Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, Kung Pao chicken is a delicious Chinese dish packed full of incredible flavors and a slightly spicy sweet and sour sauce that the whole family will love.
With this recipe, you can transform your favorite takeaway dish into a vegan-friendly feast that’s packed full of healthy and yummy veggies and the perfect Kung Pao sauce.
What Does Kung Pao Style Mean?
Kung Pao is a Chinese dish that’s also known as Gong Bao or Kung Po. It’s traditionally served with cubes of chicken, veggies, peanuts, and chili peppers. This dish is commonly associated with Westernized Chinese culture, although it can also be found throughout China.
Kung Pao is generally a stir-fried dish served in a spicy hot sauce, although it can also refer to a deep-fried dish with the same sauce. It’s usually served with peanuts, and the Western dish is frequently hotter than the traditional Chinese version.
What is Kung Pao Sauce Made From?
Kung Pao sauce is a brown sauce that’s essential in a good Kung Pao dish. It’s brown in color and with a spicy kick, noticeable through the salty yet slightly sweet sauce.
My Kung Pao sauce ingredients include soy sauce, rice vinegar, sherry, brown sugar, and Sambal Oelek. The Sambal Oelek gives this sauce its heat and is a wonderful, red-colored condiment made from red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt. I like to use this in my Chinese cooking as it offers more than just spice to a dish. Depending on your spice preference, I’d recommend sticking to 2-3 teaspoons and adjusting if needed.
You can also swap the sherry for Chinese vinegar if you prefer. I find sherry offers an authentic flavor and is much easier to find in stores, but Chinese vinegar is also a delicious addition to this dish and is a little more traditional.
What Does Kung Pao Taste Like?
Kung Pao is instantly recognizable on the pallet thanks to the intense flavors. You’re looking for a sauce that’s sweet, sour, and savory, with a signature “tingle” of heat from the chilis.
What is Kung Pao Tofu?
This Kung Pao tofu recipe is a delicious dish that combines the traditional flavors and sauce of Kung Pao chicken, but without the meat! I’ve subbed out the more conventional chicken protein in this vegan Kung Pao to replace it with crispy tofu soaked in tasty vegan Kung Pao sauce.
Your favorite Chinese food with fewer calories, less hassle, and no meat or dairy products in sight… What could be better?!
What Sort of Tofu is Best for a Vegetarian Kung Pao?
I’d recommend using extra-firm tofu in this Kung Pao stir fry, as this type of tofu is generally best at holding its shape during cooking and in the Kung Pao tofu bowl. You could also use firm tofu without too much hassle.
How to Stir-fry Crispy Kung Pao Tofu
In this dish, we will use the traditional method of stir-frying. When stir-frying Kung Pao tofu, it’s essential to drain all the excess water out of the tofu so that it holds its shape better against the heat and can soak up all the delicious flavors from the sauce and other Kung Pao ingredients.
See this excellent tofu press that enables you to effectively remove all excess water from a block of tofu in just 15 minutes!
If you don’t have or don’t want a tofu press, you can also place the tofu in between two chopping boards wrapped in paper towels and weigh it down with heavy objects such as cookbooks, pans, or cans. The DIY tofu pressing method will take longer, but it’s handy if you don’t have a tofu press at home.
I usually leave my tofu pressing while I prepare my other ingredients. That way, the tofu can be doing its thing while I mince the ginger and garlic, prep my Kung Pao vegetables, and get my utensils ready for a productive cooking session.
Once your tofu has been pressed, chop it into 1-2” cubes and throw them into a wok set over medium heat. Pan-fry the tofu for around 8-10 minutes, being sure to flip the cubes regularly to ensure they’re able to get nicely browned and crispy on all sides.
How to Make the Best Kung Pao Tofu Dish
A Chinese takeaway in your own home? How convenient that you can make Kung Pao tofu for yourself!
Thanks to vegan ingredients, fresh Kung Pao veggies, and a homemade Kung Pao sauce recipe with the perfect balance between sweet and spicy, you’ll never need to speak to your local takeout again!
Final Note: Kung Pao Tofu
I absolutely love this vegan Kung Pao tofu recipe. By pressing the tofu while prepping the Kung Pao sauce ingredients, I can get it really crispy and tasty for a perfect Kung Pao bowl dish.
Give your favorite Chinese takeaway a homemade, vegan twist with this tasty Kung Pao vegetable recipe and enjoy a meal that’s delicious, easy to make, and surprisingly healthy!.The whole family will love it!
The Best Kung Pao Tofu: A Quick Recipe
1x 14oz package of extra-firm tofu, drained
¼ cup reduced-sodium or gluten-free soy sauce (plus 2 tbsp for later)
3 tbsp cornstarch, divided
1x 2” piece of fresh ginger, minced
2x garlic cloves, minced
2x medium scallions, chopped, whites and greens separated
2x medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into ½” cubes
2x medium red bell peppers, cut into 1” cubes
2 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tbsp dry sherry (you can also use Chinese vinegar here)
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 tsp Sambal Oelek fresh-ground chili paste
3 tbsp toasted sesame oil, divided
2 tbsp lightly salted peanuts, chopped (optional)
Use a tofu press or DIY pressing method to squeeze any excess liquid out of the tofu.
While your tofu is pressing, prep your veggies.
Once the tofu has been pressed, transfer it to a cutting board, place the block on its side, and slice it lengthwise. Next, flip it back over to lie flat and cut the tofu into 32 equal-sized cubes, roughly 1-2” each.
Arrange the tofu cubes in a shallow container, so that they make one even layer.
Place the tofu to one side and combine 2 tbsp of soy sauce with 2 tbsp of cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk them together, then pour the sauce over the tofu.
Flip the tofu cubes to ensure all sides are well coated in the marinade, then leave to sit while you make the Kung Pao sauce.
Take a medium bowl and add the remaining ¼ cup of soy sauce, ½ cup of water, and the remaining 1 tbsp of cornstarch. Next, add the vinegar, sherry, brown sugar, and Sambal (I would recommend using a maximum of 3 tsp of Sambal if you like your sauce spicy, but start with less and add more to taste).
Whisk the sauce ingredients together until thoroughly combined.
Place a large skillet or wok over medium heat and add 2 tbsp of sesame oil.
Once the sesame oil is warm, add the marinated tofu cubes, being careful of splattering oil.
Fry the tofu for 8-10 minutes, occasionally flipping and stirring to ensure it cooks evenly and get nice and crispy on all sides.
Once all sides of the tofu cubes are browned, remove the cubes from the heat and set to one side.
Add the final tbsp of sesame oil to the hot pan, then add the ginger, garlic, and scallion whites and sauté for 30 seconds.
Increase the heat to high, then place the zucchini and peppers in the pan.
Cook the veggies for 3-4 minutes, occasionally stirring, then add the tofu and sauce to the pan.
Stir-fry everything for 2-4 minutes. The sauce should thicken, and all the ingredients should be well coated.
Serve hot, sprinkled with the halved peanuts and scallion greens.