Cumin tofu recipe

One of my favorite recipe orders at a Sichuan restaurant is some kind of “cumin lamb”. It’s the flavor added to the lamb, not the lamb that I love. I’d been considering trying to figure out how to make something with tofu at home for a while when Mala Market posted a recipe for toothpick lamb which has a similar flavor profile. I decided it was time to try to make a riff on this! The result was very spicy but in that way where I could not stop eating.

A serving bowl of golden fried tofu cubes mixed with dried chiles and tossed in a gleaming oil with visible powdery spice mixture all over and streaks of oil in a few places, sprinkled with scallions.
A bowl of cumin tofu


These ingredients started from the toothpick lamb recipe.

  • Block of medium-ish tofu, cut into cubes. We used one fresh block from Thanh Son, a local tofu factory.
  • Oil for frying. We used peanut oil. Traditional would be caiziyou but I only have a little of that and not willing to use that much for deep frying.
  • 6-8 xiao mi la dried chiles, snipped into small pieces. I cut the stem end to remove seeds first. You could probably substitute another spicy dried chile here.
  • 1.5 tablespoons cumin seed.
  • 1 teaspoon whole huajiao or Sichuan peppercorns. These are the “buzzy” pepper. You want a good quality one here.
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chiles
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white sugar (I used superfine sugar which is my go-to sugar when cooking Chinese dishes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon MSG
  • 2-3 tablespoons of your favorite chile oil with some of the sediment
  • 1-2 scallions cut into small bits. The original recipe called for cilantro but we didn’t have any.


  1. Toast cumin and Sichuan peppercorns in a dry pan or wok until you just see a discoloration when shifting the seeds around. You do not want to burn this!
  2. Grind the cumin and peppercorns into a powder (we just use a mortar & pestle). Mix with ground chiles, salt, sugar, msg and set aside.
  3. Heat up enough oil to deep fry the tofu.
  4. Bring oil up to around 180C. Fry the tofu cubes in batches till just barely golden and take out. They continue darkening after you take them out so you don’t want to go too dark.
  5. After all tofu is done, put in a serving bowl.
  6. Spoon over chile oil and mix together well.
  7. Add dry spice mixture in stages mixing well.
  8. Finally add scallions.

Future Variations

Since this recipe came from a toothpick lamb recipe, it’s kind of dry. One thing I love about cumin lamb stir fries is the just barely cooked slivers of white onion often seen in that dish. So I will probably try to work from this recipe to something that is more of a stir fry dish. I’ll probably also try decreasing the heat levels a little bit just because I don’t think any of the other folks I cook for other than my partner would even want to try it.