These baked pesto tofu cutlets are a tasty vegan substitute for pesto chicken! Extra firm tofu is frozen, thawed, marinated in basil pesto, vegan chicken seasoning, and garlic, and slowly oven-baked until meaty on the inside and crispy on the outside. These are the perfect plant-based protein for vegan pesto tofu pasta, salads, and sandwiches!
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I love pesto; fresh basil leaves, lemon juice, a little oil, all whipped to a creamy sauce! What’s not to love?
And I love tofu, now that I know what to do with it! And today, we’re combining those two loves to bring you these meaty pesto tofu cutlets!
With an herb-driven flavor blast that packs a punch with lots of fresh garlic in the marinade, you can’t go wrong with this tofu pesto recipe – whether you’re cooking with tofu for the first time or the 71st, you’ll be shocked and impressed by these crispy pesto tofu pieces!
It all starts with our Tofu Freezer Trick, a few simple steps that is a game-changing hack and will revolutionize your relationship with tofu (and that of everyone around you!).
Why You’ll Love This Crispy Pesto Tofu
- Perfect for meal prep. Make them ahead of time for topping pasta and salads all week long, or freeze a batch for up to 3 months and defrost what/when you need a flavorful protein for any meal!
- Amazing taste / texture. Unless you’ve already tried our Tofu Freezer Trick, this will be unlike any other tofu recipe you’ve ever tried. Crisp on the outside, meaty on the inside, chewy, and full of herb and garlic flavor!
- Great way to use up extra pesto. This recipe is fantastic for garden season when you have a ton of basil and don’t know what to do with it. Or, if you froze homemade pesto from your last garden haul, this is a great reason to pull it out of the freezer!
Ingredients in Pesto Tofu (Baked)
You’ll only need 5 ingredients to make this crispy pesto tofu, starting with a block of extra firm tofu that you’ll freeze (in the package!), defrost, and press. We call this the Tofu Freezer Trick, and you can read a full guide on it here. We’ve included summarized instructions in the recipe card below!
For the basil tofu marinade:
- Vegan pesto – Use our plant-based pesto recipe for a homemade option or try a store-bought vegan pesto. We love the vegan pesto from Gotham Greens. There’s also a vegan-friendly pesto paste you can use from the brand Amore. If your pesto is extra thick (more of a spread, less of a sauce), use 2 Tbsp pesto + 1/4 cup olive oil. You’ll want additional pesto for coating the cutlets!
- Vegan chicken bouillon powder – We used our homemade vegan bouillon powder which is always a hit!
- Garlic cloves – Fresh garlic, minced.
- Ground black pepper– for just a little heat kick
If you don’t have or can’t tolerate any of the above ingredients, here are our best substitution tips. Remember though, substituting any of the ingredients may lead to a varied degree of difference in the final product. Let us know in the comments if you try any subs and how they work out for you!
For the extra firm tofu: Depending on the brand, firm tofu could work, but it could become too chewy in the freezing process. We haven’t tried this recipe with super firm tofu, mostly because it usually comes in vacuum-sealed packaging and not in water. Freezing the tofu in the water is what makes it so porous, so I don’t know if this would work either! Chickpea tofu may work for a soy-free version, but I don’t know enough about it to say for sure. Do not use soft or silken tofu for this recipe.
For the basil pesto: Feel free to experiment with different kinds of pesto in this recipe, like red peppers and sun-dried tomato pesto or cilantro-walnut pesto.
Bouillon options: You can sub 1 ground-up vegan chicken bouillon cube or half as much bouillon paste.
How to Cook Tofu with Pesto
This recipe does take some planning ahead, but the hands-on time is very minimal. Plus, you don’t even need to bread them!
Step 1: Marinate the pesto tofu.
Place your tofu on a cutting board and slice it into 8 equal “cutlets”. I do this by slicing it in half, then slicing those halves in half, then cutting each of those slices in half.
Pour the marinade over the tofu cutlets, making sure they are all nice and coated. You can layer them if you want! Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or overnight for extra flavor.
Step 2: Bake the tofu.
When you’re ready to bake this pesto tofu, preheat your oven to 350F and line a large sheet pan with tin foil. Place the cutlets in a single layer on the foil-lined baking sheet, about an inch or so apart.
Then, bake at 350F for 40 minutes, flipping them halfway through.
Depending on the thickness / brand of tofu you’re using, you may want to flip and cook them another 10 – 20 minutes until they are golden brown and meaty. We end up cooking ours an extra 10 most times.
Step 3: Sauce the tofu.
This step is optional, but highly recommended!
Place your cooked cutlets in a shallow bowl and drizzle on up to 1/4 cup extra pesto. Toss gently to coat before serving.
Alternatively, you can just brush each cutlet with extra pesto sauce before serving or skip it all together and just dig in!
How to Serve Vegan Pesto Chicken
Serve vegan pesto chicken hot or cold with your favorite sides or all on their own! I’ll be honest: I often eat them right out of the fridge.
