Mala Baked Tofu Bites

Mala Baked Tofu Bites turns normal, everyday tofu into a great, healthy appetizer with a classic Chinese spicy-numbing character. Mala Tofu Bites

Mala Tofu Bites

by Sue Lau | Palatable Pastime

It was sometime last year when I had seen marinated tofu in a deli counter at Earth Fare markets up in Dayton, and needing a hurried snack, my husband and I grabbed some. We loved it so much that before the container was empty, I had set about to make some for myself at home. You can view that recipe here: Korean Kimchi Marinated Tofu.

It was spicy, and I do love spicy, being a bit of a chile head myself. And kimchi certainly fits the bill!

Another type of spicy recipe I love is Mala. The best mala I had was at an Asian buffet in Miamisburg which was operated by a Malaysian chef named William who had previously worked at Benihana. My husband and I nicknamed him “Malaysia Man” and frequented his establishment quite a lot (this was about 10-12 years ago). It was there that I also enjoyed the black pepper chicken, which someone had asked me about and I worked out the recipe. But those two dishes were my favorites at that place.

And thinking about tofu and how to make it both delicious and heart healthy, I chose to make a mala version of it, because (let’s face it) tofu really doesn’t have any flavor of it’s own. So what better flavor than mala to explode upon the palate, and bring a lifeless substance to stunning fiery vibrant life?

Back when I first tried to make mala years ago, I have to admit the range of ingredients I had was very limited. But since then, I have come across particular ingredients (such as gochujang and sambal belacan) that while may or may not have been  in William’s recipes (he was never going to tell me), I really do think it hits the mark of the flavor profile I was looking for.

The most important ingredients in mala are spices designed to be numbing (ma) from the Szechuan  peppercorns, which is not actually a true pepper, but a type of berry, the way allspice is a berry. I can find it ground now, which makes prep quite a bit easier than  grinding the peppercorns, since (I must warn you) really need to be sifted well to removed all fibrous material or it can make whatever you are cooking taste gritty. So if you prep your own be careful to sift it through a very fine sieve, or if you can, just buy it already processed.

The other part of mala is the “la” which refers to the spice of it, which is stinging (can you almost hear someone singing “LA LA LA LA LA!”? The are many things which can spice up a dish pepper wise, but in this case I used a combination of fermented gochujang, fermented sambal belacan (which is a type of chili paste that also includes a bit of dried shrimp) and the Szechuan chili oil (which is also called spicy sesame oil many times). Together they make a formidable combination deeply complex with flavors and fire.

Tofu and press Tofu being pressed

In preparing the tofu, the first thing you will want to do is press it, to remove excess  water. So try to get the firmest tofu you can find. Extra firm or super firm is good. You can buy a tofu press, but it really isn’t that important if you have something weighted you can put on top of the tofu to give it time to squeeze out the liquid. I actually opted to use my cast iron panini press which you can see in the photo above.

As well, you could choose to use a flat bottomed plate and weigh down the top with heavy cans. Let the tofu sit under there for about half an hour, and I made sure I put it all on a cutting board which I tilted very slightly so the liquid would run off the board and not pool beneath it. Just make sure you have something beneath that to catch the liquid, such as a baking pan or over your sink.

tofu blocks Diced tofu and sauce

After the tofu is finished being pressed, cut it into cubes and gently toss it with the sauce. it is then put on a baking sheet (I lined my sheet with nonstick foil) and bake in a similar way to  making oven fried potatoes, where you don’t want the sides of the cubes touching the other cubes at all. This helps make sure you tofu is drier and a little crispy in fact.

Yofu mixed with mala sauce Tofu on baking sheet

Once the tofu is finished baking, you can serve it warm or at room temperature, or perhaps even chilled. It is easy enough to serve with toothpicks for easy dipping, or if you like something a little different, try putting a few pieces of the tofu into a leaf of Boston lettuce with a little sauce and roll it up as a lettuce wrap. Either way, it helps to keep the spicy sauce off the fingers of your guests since this is an appetizer, and prevents unfortunate pepper in the eyes later if someone does not thoroughly wash their hands and accidentally rubs their eyes. Mala Tofu Bites I do hope this becomes a favorite for you. Perhaps it will be a new experience for you to enjoy tofu, or perhaps you never had a chance to enjoy it in this way, having only had it prepared differently. But tofu is a very healthy food and the sky is the limit for the types of ways it can be prepared. Do give it a try and let me know what you think! ~Sue

