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Vegan Kung Pao Tofu

Crispy, satisfying Vegan Kung Pao Tofu! There are a few tricks to making the tofu in Kung Pao Tofu super flavourful with a great texture. Then there’s the sauce: intensely savory, salty, spicy and a touch sweet. Tossed together, Kung Pao Tofu is a vegan high-protein dish made beautiful with the high-gloss sauce and garnished with toasted nuts and fresh chopped green onion.

Click here for the printable recipe.

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Video Tutorial for Vegan Kung Pao Tofu

Happy Lunar New Year, friends! Kung Pao Chicken has been on my mind lately. It’s a spicy, intensely flavoured dish with its roots in Sichuan cuisine but has travelled the world. And now, this version doesn’t even have chicken. Purists hate me. But you’re going to love this vegan Kung Pao Tofu!

Kung Pao Sauce vs Other Chinese Brown Sauce

At first glance, Kung Pao Tofu looks like another other tofu dish with Chinese Brown Sauce. There are some similarities: soy sauce, garlic, ginger, a little acid, a little sweet. But Kung Pao sauce kicks up the flavour with dark soy sauce which is less salty-tasting but more complex than regular soy sauce. Instead of light rice vinegar, it uses Chinese black vinegar which is also much more developed with a hint of sweetness. You can compare it to balsamic vinegar. Finally, the “pow”, dried red chilies add heat and even more deliciousness. Of course, you can make it more mild by making sure to exclude any red pepper seeds or reduce the total amount of chilies. This is your Kung Pao Tofu and there are no rules!
Vegan Kung Pao Tofu on rice

Choose your tofu wisely!

This recipe calls for extra firm tofu. It’s wonderful for this recipe as it’s very dense, meaty and satisfying when flavoured and cooked right. Plus, it’s the easiest tofu to work with; less firm versions may fall apart. Whatever you do, always try to buy the freshest tofu you can. For those of us without a fresh tofu shop nearby, we can tell the freshness of tofu by the expiry date. Pick the tofu with the expiry date furthest into the future. 

When you’re ready to make your Kung Pao Tofu, remove your extra firm tofu from the package and pat it dry with a clean lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels before starting the recipe.

How To Make Kung Pao Tofu

This vegan Kung Pao Tofu can be made in about 30 minutes. Start with frying cornstarch-coated tofu until it’s golden on all sides. This step makes the tofu dense and chewy and lets it absorb flavours from the Kung Pao sauce more easily. You can make this dish lower in fat by air frying or baking the tofu. Air fry about 20 – 30 minutes at 360°F or until the pieces develop a crunchy exterior. In the oven, you’ll want to increase the temperature to 375°F and bake for about 30 minutes. However, frying the tofu creates its own distinct flavour. If you want this Kung Pao Tofu to taste like the restaurant-style Kung Pao Chicken, then you will want to fry it.

cornstarch-coated tofu getting crispy

Remove the tofu from the pan, then fry some whole dried red chillies in the leftover oil. You just want the chillies to turn fragrant but not burn. After 10 – 15 seconds, you can add scallion whites and light green parts and cook until they turn bright. Then, add ginger and garlic, stir-frying so they don’t burn. Finally add the sauce, a mixture of light and dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, sugar (I used maple syrup), broth and cornstarch. The sauce will bubble and thicken quickly; when it does, turn off the heat. Add the tofu and half the scallion greens and fold gently to coat the tofu evenly. Then it’s ready to enjoy over steamed rice, topped with the traditional roasted peanuts or, in my case because I had no peanuts around when I was filming, toasted almonds.

kung pao tofu stir-fry stage

If you’re avoiding gluten, be sure to choose gluten-free soy sauce. Chinese black vinegar contains wheat so substitute with gluten-free balsamic vinegar.

This Kung Pao Tofu is so delicious! The sticky spicy sauce is just a little tangy with a strong soy sauce flavour. Plus the tofu is meaty and delicious and goes perfectly with the crunch of toasted almonds. You’ve got to try this dish! And then take a photo and tag me on Instagram and you might see it in my stories. I love showing your work off. Please let me know if you try this dish and what other Chinese dishes you want to see on this blog! 🙂

Other delicious tofu recipes:

Printable recipe for Vegan Kung Pao Tofu

Yield: 2 servings

Vegan Kung Pao Tofu

vegan kung pao tofu recipe image

You can make restaurant-quality Vegan Kung Pao Tofu easily tonight! The sticky spicy sauce is just a little tangy with a strong soy sauce flavour. The tofu is meaty and delicious with a texture that pairs perfectly with the crunch of the toasted almonds or roasted peanuts. Make it for dinner in about 30 minutes!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes

Ingredients

For tofu

  • 12oz extra firm tofu
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

For stir-fry

  • 5 dried red chilies
  • 2 scallions
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed garlic (about 3 cloves)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger (about 1" knob)

For sauce

  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

Toppings

  • 1 tablespoons roasted peanuts/almonds

Instructions

  1. Cube the tofu into bite sized pieces. Mix with corn starch in a large bowl to coat evenly.
  2. Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside. Slice the white and light green parts of the scallions into lengths. Chop the green parts roughly and keep the greens apart from the white and light green parts. To decrease the spiciness from the chilies, break them in half to let the seeds fall out. Discard the seeds, keep the rest nearby.

