When did katsu curry become such a big craze? I remember the first time I tried it in Wagamama’s (so authentic…) and it was filthy delicious. The crispy coating. The tender, moist chicken. The subtly sweet and salty curry sauce. All served with a portion of steamed rice in an oval shape (aside: does anyone know why it’s shaped like that?)
Unfortunately for y’all coeliacs – and even more so for y’all coeliac vegetarians/vegans – not many places (if any!) offer a gluten-free vegan katsu curry on their menu. Shocking.
I bought a Lonely Planet recipe book for my husband a few years ago called The World’s Best Spicy Food. For Japan, there was a recipe for chicken katsu curry. I was shocked by how easy it was to make. There are loads of recipes floating around, but this was by far my favourite, and one of the simplest to make. You’ll never have to sigh in despair as you can scan a Japanese restaurant menu for something you can actually eat, sadly glancing past the katsu curry that is so far from your reach. You know you’ve got this gluten-free vegan katsu curry recipe to turn to at home.
The iconic sweet, salty and spicy sauce comes together in a mere 15 minutes. You could even batch cook it and freeze it to save you even more time the next time the vegan katsu curry mood strikes you. I have tried to simplify this recipe as much as possible, so there’s no garlic or ginger in this sauce (which is a big step for me – I chuck garlic in everything!). It has a straightforward base of carrots, onions, spices, sweetener of your choice, and a dash of tamari.
This recipe uses a very basic set of spices: cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and fennel seeds. I feel that the fennel seeds are crucial in this recipe, lending an aniseed-y flavour to it, differentiating it from normal curry sauces, giving it that real katsu feel.
You don’t need to blend this sauce but I would recommend it. I could never be bothered blending sauces in the past and always had this katsu sauce in its much chunkier form. By blending it, I think that the flavours mix together far better. Each mouthful is consistently spiced – no overpowering fennel-infused mouthfuls!
I recently invested in a 3-in-1 Nutri Ninja and it honestly is my favourite kitchen appliance. The nutribullet is fantastic for easily blending sauces. Just don’t try to blend it when your sauce is too hot. I have made that mistake for you. The hot liquid will cause a vacuum to form around the lid, making it incredibly difficult to remove. Mine pretty much started spraying out of the gaps as I slowly unscrewed the lid… don’t lose any of that delicious katsu curry sauce!!
The Crispy Tofu
I accidentally picked up smoked tofu in the supermarket for this recipe, but it was one of the best accidents I could have made with my shopping list. I tried vegan fish and chips at Mono in Glasgow once and they used smoked tofu, so I knew it would work well with this recipe.
The smokiness of the tofu eliminates some of the odd natural tofu taste that puts many people off of it, so if you’re a tofu novice, this is a great meat substitute to start off with. Just make sure that you press it veeeeeery well or you’ll have a bit of a soggy, flimsy mess to work with.
You’ve seen this breading process on the blog before. Dip in cornflour, then liquid, then breadcrumbs. Flash in the pan. You could season the breadcrumbs with some spices like garam masala or curry powder to heighten the flavour a little. Don’t worry about coating your tofu slabs completely in breadcrumbs, it is quite difficult. You’re just going to slather it in katsu sauce anyways.
You could bake this tofu too. I’d say maybe 200 degrees C for 20-25 minutes if you wanted to try it, but frying it will be much quicker and more authentic. You want that lovely crispy crunch and this is the best way to achieve it.
So, there you go! My gluten-free and vegan tofu katsu curry! Easy enough to whip up on a weeknight but also a great treat for the weekend too. I always serve mine with green veg for a little punch of colour, drizzled with sriracha sauce, of course (not authentic though…).
If you’re on the hunt for more delicious Asian “fakeaway” recipes, you need to try out these gluten-free Chinese salt and pepper chips. Throw away those old takeaway menus – you can replicate everything at home, without getting glutened!
Vegan Katsu Curry With Tofu (And Air Fryer Option)
- 2-3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided (or 1 tbsp oil and spray oil for air fryer option)
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 medium carrots, finely diced
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds (or sub ground coriander)
- 1 tsp cumin seeds (or sub ground cumin)
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2-3 tbsp tamari or coconut aminos
- 1 tsp sweetener (I used agave syrup)
- 150 ml water
- 1 tbsp cornflour (mixed into paste with splash of water)
- 400 g smoked tofu (or normal tofu if preferred)
- 2-3 tbsp cornflour
- 2-3 tbsp non-dairy milk or aquafaba
- 100 g gluten-free breadcrumbs or plain cracker crumbs (check if vegan)
- Remove the tofu from the packaging, drain off all the water and pat dry. If you don't have a tofu press, wrap it in a clean tea towel or several layers of kitchen roll, place on a plate and press with a heavy object like a frying pan. Do this for at least 1 hour.
- Heat 1 tbsp oil in a small or medium saucepan on a medium heat. Add onions and carrots and cook until softened, around 7-10 minutes. Add splashes of water if the mixture becomes too dry.
- When softened, add the spices and combine. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add the water and cornflour/water paste and cook for a few minutes until thickened slightly. Set aside to cool.
- Add cornflour to one small dish, non-dairy milk/aquafaba to another, and the breadcrumbs to a third. Slice the pressed tofu into 1/2-inch thick slabs. You should get 8 slabs out of a 396-400g block.
- One by one, coat each tofu slab in cornflour, then milk, then breadcrumbs, ensuring they are all evenly coated. Repeat if necessary.
- (For frying pan) Heat a frying pan with the remaining oil on medium heat. When hot, add the tofu slabs and cook for 4-5 minutes on each side until crispy.
- (For air fryer) Preheat the airfryer for 3 minutes. Place each tofu slab in the airfryer basket, spray with spray oil and cook for 10 minutes or until crispy, turning halfway.
- Meanwhile, either in a food blender/processor or with a handstick blender, blend your curry sauce until smooth, then return to the saucepan to heat through.
- When all the components are ready and the sauce is heated through, serve with rice and your choice of vegetables or salad.