For the best vegan Caprese salad, use the right tofu

Vegan Caprese Salad. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Tom McCorkle

Caprese salad, as my colleague Becky Krystal has written before, is an ode to summer simplicity. The traditional Italian combination of nothing more than tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper is a textbook case of something that, when made well, can taste like so much more than the sum of its parts.

That’s because of those parts, of course. Super-ripe and flavorful tomatoes – with all their tart, sweet and grassy flavors at their peak – are the star, and their juices mix with the olive oil and seasonings to make a dressing as good as any homemade vinaigrette. The creamy richness of the cheese offsets the juicy sharpness. The basil adds its peppery, almost anise-like notes. The salt and pepper, obviously, amp up all the other flavors and help marry them.

Thankfully, a plant-based option is so obvious I’ve long thought it might be too obvious to publish. Tofu often gets compared to mozzarella, because both are fairly blank slates, especially before you add any seasoning. But after I read recipe after recipe for vegan Caprese that uses firm tofu – drained and sometimes even pressed, for no good reason – in place of the mozzarella, I had to weigh in. To me, that would be like using thick slices of aged mozzarella instead of fresh. Using silken tofu results in a much more appropriate, delicious contrast of textures.

My favorite silken tofu comes in shelf-stable aseptic packaging, by Mori-Nu brand. I like the fresh taste that must result from their manufacturing method, in which a liquid base of pureed soybeans and water is combined right in the package with a coagulant and sealed, protecting it from air, bacteria and light. Somewhat confusingly, even though it’s considered silken tofu, within that category the product comes in a range from softest to sturdiest, and what I like best for Caprese is labeled “extra-firm.”

Trust me, this is very different from the extra-firm tofu that’s made the more conventional way and sold in plastic packaging. It’s still soft under pressure – there’d be no way you could press it without it collapsing, for instance – but it’s sturdy enough to (carefully) slice and arrange, which makes it work nicely for this purpose. The trick is getting it out of the package without breaking it. I go into more detail about this in the recipe, but generally you want to think about it this way: Cut the package off and away from the tofu rather than pushing the tofu out of the package. (If you can only find soft silken, go for it, but instead of slicing use a spoon to scoop out sections and place them on/in/around the tomatoes.)

Extra-firm silken tofu is your best option for this recipe. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Tom McCorkle

Other than the tofu, all the other rules of Caprese-making apply. The most important one: Every ingredient should taste great on its own before you combine them. So use tomatoes you love, olive oil you love, basil you love, and please don’t be afraid to be quite generous – even heavy-handed – with the seasoning. If you under-salt this dish, it won’t taste as great as it deserves to.

And if it doesn’t taste great, what’s the point?


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Vegan Caprese Salad

This simple take on the summertime classic uses silken tofu instead of fresh mozzarella to provide that creamy, neutral, rich counterbalance to the fresh tomatoes. As with any Caprese salad, peak-season tomatoes are a must here. Two other key strategies: Look for extra-firm silken tofu (sold in aseptic, shelf-stable packaging), which is sturdier than soft silken tofu; and season the tomatoes and tofu generously.

– Storage: Best eaten fresh, but can be refrigerated for up to 4 days. (If the leftover tomatoes are too unappealingly wilted to eat, separate out the tofu and puree the tomatoes and their liquid into a gazpacho, adding a jalapeño, cucumber, basil and/or more olive oil, salt and pepper if you’d like. You can crumble the tofu on as a garnish.)

– Substitutions: Can’t find extra-firm silken tofu? >> Use soft silken tofu or vegan mozzarella.

Basil >> Thai basil or mint.

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Servings: 4-6

1 teaspoon fine salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

2 pounds ripe summer tomatoes (preferably a variety), stemmed, cored and cut into different shapes

One (14-ounce) package extra-firm silken tofu (preferably Mori-Nu brand, in shelf-stable package)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaf, torn if large

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Total: 20 mins

Step 1

Use half the salt and half the pepper to generously season the tomatoes on both sides, then arrange them on a large platter.

Step 2

Using scissors, follow the package instructions to cut off the flaps from each end of the aseptic box and then to raise the tab and cut along the dotted line. Open that end of the box. Instead of sliding out the tofu, which can sometimes break it, lay the box on the cutting board and run your scissors down the middle of the box to open it fully – almost like a book – cutting the packaging away from the tofu without disrupting its shape, if possible. Carefully cut the tofu block in half lengthwise, and then into six to eight pieces, crosswise. Use the remaining salt and pepper to generously season the tofu on both sides, turning it gently to avoid breaking.

Step 3

Add the tofu to the platter of tomatoes, carefully layering and shingling decoratively, as you see fit. Drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes and tofu, and scatter the basil on top. Serve.

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Nutritional Facts

Per serving (1 1/2 cups), based on 6





7 g


0 mg


14 g


2 g


5 g

Saturated Fat

2 g


443 mg


5 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

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From Food and dining editor Joe Yonan.

Tested by Joe Yonan.



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