Crispy Kung Pao Tofu is made with pan-fried tofu, bell pepper, dried chiles, and peanuts in a sweet and spicy sauce. It is a lighter and healthier vegan dinner inspired by Chinese cuisine that tastes better than takeout and is easy to prepare on a weeknight! 

Kung Pao Tofu garished with peanuts and green onions
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One of our favorite dishes to order at Asian restaurants is Kung Pao Chicken. However, my husband is a vegetarian, so I created this Kung Pao Tofu and Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts recipe so he does not miss out on the wonderful kung pao flavors.

Best Tofu Stir Fry Recipe

Combining crispy tofu and the spicy sauce creates a perfect balance of textures and flavors that will satisfy your taste buds. You can also customize the level of spiciness to your taste by adjusting the number of dried chiles and the amount of ground Sichuan peppercorns used in the recipe. 

This vegan Kung Pao tofu recipe is perfect for those who want to add more plant-based protein to their diet without sacrificing flavor. It can be served with rice or noodles for a filling and satisfying meal.

The flavor and texture of this meal are just perfect. Crispy Tofu and crunchy bell peppers in a sweet and spicy sauce. It is so flavorful!

My whole family loves this meal, like the Tofu Tikka Masala, Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry, and Spinach Tofu. And I love that I can make this weeknight dinner easily in less than 30 minutes.

What is Kung Pao Tofu?

Kung Pao Tofu is a popular Chinese dish known for its spicy and flavorful taste. It is a vegetarian version of the traditional Kung Pao Chicken and is perfect for those who prefer plant-based meals.

This hot Chinese dish is a stir-fry made with Sichuan peppercorn, dried red chile, peppers, and peanuts. It is often served with rice but also goes well with noodles.

The Magic of Kung Pao Sauce

The dish’s signature taste derives from its sauce. The vegetarian version of Kung Pao Chicken uses a similar flavorful sauce made with soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch. This dish is a great way to enjoy bold flavors without any meat.

Ingredients you’ll need to make Kung Pao Tofu

Tofu: Make sure to buy EXTRA FIRM tofu. The softer kinds can break and fall apart when frying and in the sauce.

Black Pepper: Use freshly cracked black pepper to flavor this dish.

Cornstarch: Any cornstarch will do. It helps the tofu create a crispy surface and thickens the sauce.

Scallions / Green onions: Add a splash of color to your dish with finely chopped scallions.

Bell pepper: It can be any color! I used red and green, but any combination of orange or yellow works too.

Peanuts: It gives the final dish a wonderful crunch and is a signature ingredient for kung pao dishes.

Dried chile pepper: You can also find these at Asian markets. I used ground Sichuan peppercorns. These give this dish the heat and spicy flavor.

You can use regular crushed red pepper flakes or red chili sauce (I like sambal oelek chili paste) if you can’t find these. Leave them out if you want to make this dish less spicy.

Ginger & garlic: This recipe must use fresh and chopped garlic and ginger to enhance the taste. I prefer ginger in my sauce because it adds warmth and zest. Nonetheless, I strongly advise you NOT TO SKIP THEM.

Soy sauce: Use both dark and light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce gives more color and an umami taste.

Brown sugar: Adds a hint of sweetness and the color of caramel. You could also use honey or maple syrup.

Toasted Sesame oil: Gives the dish the smell and taste of nuts. I recommend you use it.

Hoisin sauce: It’s a dark sauce that makes the stir fry smell good and taste sweet and salty.

Rice vinegar: gives a delicately sweet and mild taste. It also has a good amount of acidity.

How to Make Kung Pao Tofu?

Prepare Tofu

  • Press tofu for 15-30 minutes to remove any extra water. Dab with a paper towel or use a tofu press to remove excess moisture. Cut the pressed tofu into 3/4 inch cubes, and transfer to a bowl.
  • Season the tofu with salt and pepper. Then add the cornstarch. Mix gently, so the tofu is evenly coated with the cornstarch.

Prepare Sauce

  • In a bowl, mix all the sauce ingredients – brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, toasted sesame oil, cornstarch, and water. Stir and set aside.

Pan-Fry Tofu

  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Once hot, add two tablespoons of oil. Add the tofu cubes and let them cook until golden on the bottom. Turn the cubes to an uncooked side, and cook until golden again. Continue this process until golden crispy on all sides, then remove the crispy tofu to a plate lined with a paper towel.
  • Air fryer option: if you prefer, you can also air fry the tofu for 10-12 minutes at 350°F.

Make Kung Pao Vegetable Tofu

  • To the same skillet, add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add the ginger garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds until the color changes.
  • Then add the red and green bell peppers and the white part of the scallions. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring frequently.
  • Stir the sauces mixed in the bowl, then add to the skillet. Add the tofu and roasted peanuts. Toss them all together and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the flame.
  • Garnish with crushed peanuts and chopped green part of the scallions. Serve with jasmine rice.
Kung Pao Tofu with rice

Pro-Tips

Use extra firm Tofu: It is important to use extra firm tofu to make sure tofu does not fall apart and to get the right crispiness. Don’t skip pressing the tofu to remove excess liquid. 

