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You are going to love this South Indian Tofu Pepper Curry! Crispy tofu in an insanely flavorful caramelized onion and black pepper curry is a simplified version of the popular South Indian dish mutton pepper fry.

tofu pepper fry in the skillet after cooking
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This is a vegan version of South Indian mutton pepper fry, which is usually made with chicken or meat/mutton. The recipe varies based on the region(andhra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu) with one thing in common, generous amount of black pepper!

And as with many meat based curries, it’s all in the sauce. This sauce has a caramelized onion that is usually built up with spices and pepper. The meats usually cook in the sauce but I use tofu which gets crisped up separately. This version is adapted from Chef Ranveer Brar’s mutton pepper fry(he mentions that he slightly added his north Indian touch, hence the black cardamom).

tofu pepper fry on a plate with flatbread

Explore regional Indian cuisine with me and do try this pepper fry! It is incredibly delicious, and of course a bit hot with all of that black pepper. You can pair the sauce with chickpeas or beans, or roasted veggies or vegan chicken for variation and to make tofu-free.

Serve it with some thick flatbread, like naan or pita bread, or over rice, which will dampen the heat a little bit. You can also adjust the heat by reducing the black pepper and Kashmiri chili powder. 

close-up of tofu pepper fry in the skillet after cooking

Why You’ll Love this Pepper Fry

  • crispy tofu in caramelized onion sauce made spicy with lots of fragrant black pepper
  • protein-rich, one-pan entree
  • ready in just 35 minutes!
  • gluten-free and nut-free with a soy-free option
close-up of dipping flatbread into tofu pepper fry in the skillet

More Vegan Indian Dishes

Pepper Fry with Tofu (South Indian onion black pepper curry)

5 from 13 votes
By: Vegan Richa
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 45 minutes
Servings: 4
Course: Main, Main Course
Cuisine: Indian, South Indian
You are going to love this South Indian Tofu Pepper Curry! Crispy tofu in an amazing, caramelized onion and black pepper sauce is a simplified version of the popular South Indian dish.
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Ingredients 
 

For the tofu

  • 14 ounces firm or extra firm tofu, pressed for at least 15 minutes and then torn into organic pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder, or use paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon oil

For the pepper masala blend

  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  • 1 green cardamom pod

For the sauce

  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 8 black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • 1.5 cups red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green chili, such as Serrano, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon Kashmiri chili powder, or use paprika
  • 2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste, or use 3 cloves of minced garlic and 1/2” of ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro stems
  • 10 curry leaves
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy yogurt, or use other non-dairy cream of choice
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup, or use tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water, or use non dairy milk
  • cilantro and more black pepper, for garnish

Instructions 

  • Press and tear the tofu, if you haven’t already, and add to a bowl. Then, in a small bowl mix in all of the spices and the cornstarch and sprinkle them all over the tofu. Toss well to coat, and set aside.
  • Make the pepper masala blend by crushing all ingredients with a mortar and pestle or making into a coarse powder in a spice grinder or blender. Set this aside, as well.

Cook the tofu.

  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the tofu and spread it into the skillet and cook until the tofu is crisped up on some of the edges. Stir occasionally. This can take anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes.
    Alternatively, spread on parchment lined sheet and bake at 400 deg F for 20-25 mins
  • Transfer the tofu to a bowl, and set aside.

Make the sauce.

  • Add another 2 teaspoons of oil to the skillet, and add the whole spices — that’s the bay leaves, cloves, and the crushed black peppercorns — and mix well for half a minute.
  • Next, add the onion, green chili, and a generous pinch salt, and mix well. Continue to cook until the onion is golden brown. Add splashes of water in between to help turn your brown evenly and to conduct the heat evenly. This can take anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes.
  • Now, add in all of the ground spices, ginger garlic paste, cilantro stems, and curry leaves and cook for half a minute . Then, add in the non-dairy yogurt, ketchup, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix well, and bring to a boil, then add the pepper masala blend that you made earlier. You can reserve a little bit of that for garnish, if you like.
  • Add the cup of water, and mix really well, then bring the sauce to a good boil and reduce the heat to medium-low. (5 mins). Add in the crisped up tofu, tossing well to coat.
  • Cover with the lid, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or longer for the sauce to thicken a little bit and for the flavors to meld.
  • Switch off the heat, garnish with cilantro and either more black pepper or the reserved pepper masala, and serve serve with warm pita bread, warm naan, or over some rice or cooked grains or even a baked potato.

