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Wellbody Recipe: Shan Tofu (Yellow Lentil Polenta)

In honor of Stella Orechia's upcoming epic 1,000-mile bicycle rides in the Northwest and Burma , Wellbody Blog brings you a tasty recipe for Shan Tofu from northern Myanmar (Burma), a vast mountainous region long known for natural beauty, crushing poverty, ethnic diversity and tasty cuisine rooted in fresh herbs, vegetables and legumes.shantofuStreet vendor Shan tofu in Lashio, Myanmar ©Paula Bock

A satiny polenta, Shan tofu is made from soaked yellow lentils or a chickpea flour called besan.

Lentils are an excellent source of both protein and iron, providing more than half of a person's daily iron allowance in a 100 gram serving. An inexpensive source of protein in much of the world, lentils pack more protein by weight than most other legumes and nuts, bested only by soybeans and hemp. Lentils contain all but two of the important essential amino acids. Grains have those two missing essential amino acids, so if you eat rice, pasta or bread in the same meal, you'll have a complete protein. 

Another plus? Lentils are local. The most important lentil-growing region in the United States is right here in eastern Washington's Palouse region.

This recipe, adapted from Triumph of the Lentil blog, is soy-free, gluten-free, nut-free, low fat, nightshade-free, onion- and garlic-free, sugar-free and can be prepared in less than 45 minutes.

Shan Tofu (Soy-free Tofu, Yellow Lentil Polenta)

Makes 4-6 servings


2 1/2 C dried yellow lentils or yellow split peas, soaked overnight in warm water
1 t salt
4 C water


2 1/2 cups chickpea flour (besan), often available in Indian and Central Asian grocery shops
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups cold water


Line or grease a 20x30cm (8×12″ or 9 x 13") pan.

1. Drain the yellow lentils and process into a smooth paste in a food processor or blender. Place  in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the salt. A little at a time, add 4 C water and stir out the lumps. 

OR, if you're using chickpea flour (besan) . . . Place the chickpea flour and salt in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and squash out any lumps. Add 4 C water a little at a time, stirring out the lumps.

2. Turn on the heat to medium and stir continuously until very thick, as if you're making polenta.  This will take between 7 and 15 minutes. If you're using a gas stove it will be quicker; if you're using a smaller diameter saucepan, it will take longer.

As soon as the mixture is very thick, quickly spread it into the prepared pan, pressing to form a flat, even surface (it will set very quickly). Leave to set for at least half an hour before using as tofu. To remove from the pan, first slice into whatever shape you want them to be, and gently lift up. Lining the pan with a silicon baking mat or some baking paper makes it a lot easier to remove.

This will keep in the fridge for up to a week and can be used in all kinds of recipes that call for tofu.

Note: Food stall vendors in northern Myanmar dish up exceptionally tasty, high-protein snacks by deep frying pieces of soft Shan tofu in simmering oil--twice--to create a hot snack that's crispy on the outside and smooth, warm and creamy on the inside. (Click

">here to watch a terrific video of traditional Shan tofu preparation using innovative low-tech cooking tools.) If deep-fat frying is not part of your healthy diet, modify by lightly sauteeing slices of Shan Tofu in extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil and eat atop a large plate of greens. Or, you can skip frying altogether and enjoy the fresh smooth tofu on salad. 


  • Guest
    Cynthia Thursday, 30 May 2013

    THANK YOU!! I'm allergic to soy but used to LOVE tofu! I'm adding yellow lentils to my grocery list. I've been looking for away to get more legumes into our diets.

  • Guest
    Professor Wellbody Thursday, 30 May 2013

    Great, Cynthia! You can also use chickpea/garbanzo bean flour, available in bulk foods at natural food stores and ethnic groceries. It is called besan at Indian and Central Asian grocery stores. If you soak the chickpea flour in the 4 C of water overnight before using, you will have no problems with lumps and the tofu will be very smooth. This is easier to make than polenta. Enjoy!

  • Guest
    jade Saturday, 23 August 2014

    when you grind the peas would you use water?
    another word do you need more than 4 cups of water?

  • Guest
    Wellbody Staff Wednesday, 27 August 2014

    If you are starting from dried chickpeas or lentils, soak them at least a day. Then drain most of the water and grind using a food grinder, food processor or blender. If the mixture is too dry to blend into a smooth paste, add more water, and/or soak for longer. :D You can also buy chick pea and lentil flour (sometimes called garbanzo flour or besan) from stores that sell a lot of natural and bulk foods and/or ingredients for Indian (South Asian) cooking.

  • Guest
    Maggie Friday, 17 October 2014

    I've got to try this! How does it freeze?

  • Guest
    Wellbody Staff Wednesday, 22 October 2014

    Hi Maggie --
    It freezes fairly well. It's best if you immediately freeze the portion you want to save rather than letting it sit around for a day. Also, after defrosting, it tastes really good if you pan fry the pieces in olive oil or coconut oil. Enjoy!

  • Guest
    Wellbody Staff Wednesday, 22 October 2014

    Hi Maggie --
    It freezes fairly well. It's best if you immediately freeze the portion you want to save rather than letting it sit around for a day. Also, after defrosting, it tastes really good if you pan fry the pieces in olive oil or coconut oil. Enjoy!

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Guest Saturday, 18 April 2015