Can you believe that this vegan unagi (eel) is made from tofu and potato? Yes, it’s SOO delicious and served with an absolutely scrumptious sauce. This vegan eel is inspired by Pei Jen Mama’s youtube videos.
Vegan Unagi Key Ingredients
1. Firm tofu – Tofu has a great texture especially after you’ve removed the liquid. I’ve tried this recipe with extra firm but the texture was too coarse, so I stick with firm tofu. Please check the 2 ways to prepare the tofu below.
2. Potato – Act as a binder and gives the unagi the soft texture. You can prepare the potato using a grater or blend it in a blender. You’ll need to remove the liquid as well either way.
3. Nori/Seaweed – One of my favorite ingredient to use and eat. The nori adds a great ocean taste to this dish.
4. Sauce – it’s a simple sweet and savory sauce that I cook down into a thick glaze that gives the unagi a nice sheen and taste amazing.
2 ways to prepare tofu
1. Nut milk bag – Similar to my Teriyaki tofu balls or vegan lion’s head stew, I love to squeeze out the firm tofu liquid using a nut milk bag. This wring method keeps the tofu moist and ‘dry’ enough to bind with other ingredients.
2. Pastry scraper or cleaver – First, place a block of tofu on a chopping board. Cut tofu into smaller pieces, if needed so it’s easier for you to handle. Take a pastry scraper or cleaver and place it on 1/3 of the tofu. Press the tofu down with pressure using your dominant hand. Then, pull it away from the tofu (please watch for video). Repeat this step 3-4 times until the tofu is smooshed.
How to make Vegan Unagi (Eel)
Part 1: Prepare the tofu and potato
First, mash the tofu with a pastry scraper. This method also removes some of the tofu’s liquid especially when you repeat the press-and-pull for 3-4 times.
Then, place potato cubes into a high-speed blender and blend into a fine paste. Using a nut milk bag, squeeze out all the potato liquid and empty it into the bowl with tofu.
Season accordingly and bind the mixture with cornstarch. If you prefer a darker color, season with soy sauce instead of salt. Then divide into 4 equal portions.
Part 2: Assemble
To make the unagi, you’ll cut nori in half. I used 2 sheets to get 4 rectangles. Brush it with a layer of cornstarch slurry before topping it with the tofu mixture.
Spread the filling and press to adhere, leaving a 1cm border all around. Nori will shrink during cooking so this border will prevent the tofu mixture from breaking apart. I used a chopstick to make a dent for presentation purposes, plus it’s good to have a space to hold the sauce.
Note: Once you’ve assembled the unagi, go ahead and cook it because the nori will turn soft from the tofu mixture and tear off easily if you wait too long. Place the unagi, tofu side down on a heated pan with oil. Pan-fry over med-low heat for about 3-4 minutes.
Part 3: Cook the unagi and sauce
To check if it’s ready to flip, gently touch the top (nori). If it’s warm, that means the tofu has cooked through. Now, you can flip and cook the nori side to heat it up. Remove and let it cool completely before cutting it.
While waiting, make the sauce. I used kombu dashi, soy sauce, mirin, maple syrup, and sugar. Cook the sauce until the sauce starts to thicken. Tip: When you see large bubbles, it means the sugar has dissolved and slowly turns into a thick glaze.
Spoon the sauce to the prepared unagi and garnish with sesame seeds and green onions. Serve warm with rice.
Vegan Unagi (Eel) Cooking Tips
- Moisture – Make sure the potato and tofu mixture is not too wet. To check the texture, take a small portion of the mixture with your hand. If it sticks to your palm and can’t mold it into a ball, then, it’s too wet. Place the mixture into a nut milk bag and squeeze out the liquid. Then, season it accordingly.
- Leave a border between the filling and nori because the nori will shrink during cooking.
- Pan-fry the tofu side until golden brown over medium-low heat. Before flipping, gently touch the nori side to see if it’s warm to make sure the tofu has cooked through. Then, flip and cook the nori side. Flipping too early will break the tofu apart.
Check out some other vegan seafood recipes
This vegan unagi (eel) is
- Easy to make
- Served with an unbelievably scrumptious sauce
- Great as a dish with rice or toppings for noodles
- Perfect for make-ahead meals (save the sauce separately)
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 Unagi (Eel) with an unbelievably scrumptious sauce
- 16 oz firm tofu
- 16 oz potatoes* used Russet, skin removed
- 2 nori sheet cut into half
- 1 teaspoon salt*
- dash of white pepper
- 1 piece of kombu
- ¼ cup mirin
- 3 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ cup kombu dashi
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- To make the kombu dashi, soak a 2X3 kombu in ¼ cup of water for 30-45 minutes until the kombu turns soft. Drain the kombu dashi into a bowl and reserve the kombu for a side dish. Alternatively, mix 1-2 teaspoon of vegan kombu dashi powder in ¼ cup of water until well combined.
- To mash the tofu, place a slab of tofu on a chopping board. Using a pastry scraper or the back of the cleaver, press down ⅓ of the tofu with pressure. Using a pulling motion, drag that portion away while pressing it down to squeeze out the water. Repeat 3-4 times for a whole slab of tofu. Alternatively, place tofu in a nut milk bag and squeeze out the liquid. Transfer tofu to a large bowl. Please note that you'll want a somewhat dry paste as wet paste will break the nori sheet.
- Next, place potato cubes in a high-speed blender and blend into a fine paste. Transfer the paste into a nut milk bag and squeeze out the liquid. Then, empty it into the tofu bowl.
- Season with salt and pepper. For a darker color, you may use 1-2 teaspoons of soy sauce instead of salt. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch and mix until well combined. Use more cornstarch if needed but don’t go over 2 tablespoons. Divide it into 4 equal portions.
- Now, make the cornstarch paste by mixing a tablespoon of cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water.
- To assemble, lay a piece of nori on a chopping board, shiny side down. Brush surface with a thin layer of cornstarch slurry. Top it with a portion of the tofu mixture. Using your fingers, spread to cover the nori leaving a 1cm border. Repeat until you are done with all the nori.
- Next, heat a nonstick skillet with 2 teaspoons of oil. Place the unagi, tofu side down and pan-fry over med-low heat for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. To check if it's ready to flip, gently touch the nori side. If it's warm that means the tofu has cooked through. Pan-fry for another minute if you want a crispier tofu side.
- Flip and cook the nori side for about 30 seconds. Remove and let it cool completely before cutting.
- Using the same skillet, add kombu dashi, soy sauce, mirin, maple syrup, sugar, and bring the mixture to boil. Stir continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Then, turn down the heat to medium and cook down the sauce until you see large bubbles. Turn off the heat and spoon this sauce over the cut unagi.
- Garnish the unagi with toasted sesame seeds and chopped green onions. Serve warm with rice or noodles.
- *Yes, the potato is raw when added to the blender.