Make it Gluten-free: Use ‘gluten-free’ soy sauce or Tamari. You might also want to skip hoisin sauce, which often contains wheat.

Make it gluten-free: If you are celiac or have gluten sensitivity, use soy sauces labeled ‘gluten-free’ or use Tamari instead. Also, skip hoisin sauce, as that can often contain wheat.

Add more veggies: You can add other veggies such as mushrooms, broccoli, baby corn, snow peas, bok choy, red onions, and green beans to this recipe too. 

Make it peanut-free: Use cashews in place of peanuts. Or skip for a nut-free version.

How to Serve?

This dish can be served as a main course with rice or noodles or as a side dish to complement other Asian-inspired dishes. It also pairs well with a refreshing cucumber salad or pickled vegetables.

We also love serving kung pao tofu with Asian garlic green beans and coconut rice.

How to Store?

You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Kung Pao Tofu will also freeze well for up to 3 months. Let the leftovers cool completely to room temperature before storing them.

Common Questions

Which kind of tofu is best for stir fry?

For this recipe, choosing the right kind of tofu is necessary – extra firm tofu will give you the desired crispness. Make sure to press the tofu to remove excess liquid.

Is Kung Pao spicy?

Kung Pao dishes are supposed to be spicy and sweet. You can make them milder by reducing or skipping dried chili peppers and ground red peppercorns. You can always add a red chili sauce to taste while serving.

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5 from 2 votes

Kung Pao Tofu (Easy, Vegan Recipe)

Crispy Kung Pao Tofu is made with pan-fried tofu, bell pepper, dried chiles, and peanuts in a sweet and spicy sauce. It is a lighter and healthier vegan dinner inspired by Chinese cuisine that tastes better than takeout and is easy to prepare on a weeknight! 
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients 

For Tofu

  • 14 ounce Extra Firm Tofu, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt , adjust to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon Black Pepper, freshly cracked
  • 2 tablespoon Cornstarch

For the sauce

For the stir fry

  • 2 1/2 tablespoon Oil , divided, preferably sesame or peanut oil
  • 5-8 Dried Red Chili Peppers, cut in half for more spice
  • 6 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Ginger , finely chopped
  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, cut into 1 inch squares
  • 1 Red Bell Pepper, cut into 1 inch squares
  • 3 Scallions , white and green parts separated, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Ground Sichuan Peppercorn , adjust to taste
  • 1/3 cup Roasted Peanuts

For serving

Instructions 

  • Press tofu for 15-30 minutes to remove any extra water. Dab with a paper towel or use a tofu press to remove extra moisture. Cut the pressed tofu into 3/4 inch cubes, and transfer to a bowl. Season it with salt and pepper. Then add the cornstarch. Mix gently so the tofu is evenly coated with the cornstarch.
  • In a bowl, mix all the sauce ingredients. Stir and set aside.
  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Once hot, add 2 tablespoon oil. Add the tofu cubes and let them cook until golden on the bottom. Turn the cubes to an uncooked side, and cook until golden again. Continue this process until golden crispy on all sides, then remove the crispy tofu to a plate lined with paper towel.
    Air fryer option: if you prefer, you can also air fry the tofu for 10-12 minutes at 350°F.
  • To the same skillet, add the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Add the ginger, garlic and sauté for 30 seconds until the color starts to change.
  • Then add the red and green bell peppers, and white part of the scallions. Cook for 2 minutes while stirring frequently.
  • Stir the sauces mixed in the bowl. Then add to the skillet. Add the tofu and roasted peanuts. Toss them all together and cook for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the flame.
  • Garnish with crushed peanuts and chopped green part of the scallions. Serve with jasmine rice.

Video

Notes

Use extra firm Tofu: It is important to use extra firm tofu to make sure tofu does not fall apart and to get the right crispiness. Don’t skip pressing the tofu to remove excess liquid. 
Make it Gluten-free: Use ‘gluten-free’ soy sauce or Tamari. You might also want to skip hoisin sauce, which can often contain wheat.
Add more veggies: You can add other veggies such as mushrooms, broccoli, baby corn, snow peas, bok choy, and green beans to this recipe too. 

Nutrition

Calories: 246kcalCarbohydrates: 23gProtein: 14gFat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 7gCholesterol: 0.1mgSodium: 1309mgPotassium: 696mgFiber: 5gSugar: 6gVitamin A: 948IUVitamin C: 137mgCalcium: 118mgIron: 3mg

Additional Info

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Chinese
Diet: Nut-free, Vegan
Tried this recipe?Mention @pipingpotcurry or tag #pipingpotcurry!

About Meeta

I strongly believe that each one of us has a chef inside us, we just need to explore the ingredients and create great food. My passion is to share easy, healthy, and wholesome recipes made using Instant Pot & Air Fryer, that are well tested, so you can cook with confidence.

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8 Comments

    1. Hi Janet – I have not tried cooking such dishes without oil. You can saute the ginger, garlic, etc in water and then follow the steps. Skip the oil in the sauce. Would love to hear how it turns out if you try.

    1. Hi Nancy – I have not tried this recipe with paneer, but I think it will work very well. Would love to hear how it turns out!