Take it to the stove

  1. Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large pan over medium high heat. With the oil is hot, add the cornstarch-coated tofu. Fry on all sides until they are golden. Remove the tofu and let it rest on paper towels to absorb excess oil.
  2. In the same pan, add the de-seeded red chilies. Let fry for about 10-15 seconds to become fragrant. Add the scallion whites and light green parts and stir-fry a few seconds until they become bright. Add the garlic and ginger, stir frying for a few seconds so they also become fragrant but do not burn.
  3. Give the sauce mixture a good stir, then add it to the pan. Lower the heat to medium. When the sauce starts to thicken, quickly add the tofu. Remove the pan from the heat. Add half the scallion greens and fold the sauce over the tofu to coat. The sauce should be mostly absorbed into the tofu. If you'd like a bit more sauce, remove the tofu from the pan first, then add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of vegetable broth. Heat it up until bubbling and the starches left in the pan should thicken up the broth and give you that bit of extra sauce.
  4. Serve over rice and garnish with roasted peanuts or almonds and the rest of the scallion greens. Enjoy your homemade Kung Pao Tofu!

Notes

Toast your nuts

I love using pan toasted almonds for this dish. To make them, heat raw/blanched almonds on a nonstick pan with a little oil over medium heat. When they start smelling fragrant (about 1 minute) toss the almonds. Continue letting them toast, stirring regularly, and remove them from the heat when they become golden brown.

Gluten-free modifications

To make this recipe gluten-free, select gluten-free soy sauce. It may be difficult to find gluten-free dark soy sauce so skip it and adjust with additional soy sauce if desired at the end of cooking. It may also be difficult to find gluten-free Chinese black vinegar. You can substitute with balsamic vinegar for a similar flavour.

Other substitutions

Chinese Black Vinegar is similar to Balsamic Vinegar (although they are both unique!) so in a pinch, you can substitute it 1 to 1.

Dark soy sauce has a deeper flavour and tastes less salty compared to regular soy sauce. But in a pinch, if you only have regular/light, just substitute it 1 to 1.

Skip the frying

For a lower-fat dish, bake the tofu instead of frying it. Keep in mind, the flavour will be different since frying creates it's own distinct flavour. To bake, pat the pieces dry, skip the cornstarch and give the tofu a light spray of oil instead (or keep it oil free). Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes or until the exterior is crunchy. Or, use an airfryer: air fry at 360° for 20 to 30 minutes.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

2

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving:Calories: 286Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 815mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 4gSugar: 14gProtein: 22g

Nutritional Information automatically calculated by a plugin and may not be correct.

Did you make this recipe?

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Showing 14 comments
  • Fran
    Reply

    I can’t wait to try this! I live in Switzerland so I’m still trying to get the Chinese black vinegar and the dark soy sauce, but I’m sure I’ll find them somewhere 🙂 Thank you for this mouthwatering recipe!

    • Mary
      Reply

      You’re most welcome, Fran. I hope you find those ingredients soon 🙂
      -Mary

  • Lillia
    Reply

    Hey Mary, I love your recipes!! I have the peppercorns when do you recommend adding them? Thanks in advance

    • Mary
      Reply

      Hi Lillia! Thanks for the kind words 🙂 You can add the peppercorns at the same time as the red chilies. Use a half teaspoon. -Mary

    • Claudia
      Reply

      This recipe is wonderful! I make it for my 2 vegetarian daughters. They absolutely love it! Thank you so much!

  • Heidi Minett
    Reply

    What kind of frying pan do you have? I’ve found most of the ingredients locally….can’t wait to try it! Spicy is my life! About half of my 9 kids are on board with that….LOL! I can cook most ethnic foods pretty well….Chinese/Asian foods have veen the most difficult for me to master. The veg usual gets overcooked ??…Thank you for the videos! I’m hoping they’ll help my abilities! (So do my kids lol)

    • Mary
      Reply

      Hi Heidi,
      I use a Chinese iron wok for most of my cooking these days. But before that, I used an enamelled skillet. It doesn’t really matter what kind of pan you use as long as it can heat up evenly.
      Cheers,
      Mary

  • Dee
    Reply

    Do you think it would work without the maple syrup?

    • Mary
      Reply

      Yes, you can use any sweetener you like. 🙂

  • Nicole
    Reply

    This was incredibly delicious! I could believe how quickly the sauce thickened up, and it is definitely more than the sum of its parts. I always find frying tofu to be a frustratingly slow process to get all 6 sides, do you have any tips?

    • Mary
      Reply

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Nicole! Frying tofu takes as long as it takes as long as it takes. I like to put on an audiobook or podcast to help pass the time. Or you can deep fry your tofu. Much quicker as it cooks all sides at once. Clean up is a bigger hassle though. Pros and cons to all methods 😉

  • Viv
    Reply

    Made this last night, though forgot to take a photo. Also had no peanuts…so cashews my husband literally just walked in with for snacking were reappropriated. 😉 The confirmed meat eater (my other half) also approved and so this will become a regular dinner.

    It has to be said: I bought the black vinegar and I love the flavour and scent! Thank you for that recommendation alone.

    You also inspired me: I used to make chicken marinated in garlic, soy and balsamic vinegar and now I might have to see if I can turn that vegan. Hmm…Would you try to apply the marinate to the tofu in the pan or actually marinate the tofu? What do you find better for absorption?

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