Tofu Adobo

We hope you enjoy our recipe that features bay leaf (from the bay laurel tree or Laurus nobilis), the plant we showcased as part of our Nature’s Kitchen: Mediterranean Herbs series on social media this March!

“Adobo” means vinegar-braised, and it’s a method of cooking that’s indigenous to the Philippines. Vinegar and salt help preserve foods in the archipelago’s tropical climate. This dish also goes heavy on the bay leaf flavor!

Did you know that much of the Mediterranean Basin was once covered in laurel forests, where Laurus nobilis flourished? Though some laurel forests persist today, most disappeared 10,000 years ago when the Mediterranean Basin became less humid. Bay laurel trees prefer humid climates and can be grown year-round in warm temperatures. They can’t survive below 20°F. However, they can be grown as house plants or greenhouse plants in colder regions.

This plant also carries so much symbolism across different cultures!

In Greek mythology, Daphne was represented by or turned into a laurel tree after fleeing from Apollo’s advances. Bay laurel was also used in wreaths as a status symbol.

In Roman culture, this plant was a symbol of victory. Ever wonder where the terms “baccalaureate,” “poet laureate,” and “resting on one’s laurels” come from? Today, in Italy, laurel wreaths are worn as a crown by graduating students.

Laurel leaves are featured in the coat of arms of Kaskinen, Finland. The association of laurels with victory and success in Europe also took hold in China.

We tested this recipe with fresh bay leaves from the botanical garden (please don’t harvest from our Garden without permission from staff!), but dried bay leaves may be preferred.


Please keep in mind that we did not eat the bay leaves or the whole peppercorns; these ingredients are used to infuse the sauce. Enjoy!


  • A block of firm tofu, pressed and cut into cubes
  • A few tablespoons of canola oil
  • About 10 cloves of garlic, smashed or roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red onion chopped
  • 1tsp whole peppercorns
  • A few tablespoons of soy sauce (taste and adjust!)
  • A few tablespoons of white vinegar
  • A few torn bay leaves, fresh or dried (dried may be preferred)
  • 2tsp vegetable bouillon + 1/2-3/4c water (to make vegetable broth)
  • 1tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2tsp sugar
  • Rice to serve


  • Pan fry the tofu cubes until golden and crispy.
  • Add more oil if needed and add garlic, onion, and peppercorns. Saute for a few minutes.
  • Add bay leaves, soy sauces, vinegar, vegetable broth, and sugar. Cover and simmer for a long time to let the flavors develop.
  • Taste test, add more water if needed, and adjust sugar/vinegar/soy sauce levels.
  • Remove the bay leaves, peppercorns, and most of the onion and garlic from the sauce and tofu once they’ve had enough time to infuse. Serve the tofu with rice and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from The Foodie Takes Flight.

Bay leaf watercolor art by Piper Begler (

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter (now X) and Facebook @uclabotanical to keep up with our Nature’s Kitchen series! You can find video instructions for this recipe there as well.