Here are some of the ways we like to serve pesto baked tofu:
- Pesto Tofu Pasta – Just slice this cutlet up over a pile of your favorite pasta of choice for the perfect pesto pasta! Or serve it with an olive oil-based pasta dish like this Aglio e Olio or creamy sauce like Roasted Garlic Pasta!
- Vegan Tofu Pesto Sandwich – Hot or cold, serve this vegan pesto chicken on a short “club” roll with extra pesto, balsamic tomato jam, and a slice of melted (or not) vegan mozzarella!
- Pesto Tofu Salad – Tofu with pesto sauce is the perfect plant-based salad protein – especially a Caprese salad or vegan caesar!
- Pesto Tofu Bowl – Serve these cutlets over your favorite grains or potatoes (mashed potatoes or roasted potatoes would both work!) and fresh or roasted veggies. This is a great way to use whatever you have in your fridge!
How to Store Leftover Baked Tofu
These vegan pesto chicken cutlets make incredible leftovers and great for meal prep!
In the fridge: Store leftover tofu pesto in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. Reheat in the oven or air fryer until warmed through at 350F for maximum crispness. If they’re crispy enough, the microwave is a fine way to heat them.
In the freezer: Let pesto tofu cool completely before transferring to the freezer in an air-tight freezer-safe bag or container, separated by a square of parchment paper to keep them from freezing together.
Pesto Marinated Tofu FAQ
Have more plant-based pesto / tofu questions? Here are some of the most common questions we get about these subjects and our best answers!
Pesto normally has Romano or Parmesan cheese as a main ingredient and is suitable for vegetarians but not for vegans. However, vegetarians might want to consider that many of these cheeses contain rennet, an enzyme harvested from the fourth stomach of young, nursing ruminant animals like cows, goats, and buffalo after they are slaughtered for their meat, making them not suitable for vegetarians either. Something to think about.
Traditional pesto contains dairy cheese and possibly rennet, making it not suitable for those following a vegan lifestyle or plant-based diet.
The cheese. Vegan pesto either uses no cheese or uses an ingredient with an associative flavor, like miso, to capture that true pesto taste.
Traditional basil pesto is not suitable for vegans because it calls for the use of cheese as a main ingredient.
There are literally thousands upon thousands of culinary herbs across this great globe, and SO many of them go great with tofu! From turmeric to tarragon, bergamot to basil, anise to zedoary, you’re sure to find great flavor and flavor combinations for any kind of tofu coating or marinade. The world is your herb oyster. Oh, and zedoary is also known as white turmeric.
More Tofu Recipes
- Lemon Pepper Tofu Cutlets
- Southwest Tofu Scramble
- Sweet Chili Tofu Cutlets
- Vegan Chicken Cutlets (breaded)
I hope you’ll give this pesto tofu recipe a try! And when you do I can’t wait to hear all the fun meals you make with it!
When you do try it, could you do us a favor? Leave a star rating and review below, so we can all join in on celebrating your kitchen wins!
This will also help more people see our vegan recipes which will let us create more for you!
We can’t wait to see how you use these. Enjoy!
- First, freeze and defrost your tofu. Place the whole container (do not open it) in the freezer overnight. In the morning, remove it from the freezer and set it in a shallow dish on your counter to thaw. This will take several hours.
- When the tofu is thawed, squeeze it gently over the sink and press it with a tofu press or on paper towels to remove any excess liquid.
- Place your tofu on a cutting board and slice it into 8 equal “cutlets”. I do this by slicing it in half, then slicing those halves in half, then cutting each of those slices in half. Pour the marinade over your tofu cutlets, making sure they are all nice and coated. Place them in your fridge for at least an hour or overnight.
- When you’re ready to bake your cutlets, preheat your oven to 350F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the cutlets on this baking sheet, about an inch or so apart. Bake at 350F for 40 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Depending on the thickness / brand of tofu you’re using, you may want to flip and cook them another 10 - 20 minutes until they are browned and meaty. We end up cooking ours an extra 10 minutes most times.
- Optional: Place your cooked cutlets in a bowl and drizzle on up to 1/4 cup extra pesto. Toss gently to coat. Alternatively, you can just brush each cutlet with extra pesto sauce before serving or skip it all together and just dig in!
- The cutlets will firm up as they cool. You can store leftovers in an air-tight container in the fridge for a week or freezer for up to 8 weeks.
*Pesto Notes: Use our plant-based pesto recipe for a homemade option or try a store-bought vegan pesto. We love the vegan pesto from Gotham Greens. There’s also a vegan-friendly pesto paste you can use from the brand Amore. If your pesto is extra thick (more of a spread, less of a sauce), use 2 Tbsp pesto + 1/4 cup olive oil. You’ll want additional pesto for coating the cutlets!
Serving Size:2 cutlets
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 113Total Fat: 17gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 718mgCarbohydrates: 2gFiber: 0gSugar: 1gProtein: 3g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated and may not always be accurate