Video

Notes

Flavor Variations:
  • Use 1/4 tsp fennel seeds instead of Black cardamom
  • Add 1/4 tsp mustard seeds along with or instead of cloves. 
Storage: Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days in a covered container.
This recipe is gluten-free. It’s also nut-free as long as you use a nut-free non-dairy yogurt.
To make it soy-free, use an alternative tofu,like chickpea flour tofu or use chickpeas or beans or a soyfree vegan chiken and a soy-free non-dairy yogurt.

Nutrition

Calories: 172kcal, Carbohydrates: 15g, Protein: 11g, Fat: 8g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 535mg, Potassium: 162mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 5g, Vitamin A: 416IU, Vitamin C: 59mg, Calcium: 185mg, Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Did you make this recipe? Rate and comment below!
tofu, peppers, onion, and other curry ingredients in bowls on a kitchen counter

Ingredients and Substitutions

  • tofu – This is your “meat.” tofu is replacing that protein in this vegan version.
  • ground spices – You’ll season the tofu with Kashmiri chili powder, garlic powder, and black pepper. The sauce also uses some ground spices: coriander, turmeric, Kashmiri chili powder or paprika, and whole curry leaves.
  • cornstarch – To help the tofu get crispy and help the spices stick.
  • oil – To sauté.
  • whole spices – There are two places where we are using whole spices. First, we’re going to crush or grind black peppercorns and a black and a green cardamom pod to make the pepper masala(spice blend). Then, we are using bay leaves, whole cloves, and whole black peppercorns in the sauce.
  • aromatics – Red onion, green chili (like Serrano), and ginger garlic paste add another layer of amazing flavor to this curry.
  • cilantro stems – These add a fresh, zesty flavor to the sauce.
  • non-dairy yogurt – To make the curry sauce creamy. You can use other thick, non-dairy cream, like cashew cream, instead, if you prefer. Make sure to use a soy-free and/or nut-free non-dairy yogurt, if needed for allergy purposes.
  • ketchup – Adds umami. You can use tomato paste instead, if you want.
  • water – To thin out the sauce some, because it does get quite thick.
  • garnish – You’ll garnish with fresh cilantro and either black pepper or some reserved pepper masala.
chopping cilantro and green chilis

Tips

  • Make sure to keep a close eye on the whole spices as you roast them, so they don’t burn.
  • If the onion is drying out, add a splash of water to help add moisture and conduct the heat, so it cooks evenly.
  • The curry sauce uses whole spices, so letting the flavors simmer and meld at the end makes a big difference. It also means that this tastes even better the next day!
tearing tofu into pieces

How to Make Tofu Pepper Fry

Press and tear the tofu, and add to a bowl. Then, in a small bowl mix in all of the spices and the cornstarch and sprinkle them all over the tofu. Toss well to coat, and set aside.

torn up tofu in the bowl
adding spices to torn up tofu in the bowl
torn up tofu in the bowl after tossing with spices and cornstarch

Make the pepper masala blend by crushing all of those ingredients with a mortar and pestle or making into a coarse powder in a spice grinder or blender. Set this aside, as well.

pepper masala in a bowl after grinding it

Now, cook the tofu.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon of oil. Once the oil is hot, add the tofu and spread it into the skillet and cook until the tofu is crisped up on some of the edges. Stir occasionally. This can take anywhere from 5 to 7 minutes. 
Alternately, Bake the tofu at 400 deg F for 20-25 minutes.

tofu in the pan before cooking
tofu in the pan after cooking

Transfer the tofu to a bowl, and set aside. Then, you’re ready to make the sauce.

