This sambal tofu bun recipe is my vegan take on the Malaysian sambal ikan bilis (anchovies in Malay) bun. I used tofu strips, homemade sambal, and red onion to create a slightly sweet filling that’s enough to tame down the sambal’s spiciness.
One of my most missed food has always been sambal. In Malaysia, sambal is a short word for cooked sambal or sambal tumis. It’s a red chile paste made from fresh and dried chiles along with spices.
Sambal is a very versatile ingredient and used abundantly in our cooking, especially Malay food. It can be served with rice such as in Nasi Lemak Bungkus or used as a base for curries. My other dishes that rely heavily on sambal are Curry Chee Cheong Fun and Curry Laksa.
Personally, I love to use sambal on my toast like a spread. It’s amazingly tasty and works great as a dip. Call me silly, but I used to buy a side of sambal from my favorite stall just for the bread.
So, when my bread and sambal craving kicks in, all I could think of is the sambal ikan bilis bun from home. While I haven’t had many of these since I became vegetarian, but I’m determined to create a vegan version for my family to enjoy. Let’s check out how to make these with the steps below!
How to make vegan sambal tofu bun
Part 1: Dough
I personally love tangzhong bread method but to save time, I decided to use a simple flour mixture to create a soft and fluffy bread. They stay soft for a day or so and I highly recommend eating them the day you make it.
First, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast together in a large mixing bowl. Then, slowly add in the water and stir until there are not dry spots of flour in the bowl.
Note: As usual, do no mix yeast with salt at the same time as the sodium will affect the yeast.
Transfer the mixture onto a work surface and knead until a smooth top forms. Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with a tight lid. Let it proof until double its original size, about 40-60 minutes depending on the weather.
Part 2: Make the vegan sambal bun filling
Meanwhile, cut firm tofu into thin strips, about 1cm thick.
Brush the air-fryer inner rack with oil and place a layer of tofu strips on it. Air-fry until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes at 350°F (175°C). You may do it in batches if needed. They will turn crispier or drier once cooled.
Now, heat a pan and add the oil. Sauté onion slices until they turn translucent, about 3-5 minutes.
Then, add the sambal and salt, give it a quick stir. Pour in the water or vegetable stock, then tofu strips.
Give it a stir and cover the pan with a lid, then let it simmer until all the water has been absorbed. Taste and season accordingly. The taste of the tofu sambal is savory with a touch of sweetness. Divide into 8 equal portions.
I’m using the sambal from my nasi lemak bungkus recipe. For store-bought substitute, I prefer to use Malaysian sambal paste. Otherwise, you may use red curry paste and adjust the sweetness level accordingly.
Part 3: Assemble the bun
Grease a 8×11-inch baking pan generously with softened vegan butter and set aside.
To assemble the bread, transfer the proofed dough to a work surface dusted with flour. Divide into 8 equal pieces. Knead each piece to remove air bubbles, then roll it into a ball.
Work with one dough at a time and cover the rest with a damp paper towel or in a bowl, covered.
Roll each dough into a 4- to 5-inch circle. The larger the wrapper, the thinner the bread, so if you like doughy bread, roll it into a smaller wrapper.
Place a portion of filling in the middle and bring the sides to the middle, then pinch to seal.
Place the bread, seam-side down, on the greased baking pan, slightly apart. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes for the second proof while you preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Part 4: Cook the bun
To make the vegan egg wash, whisk together plant milk and maple syrup in a bowl. Then, brush the proofed bread with this mixture and sprinkle the top with toasted sesame seeds.
Bake until the buns turn golden brown, about 30-35 minutes.
To get a shinier outer layer, brush the cooked buns with melted plant butter right after you remove them from the oven. Enjoy them warm.
Sambal Tofu bun FAQ
1. Bread vs All-purpose (plain) flour – Either works great, the former always yield a fluffier and softer texture.
2. Air-fried vs pan-fried tofu – Air-fried tofu yields a chewy texture once it’s added to onion and sambal mixture, which replicates the anchovy texture. That said, you can pan fry the tofu in a skillet to get a similar texture but you’ll cook them over low heat to slowly draw out the tofu’s moisture. Other alternatives include soy curls, soy strips, or seitan.
3. Sambal – I highly recommend using homemade sambal from my Nasi lemak bungkus recipe. Alternatively, store-bought Malaysian sambal such as Ayam brand or red curry paste can be used. In that case, always start with 1-2 tablespoons and increase the amount after tasting.
Why you need this vegan sambal tofu bun
- Packed with delicious sambal filling
- Perfect for make-ahead breakfast meals
- Savory goodness with a touch of sweetness
- Fluffy and soft dough
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Vegan Sambal Tofu Bun
- 245 g [~2cups] all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup [150ml] water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1½ teaspoon yeast
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅓ cup homemade* sambal
- 7 oz firm tofu
- 1 large [300g] red onion thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon salt plus more to taste
- ¾ cup water or vegetable stock
- oil for cooking
Egg wash and topping
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened soy or oat milk
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- Toasted white sesame seeds for sprinkling
- softened vegan butter
Make the dough
- Combine flour, yeast, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl, then stir to combine. I prefer to mix the salt in first, then sugar and yeast next.
- Add the water and mix using a rubber spatula or rolling pin until there are no dry spots of flour in the bowl. If the dough is still too wet, add a tablespoon of flour. If the dough is too dry, add a tablespoon of water instead until you can gather the dough together.
- Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead until a smooth top forms.
- Place the dough back into the bowl and cover with a lid. Then, proof until double its original size, about 40-60 minutes depending on the weather.
Cook the filling
- Next, prepare the filling by slicing the tofu into thin strips, about 1cmm thick.
- To air-fry the tofu, grease the air-fryer inner rack. Place the tofu in the greased rack and brush a thin layer of oil at the top.
- Air-fry at 350F until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Empty into a plate and set it aside.
- Then, heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat and add a tablespoon of oil. Sauté onion until translucent, stirring occasionally.
- Add the sambal and salt, then stir to combine.
- Now, add the water or vegetable stock and tofu strips. Give is quick stir and cover the pan with a lid.
- Simmer the mixture until all water has been absorbed. Taste and season with more salt or sugar accordingly. Set aside and let it cool completely, then divide it into 8 portions.
Assemble the bun
- Grease a 8X11″ baking pan with softened butter.
- To assemble the bun, transfer proofed dough to a floured surface.
- Knead a few times to remove large air bubbles, and divide the dough into 8 equal portions (about 50g each)
- Work with one dough at a time and cover the rest with a damp towel.
- Take a dough and flatten it with your palm. Dust your rolling pin with flour and roll the dough out to about 4- to 5- inch in diameter.
- Place a filling portion in the middle and bring the sides to the middle and pinch to seal.
- Place the buns, seam-side down, on the greased baking pan, slightly apart. Cover with a kitchen towel and proof for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375°F.
Cook the bun
- To make the vegan egg wash, whisk together milk and maple syrup in a bowl until combined.
- Brush the proofed buns with the wash and sprinkle the center of the buns with toasted sesame seeds.
- Bake until golden brown, about 30-35 minutes. To get a shinier look, brush the cooked buns with melted butter right after you remove them from the oven. This step also prevents the buns from drying out.
- For the homemade sambal recipe, please check out my Nasi Lemak Bungkus post
- If you are using other sambal or red curry paste, always start with the smallest quantity, such as 1-2 tablespoons. Then, adjust as you go.