms and red and green onions.

I didn't miss eating meat at all, but of course, you could use the sauce on a pork tenderloin and generously baste the meat with the eye-catching sauce, if you prefer.


Yields: 8 servings

2 (12-ounce) packages firm tofu
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 red onion, half chopped, the rest cut into thin wedges
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, cut in thirds
¼ cup date syrup (or honey)
1 pinch red food coloring powder (optional)
1/3 cup hoisin sauce (or oyster sauce)
¼ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry (optional)
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce, to taste
1 cup shiitake mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped


Prepping the ginger: Peel the ginger with a paring knife, thinly slice it, then cut into long matchsticks. Set aside.

Prepping the tofu: Cut the tofu into 1-inch slices. In a wok, heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Pan-fry the pieces of tofu on both sides until golden. The tofu should have a nice fried outer crust and still be moist inside. Transfer the tofu onto paper towels. Once the tofu pieces are cool enough to handle, cut them into quarters. Set aside.

Making char siu sauce: In a small saucepan, combine the date syrup (or honey) and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add hoisin sauce (or oyster sauce), five-spice powder, red food coloring (if used) and dry sherry (if used). Stir well and set aside.

Assembly time:

In the same wok, add the rest of the oil. Once it's hot, add the chopped red onion. Cook until fragrant, then add the garlic and ginger. As the garlic becomes slightly golden, add the tofu and stir fry until fragrant. Transfer the tofu to a platter, leaving as much oil as possible in the wok.

Add the mushrooms. Sauté for 3-4 minutes until until they become shiny. Transfer to a platter.

Add the char siu sauce and ½ cup water. Once the sauce thickens, add the fried tofu and chili garlic sauce. Stir-fry for about 3-4 minutes. Return the shiitake mushrooms and the onion wedges to the wok . Stir constantly.

Check seasoning. Add salt and pepper. Sprinkle with cilantro. Toss well. Drizzle with sesame oil.

Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Bon appétit!


I'm addicted to this particular tofu. It's from a very little shop in San Jose (there's also one in Milpitas and one in LA) but everything is very good. Their factory makes all kinds of tofu textures (silken tofu, fried tofu, sweetened and unsweetened soy milk and tofu dessert). Make sure to ask for the firm type. I found two locations in the Bay Area. Vinh Khang Tofu, 141 Dixon Road, Milpitas, CA 95035 and 2955 Senter Road #80, San Jose, Ca 95111.

You can find red food coloring powder in most Indian markets. You could also use 1 drop of liquid food coloring instead.

I used pure, organic date syrup from Organics Are For Everyone.

date syrup recipe with picture

You could replace the ginger with finely chopped lemongrass.

The soy sauce gives a nice amber brown color. My favorite soy sauce is the Da Bo De brand. It has a good flavor and is not too salty. You can find it at Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 South 2nd Street, San Jose.

Little reminder on how to make five-spice powder:  Dry-roast ½ stick of Saigonese cinnamon, 1 star anise, 2 cloves, ½ teaspoon of fennel seed and ¼ teaspoon of Sichuan pepper. Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder (I use a coffee mill that I use exclusively for grinding spices) until it becomes a fine powder.

I didn't have any but you could garnish the dish with toasted sesame seeds.


Published By: Jacqueline Pham on February 6, 2012.


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