This bright and colorful Thai Salad makes a perfect meal or side dish. Topped with crunchy veggies, sweet mandarin slices, cubes of sesame-crusted tofu, and an Asian ginger dressing, this salad is sure to wake up your senses and leave you satisfied.
A few weeks ago I stopped by a friend's house and saw that she had a big bowl of salad on the table. I was immediately intrigued by this colorful salad and asked to try a few bites. I was hooked! So I did what any good food blogger would do: I bought all the ingredients and went about testing and making alterations to make this recipe my own. I decided to omit the red onions, which were too overpowering, added cabbage for crunch, and Thai basil for its unique flavor. I tried topping the salad with mango but ultimately preferred mandarins. Then I made a few more tweaks, tested the dressing . . . and so this crunchy, bright, and delicious Thai Salad with Sesame Tofu was born!
You'll love this recipe because it's:
- Full of Amazing, Tropical Thai Flavors
- Brimming with Healthy, Colorful Veggies
- Vegan / Vegetarian
- Quick & Easy
- Great for Sharing at Potlucks, Picnics, & Cookouts
- Perfect for Dinner, Lunch, or Meal-Prep
What is Thai basil?
Thai basil is similar to its sweet Italian counterpart, but it tends to have a purplish color and the leaves are pointier and less rounded. The smell and flavor are somehow both familiar and quite distinct. I would never, for instance, make an Italian pesto sauce with Thai basil. But it's great for adding to salads, soups, and noodle bowls. Thai basil can be described as having a more robust flavor, with hints of anise (licorice). You can generally buy it at most large grocery stores and Asian markets.
Can this be gluten-free?
To make this gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free soy sauce or tamari.
Can this be nut-free?
To make this salad nut-free, simply omit the cashews. You will also need to use a nut-free salad dressing. The Asian Salad Dressing I suggest is made with cashew butter, but sunflower butter can be substituted.
For the Tofu
Other Salad Ingredients
- 3 cups mixed greens -- I used a prewashed mix of mizuna, arugula, baby red chard, and baby coral lettuce. Just pick a nice mix of something you like.
- 1 cup shredded red cabbage
- 1 cup shredded white cabbage
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 red bell pepper
- ⅓ cup packed cilantro
- ⅓ cup packed Thai basil
- 2 mandarin oranges (peeled and segmented)
- ½ cup raw cashews
- Asian Salad Dressing
- lime wedges to garnish
- Peanuts or cashew pieces can be substituted for the whole cashews.
- Mango cubes can be substituted for the mandarin slices. I tried it this way once, and while I ultimately preferred the mandarins, this is a perfectly tasty alternative.
- In a pinch, you could try substituting sweet basil for Thai basil, but you will lose some of the distinct flavors.
- Any kind of mixed greens can be used for this salad.
- Depending on the brand of tofu and your personal preferences, you might want to start by pressing the tofu for 10 to 15 minutes. This is totally optional, but if you choose to press your tofu, you should do it first.
- Next, prep all of the salad ingredients. I used pre-shredded cabbage and carrots, but if you're not using those you can shred your cabbage and carrots first.
- Wash and cut the bell pepper into thin slivers. Wash the cilantro and Thai basil and set aside (I wait to chop it until right before serving). Peel the mandarins and separate the segments, removing any excess pith or seeds.
Cook the Tofu
- Heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat.
- Unwrap or remove the tofu from its packaging. Cut the tofu into ½-inch cubes.
- Add the tofu to the skillet and pour the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and maple syrup over the tofu. Gently stir to combine.
- Cook the tofu for 10 minutes, flipping every few minutes so that the tofu sears without burning.
- Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the tofu and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the tofu from the heat and set aside.
- Add the cashews to the already hot skillet and roast for 2 to 3 minutes, just until they are lightly browned on each side. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Assemble the Thai Salad
- Roughly chop the cilantro and basil.
- Add the mixed greens, cabbage, carrots, bell peppers, cilantro, and Thai basil to a large salad bowl. Toss to combine.
- Top with the crispy sesame tofu, cashews, and mandarin slices. Drizzle with the Asian dressing. Garnish with lime wedges (optional). Serve and enjoy right away.
How to serve
Serve this as an entree salad or as a side to any number of Asian-inspired dishes. Thai salad also makes a great addition to any potluck, BBQ, or cookout spread.
Can I make it ahead?
Yes, but you should store the dressing, tofu, cashews, and orange slices separately from the rest of the salad. See my tips below.
- Make the Asian dressing and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. The dressing will thicken up in the fridge, so you might need to mix in another teaspoon or two of water before serving.
- Store the tofu in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days in advance. Reheat in a skillet before storing or serve cold.
- The cashews might get soggy if you store them in the refrigerator with the salad, so if you roast them in advance, store them in an airtight container at room temperature.
- Mandarin slices can dry out quickly, I recommend waiting until you are preparing the salad to peel them.
How to store
- If you want to make this ahead for lunches, meal prep, or a gathering, see the instructions above.
- If you just have a few leftovers, you can store them in an airtight container for 1 to 2 days. Salad with the dressing tends to wilt and go brown quickly, so if you think you'll have leftovers, consider adding the dressing to individual bowls rather than dressing the entire salad.
- Do not freeze. (The dressing can be frozen separately.)
Thai Salad with Sesame-Crusted Tofu
- Unwrap and press the tofu for 10 to 15 minutes while you prep everything else. (I find this step unecessary in this recipe but if you prefer pressed tofu, then do what you like).
- Make the Asian Dressing according to the linked instructions.
- Assemble your lettuce, cabbage, and carrots. (I use pre-shredded cabbage and carrots to save time, but if you are shredding by hand, do it now).
- Wash and cut the bell pepper into thin slices. Peel the mandarins and separate the segments, removing any excess pith or seeds. Wash and dry the cilantro and Thai basil.
Cook the Tofu
- Heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Cut the tofu into ½-inch cubes.
- Add the cubed tofu to the skillet. Pour the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and maple syrup over the tofu and gently stir.
- Cook the tofu for 10 minutes, turning occasionally, until every side is crusted.
- Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the tofu and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes.
- Remove the tofu from the heat and set aside.
- Add the cashews to the hot skillet and roast for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Assemble the Thai Salad
- Roughly chop the cilnatro and Thai basil.
- Add the greens, cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, cilantro, and Thai basil to a large bowl. Toss to combine.
- Top with the tofu, cashews, and mandarin slices. Drizzle with the Asian dressing. Garnish with lime wedges (optional). Serve and enjoy right away.
- For the mixed greens, I used a prewashed mix of mizuna, arugula, baby red chard, and baby coral lettuce, but you can use any kind of mixed greens.
Did you try this recipe? Have a question? Just leave a comment below and I'll get back to you ASAP!