You might also like:

Korean Kimchi Marinated Tofu

Firm baked tofu has the texture of cheddar cheese. Imbued with a delicious Korean marinade, this tofu is sure to please.
Korean Kimchi Marinated Tofu

Hot and Sour Noodle Soup

Hot and Sour Noodle Soup is delicious Chinese-style hot and sour soup lightened up with low-carb shirataki noodles.
Hot and Sour Noodle Soup

Edamame Hummus

Edamame Hummus tastes like the hummus we like to buy at the olive bar and goes together fast using fresh or frozen edamame beans.
Edamame Hummus

Mala Tofu Bites

5 from 1 vote
Total Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Course appetizers
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 6


  • 14 ounces extra firm tofu

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Korean gochujang paste (spicy fermented soybean paste)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Thai roasted chilli paste or Indonesian sambal belacan
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Szechuan chili oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable base can also use chicken base
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorn
  • 1/8 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1-1/3 teaspoons water


  • Press tofu for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 400F.
  • Pat tofu dry with paper toweling after pressing to remove any residual water.
  • Cut tofu slices into six pieces each, making 30 total for the recipe.
  • Mix sauce ingredients and gently toss half the sauce with tofu.
  • Place tofu on nonstick foil on a baking sheet, sides not touching.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then turn pieces over and bake for 20 minutes more.
  • Serve tofu with remaining sauce as a dip.


From the kitchen of
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

Mala Tofu Bites

Heart Healthy Recipes

As part of the Sunday Supper Movement, I and a host of other food bloggers are pleased to present to you some of our favorite heart healthy recipes to promote  both health as well as better eating. Special thanks to Ethel of eating in instead and Lori of Foxes Love Lemons for graciously hosting this event and working so hard to make sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s are crossed. It’s a big group and a ton of work to keep all together! Thanks so much.

And now, on to all the fabulous recipes our group has put together for your perusal, enjoyment and better health. Visit as many as you would like, and feel free to pin any and all the recipes you would like to save for later. As always, I do hope you enjoy! ~Sue
Better for you breakfasts:

Jump start your health with these appetizers and snacks:

Soups that’ll win your heart:

Veggies, Sides, & Salads your heart will thank you for:

Healthy is the center of attention in these main courses:

Staying healthy doesn’t mean giving up desserts!

Join my recipe group on Facebook for more recipes from blogger friends around the world!

Palatable Recipes


38 responses

  1. I am definitely making this! I am a fan of tofu. When cooked with the right sauce/seasoning, it can be amazing! Even my picky hubby will eat it. I also love spicy 🙂

  2. Thanks for the terrific tofu recipe, Sue! I’ve only had bits and pieces in Asian soups and entrees, so I’m glad to have a new way to serve it!

  3. I love these mala baked tofu bites!!! and I LOVE that you used so many Asian ingredients. . especially gochujang! I’m Korean so I use this all the time . . can’t wait to try this recipe! Looks delicious!

  4. This spicy dish sounds fantastic! I don’t have many of these ingredients but will keep my eyes open for them! Tofu really can be a great medium if you know what you are doing when preparing it!! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I consider myself pretty well versed in the ways of tofu, Sue. But your recipe is brrrrrrrilliant! Thank you for the keeper recipe =)

  6. Oh my … this sound totally amazing! I make my own gochujang paste, and this will be a perfect use for it! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Tofu is the perfect vehicle for this kind of recipe since you’re right that it has no real flavor of it’s own. It’ll take on the spicy mala flavors so well. I’ve never heard of mala before, but it sounds really good!

  8. We don’t do a lot of spicy at here at home anymore since the littles eat what we eat, and they aren’t fans of spicy food. I can’t wait until they’re old enough to appreciate some heat because I miss putting sambal oelek on everything. 😛

    • Chicken base is a jarred concentration of chicken stock in paste form. Better Than Bouillon is a leading brand- you can find it in jars near the powdered chicken bouillon.

  9. Love, love, love this spicy tofu! Such a great dish. Nice to find another plant based recipe to add to our rotation. Hubby loves all these spicy dishes

    • Thanks! I did a copycat of that a long time ago after trying something like it from the Whole Foods deli.

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