Crispy Tofu Pinakbet (Filipino Vegetable Stew)

Extra crispy tofu pieces add a light crunch to the classic pinakbet, a bagoong-based Filipino vegetable stew.
Prep Time
10 Mins
Active Time
20 Mins

Pinakbet is a classic vegetable stew often served alongside fish or meat dishes, though its punchy bagoong flavor also makes it a great standalone ulam. The sweet, hearty vegetables and briny bagoong flavor are perfect with heaping bowls of rice. Crispy tofu makes this healthy stew even healthier and lends a delicate crunch to the dish.

Freeze your tofu!

Tofu haters will say that tofu is dry and tasteless, but they’ve just never had tofu done right! Properly treated tofu is spongy, meaty, and firm. It’s the perfect vehicle for flavorful sauces and stews.

The secret to great-tasting tofu: Freezing. Let your tofu hang out in the freezer overnight, then thaw and drain like usual an hour or so before cooking.

Why freezing works: The water inside the tofu expands and forms crystals as it freezes. When those water crystals thaw, they leave little holes in the tofu. This drastically changes the tofu’s texture, making it firmer, meatier, and better at absorbing flavors.

Don’t panic if your tofu turns yellow after freezing. That’s normal! This will also extend your tofu’s shelf life. Freeze a big batch and store them in separate containers for future use.

How to get extra crispy tofu

We use a few tricks to make sure the tofu is as crispy as it can get. Using firm tofu or Filipino tokwa means it fries up better than softer kinds of tofu. Freezing (optional but highly recommended!) and draining your tokwa sets you up for extra success.

A wet cornstarch batter helps the tofu stay crispy after being mixed into the pinakbet stew—but the real key is vodka. The alcohol prevents gluten formation, which is what makes starchy mixtures heavy and chewy. Adding vodka to your batter results in a light, crispy batter that’s similar to Korean fried chicken.


  • ¼ cup white onion, finely diced
  • 1 tsp garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon bagoong (shrimp paste)
  • 1 cup kalabasa (squash), peeled and cut into 1” pieces
  • ¼ cup ampalaya, seeded, halved and cut into 1” thick pieces
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ cup green beans, ends trimmed and cut into 1” batons
  • 2 cup eggplant, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2” rounds
  • ½ cup okra, ends trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 packet firm tofu or tokwa, drained
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • salt and pepper to taste

Sauté aromatics: Heat a bit of oil in a pot over medium heat. Sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add tomatoes and cook until soft and jammy. Press down on the tomatoes with the back of a spatula to release the juices. Add bagoong and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown.


Make pinakbet: Add kalabasa, ampalaya, and water. Once it comes to a boil, turn down the heat and let simmer until the vegetables are tender. Add green beans, eggplant, and okra. Cook for 4 minutes, or until the green beans are slightly soft but still crunchy. The sauce should be slightly reduced. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking, adding more bagoong or salt and pepper. Set aside.


Prep tofu: Cut the drained tofu into 1 and ½-inch cubes, and lay them on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Gently pat the tofu pieces with more paper towels or a kitchen towel until the tofu is dry to the touch.


Dredge: Combine cornstarch, baking powder, all-purpose flour, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the cold water and vodka. Whisk until a smooth batter is formed. If the batter is too thick, add two tablespoons of water at a time and whisk. The consistency should resemble wet paint. Dip the cubes of tofu in the batter and let the excess batter drip.


Fry tofu: Heat a few tablespoons of neutral oil in a pan. Shallow-fry the tofu for a minute or so on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Transfer crispy tofu to a paper-towel lined plate. Season with salt immediately.


Combine: Bring the pinakbet back to a low simmer. Toss the tofu with the vegetables. Serve hot.

Post Contributors