Add another 2 teaspoons of oil to the skillet, and add the whole spices — that’s the bay leaves, cloves, and the crushed black peppercorns — and mix well for half a minute. 

whole spices in the pan

Next, add the onion, green chili, and salt, and mix well. Continue to cook until the onion is golden brown. Add splashes of water in between to help turn your brown evenly and to conduct the heat evenly. This can take anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes.

adding onion to the pan of whole spices
adding ketchup and ginger-garlic paste to the cooked onions

Now, add in all of the ground spices, ginger garlic paste, cilantro stems, and curry leaves and mix well. Then, add in the non-dairy yogurt, ketchup, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix well, and bring to a boil, then add the pepper masala blend that you made earlier. You can reserve a little bit of that for garnish, if you like. 

adding ground spices to the onion mixture
adding non-dairy yogurt and cilantro stems to the pan after mixing in the spices

Add the cup of water, and mix really well, then bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat to medium-low. Add in the crisped up tofu, tossing well to coat.

adding tofu back to the pan of sauce

Cover with the lid, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes for the sauce to thicken a little bit and for the flavors to meld.

tofu tossed in the black pepper onion sauce

Switch off the heat, garnish with cilantro and either more black pepper or the reserved pepper masala blend, and serve serve with warm flatbread, warm naan, or over some rice or cooked grains or even a baked potato. 

dipping flatbread into tofu pepper fry in the skillet

Frequently Asked Questions

Is this recipe allergy friendly?

This recipe is naturally gluten-free. It’s also nut-free as long as you use a nut-free non-dairy yogurt. To make it soy-free, use an alternative tofu, like chickpea flour tofu or use chickpeas or beans or a soyfree vegan chiken and a soy-free non-dairy yogurt.

How long does this keep?

Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days in a covered container.

About Richa

Hi, I'm Richa! I create flavorful plant based recipes that are inspired by my Indian upbringing, including many gluten-free, soy-free, and oil-free options.

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5 from 13 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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20 Comments

  1. MARILYN says:

    5 stars
    Easy to make and very yummy. Leftovers in soft taco heated in microwave worked well for a quick snack. Love your recipes.

    1. Vegan Richa Support says:

      Awesome! Thank you.

  2. Hiyanthi says:

    5 stars
    This came together so quickly and was delicious!

    1. Vegan Richa Support says:

      Yay!

  3. Andy Luttrell says:

    5 stars
    Made this for dinner tonight, and it was incredible. I don’t comment often, but for many years, your recipes have had the most reliably delicious results in my kitchen. I turn to “Indian Kitchen” and your Instant Pot book *constantly.*

    1. Vegan Richa Support says:

      Thank you for your kind words!

  4. Anne says:

    5 stars
    Made this for dinner today! Comfort food! Delicious!!! Easy to make.

    1. Vegan Richa Support says:

      Awesome!!

  5. Catherine Humphrey says:

    5 stars
    I made this last night. It was amazing. Didn’t have any yoghurt, so I used coconut milk instead. Also didn’t have any cilantro to hand, but it was nevertheless one of the best curry’s I’ve made. Thank you. I will definitely be making this again.

    1. Richa says:

      Yay!!!

  6. Morgan L says:

    5 stars
    This was remarkably good. All of your recipes are excellent — no surprise. This one has such a rich flavor, and I even skipped the season-the-tofu-and-fry-separately part. I made the sauce and simmered the tofu in and it was still amazing.

    1. Vegan Richa Support says:

      So glad you enjoyed!

  7. Priya says:

    5 stars
    Hi Richa, what is the spice level of this dish, and what would you suggest as a sub for black cardamom. I only have green.
    Thanks.

    1. Richa says:

      It’s not red chili hot. The black pepper gives it a moderate latent /delayed heat

  8. Madeline says:

    5 stars
    I have to admit, I found this to be a challenging recipe — and I am not a novice cook. (One mistake I made was not to check that my blender was completely dry before putting in the spices. They just stuck to the side, and I had to start over.) However, the result is something special and delicious, that you won’t find on a typical Indian restaurant menu.

    My husband loved this dish even more than I did. I would be tempted to just fry the tofu without the spice coating to reduce a step next time, but he says he thought the extra work was justified. So give this a try just as it’s written!

    1. Richa says:

      Yay I am so glad you stuck with it!!!

  9. Trina says:

    5 stars
    Made this for lunch today. I used fennel seeds as I didn’t have black cardamom, used a yellow onion, and used ten dried curry leaves as I don’t have a curry plant. 🙁 The dried leaves are very tasty and am glad to have them. We loved this curry and ate all of it 2 grown men and myself. Served with Naan bread.
    Thank you,
    Trina

    1. Richa says:

      Awesome!!!

  10. Esme says:

    5 stars
    I just made this and oh my god, it’s my new favourite recipe. It has such a delicious kick to it, perfect balance of flavours. Also goes very well with a dollop of aubergine pickle!

    1. Richa says:

      Yay!!