This Kung Pao tofu is made with chunks of gingery baked tofu tossed with stir fried veggies and peanuts in spicy sauce. An easy Chinese-inspired vegan dinner that's better than takeout and easy enough for a weeknight!
There was a time when I ate at Chinese vegetarian restaurants constantly. I've gone on a bit about this before. I loved those places! Most of them have a full menu that looks like a normal Chinese restaurant menu, but everything's vegetarian.
Towards the end of my time living in Philly, I started having lunch at this place, which was close to my office and a little different. They called the dishes what they actually were, which was nice, but actually made it a little tough to order.
I mean, maybe I haven't had meat in a while, but I at least have a pretty good idea of what General Tso's chicken is. Offer me "soybean protein in garlic sauce," and I'm suddenly confused.
I eventually discovered that, despite having names that were a little confusing to me, everything on the menu was delicious. I started throwing caution to the wind and ordering anything and everything, sometimes totally at random.
The Kung Pao dish on the menu was called Kung Pao dried tofu, which, initially, I wasn't really sure about. Why dry your tofu? It's so good when it's all moist and squishy. I ordered anyway, and it turned out their dried tofu was analogous to my baked tofu. Ah. Baked tofu is delicious, and perfect with the finely diced and stir-fried veggies and crispy peanuts you find in any Kung Pao dish.
So I when I went and decided to create my own version of Kung Pao tofu, I baked my tofu. That was a great decision!
How to Bake Tofu
Start with some extra firm tofu, which you may want to press. To press your tofu, wrap it in a few layers of paper towels, then wrap a dish towel on the outside, and place something heavy and flat on top, like some cookbooks. (You can see a visual in this post.) I'll admit that I'm sometimes lazy and just blot the heck out of my tofu with a paper towel instead of pressing it though.
Dice your tofu, mix up some marinade and then pour it over your tofu and gently toss it to get all your tofu pieces coated. Ideally, let it soak for a while, but once again, I don't always do that — just when I have the time!
Arrange your tofu on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake it until the pieces shrink up and become very firm.
Once your tofu has baked, you can move on to this step.
As with any stir-fry, prep your veggies and mix up your sauce first. Things will move pretty quickly once you start cooking!
Heat up some oil in a skillet and start cooking your aromatics: ginger, garlic, scallions (just the white parts) and dried chile peppers. Within less than a minute, the garlic and ginger should become very fragrant and your peppers should darken up a bit. Add your veggies at this point.
Stir-fry the veggies just until they become tender-crisp. This should only take a couple of minutes. Finally, add your sauce, tofu, and peanuts. Continue to stir-fry everything for about a minute, until the sauce thickens up.
Top with the green parts of your scallions and serve with rice.
Tips for Making Awesome Kung Pao Tofu
- The baked tofu portion of this recipe does take some time, but it's mostly hands off. To save time, you can prepare the tofu a day or two in advance. Store it in a sealed container in the fridge, and heat it up a bit before adding it to your stir-fry.
- Feel free to use your favorite stir-fry veggies in place of the bell pepper and baby corn. Keep in mind that harder veggies may take a bit more time to cook, while softer veggies will cook faster.
- To keep this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free tamari in place of soy sauce.
- This dish is meant to be on the spicy side. If you prefer a milder version or just want more control over the heat level, try skipping the dried chili peppers, or just removing the seeds (where most of the heat is). You can also adjust the amount of sambal oelek, and if you're not sure how much to use, add it at the end, just a bit at a time.
Kung Pao Tofu
This Kung Pao tofu is made with chunks of gingery baked tofu tossed with stir fried veggies and peanuts in spicy sauce. An easy vegan dinner that's better than takeout and easy enough for a weeknight!
For the Baked Tofu
- ¼ cup Shaoxing wine or dry sherry (substitute water or vegetable broth for a non-alcoholic version)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 1 (14 ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained, pressed, and cut into ½ inch cubes
For the Sauce
For the Stir-Fry
- 2 tablespoons canola
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 3 scallions, chopped, white and green parts separated
- 5-10 dried chile peppers, halved
- 2 bell peppers, any color, diced
- 2 cups fresh baby corn, cut into 1 inch pieces
- ½ cup roasted and salted peanuts
- Cooked rice
To Make the Baked Tofu
Stir the wine, soy sauce or tamari, maple syrup, sesame oil and ginger together in a shallow dish. Add tofu and toss to coat.
If you have the time, allow the tofu to marinate for 30 minutes or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator. If you don't have time, don't worry about it!
Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment. Arrange the tofu cubes in an even layer on the baking sheet.
Bake the tofu for 30-35 minutes, until the pieces have darkened and shrunk significantly, flipping them halfway through.
Make the Stir-Fry
Whisk all ingredients for the sauce together in a small bowl.
Coat the bottom of a large wok or skillet with the oil and place it over high heat.
Give the oil a minute to heat up, and then add the garlic, ginger, white parts of scallions, and dried chili peppers to the pan.
Stir-fry the ingredients until the garlic and ginger become fragrant and the chili peppers darken a bit, about 1 minute.
Add the bell peppers and baby corn to the skillet. Stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 3 minutes.
Add the sauce, tofu, and peanuts to the pan and continue to stir-fry just until all of the ingredients are hot and coated with sauce, about 1 minute.
Remove the pan from heat and stir in the green parts of scallions.
Divide onto plates and serve with rice.
This is meant to be spicy! If you aren't into that, skip the dried chiles and the Asian chili paste. If you aren't sure of just how into that you are, just skip the chiles and add the chili paste at the end, a bit at a time.
Nutrition information does not include rice.