Sweet and sour is a Chinese classic, served in restaurants and takeaways all over the country. However, most of these restaurants haven't yet tapped into the deliciousness that is a vegan-friendly sweet and sour tofu recipe. That's right; you don't need any meat to make this Chinese takeaway staple!
Tofu is a fantastic substitute for the chicken or pork that you usually find in sweet and sour dishes in this recipe. Our secret ingredient is cornstarch - which makes the tofu super crispy - but make sure that you include all of the ingredients for the crispy tofu to create a delicious, realistic meat-based substitute.
Many people who have just started cooking with tofu complain that it tastes bland. It is certainly true that tofu doesn't have much kick on its own - but the beauty of this ingredient is that it seamlessly adapts to the flavors of any dish. Provided you cook and marinate tofu properly, it is a valid substitute for any meat in various dishes - including this sweet and sour dish!
This mouth-watering recipe takes just 20 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook, making it a relatively easy weeknight meal as well as a veggie-friendly dinner party.
So, let's take a look at exactly how to make the most irresistible sweet sour tofu that will have you wanting more every time!
Makes 4 servings
- 16 oz (450g) of firm or extra firm tofu. (It should be pressed and cut into rough pieces, one to two inches in diameter.)
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp black pepper (ground)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 tbsp soy sauce. (If you want gluten-free sweet tofu, opt for gluten-free soy sauce, or try liquid aminos or tamari.)
- 1/3 cup of cornstarch - this makes it super crispy!
- Oil for frying (we use around 1/4 cup)
Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1/4 cup of ketchup
- 1/4 cup of sugar. (You can use brown, granulated, or cane sugar - whatever you have in your cupboard!)
- 1/4 cup of rice vinegar or white vinegar
- 1/4 cup of water
- 1 tbsp soy sauce, or gluten-free soy sauce, tamari, or liquid aminos if you are making a gluten-free sweet and sour sauce.
- 1 tsp of garlic powder
- 1/2 a medium-sized red onion, diced into small pieces
- 1/2 cup of chopped pineapple
- 1 bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
- 1/2 tbsp of sesame seeds
- Finely chopped scallion
For the crispy tofu
- Press your tofu using a tofu press or a chopping board and kitchen roll, ensuring any excess moisture is absorbed.
- Place the tofu pieces in a regular-sized bowl. Add the 1 tbsp of soy sauce to the tofu, and toss the two ingredients together until the tofu is fully coated.
- Add the garlic powder, black pepper, cornstarch, and sea salt to the bowl and combine them. Make sure the pieces of tofu are fully covered.
- Place a pan or a wok on the stove and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the frying oil to the pan, and once it is sizzling, place the tofu on the pan. Cook the tofu for 5-8 minutes, until it is crispy and golden brown. If you have a lot of tofu, you might want to do this in batches!
- Once the tofu is fully cooked, place it on a small plate to the side of your stove.
For the sweet and sour sauce
- Change the heat of the empty pan to medium-high.
- Add a splash of oil, and then the onions, pineapples, and bell peppers.
- Fry the vegetables until the onions are well cooked, almost translucent, and the pineapples have browned slightly. This will take around 5 minutes.
- Put the vinegar, soy sauce, water, ketchup, sugar, and garlic powder in a separate bowl. Whisk together to combine.
- Pour this sauce over the onions, bell peppers, and pineapple. Stir to combine them.
Combining the two
- Place the crispy tofu into the vegan sweet and sour sauce. Stir them together, and increase the temperature until the mixture is slightly boiling.
- Let the ingredients simmer for around 5 minutes. Once the sauce has thickened up, it's ready!
- Add some sugar or soy sauce to taste, and then remove the mixture from the heat.
- Add chopped scallions and sesame seeds to the dish just before serving.
- Serve over a bed of rice or with some other vegan Chinese dishes!
Sweet and sour tofu FAQs
Is sweet and sour sauce vegan?
This sweet and sour sauce is, of course, entirely vegan. Most sweet and sour sauces are generally considered vegan, as there are usually no animal products in the sauce. Sweet and sour sauce is naturally dairy and egg-free and typically does not have any meat in the sauce itself.
The only ingredient that you might need to look out for in sweet and sour sauces that is not vegan is fish sauce. Traditionally, this is not an ingredient in sweet and sour dishes, but some companies and restaurants may add fish sauce into their recipe. If in doubt, always check!
Which tofu is best for cooking?
It is best to use extra firm tofu to reach the crispiness desired in this recipe. Extra firm tofu is easy to find in any large store or Asian store. It is the easiest to slice and press, and pressing tofu is essential to create the crispy texture that makes this dish so delectable. If you can't find extra firm tofu, you could also use firm tofu - just be careful while pressing and cutting. Regular tofu and silken tofu cannot be pressed in the same way and are therefore not suitable for this kind of dish.
Do I need a tofu press?
Pressing your tofu is crucial. Tofu is kept in water, and its natural texture retains some of this water. However, pressed tofu is much easier to crisp and soak up the delicious flavors that help it mimic meat. There are two ways to press tofu:
- Use paper towels and a plate or chopping board. Sandwich the tofu between two paper towels, and place the chopping board on top. Apply pressure to the board and let the paper towels soak up the moisture.
- Use a tofu press - this piece of equipment does the work for you!
We recommend a tofu press for this recipe. You'll want to make sure that your tofu is very dry - the drier it is, the crispier and tastier it will be! While the DIY tofu press is useful if you have no other option, it doesn't get quite the same amount of moisture out as a dedicated tofu press does.
Is tofu gluten-free?
You can adapt this sweet and sour tofu recipe to gluten-free diets by using gluten-free soy sauce or a soy sauce replacement.
Tofu is naturally gluten-free. However, some factories are at risk of cross-contamination. If you or someone you are cooking for is celiac, always look for 'certified gluten-free' on your tofu pack label.
Can I refrigerate sweet and sour tofu?
This sweet and sour tofu recipe certainly tastes the best when it's eaten straight out the pan - but if you can control your craving for seconds or thirds and want to save some leftovers for lunch the next day, it's fine to eat one or two days after cooking.
However, it's best not to freeze this dish. Tofu tends to change texture in the freezer. It will still be edible, but certainly not its best - and you'll want to remember this dish at its finest moment! You could make the sauce, keep it in the freezer, and cook and add the crispy tofu once the sauce is defrosted.
Can I add other ingredients to this sweet and sour dish?
By all means, you can add any other ingredients to your sweet and sour dish. To keep this sweet and sour sauce vegetarian, you can add plenty of vegetables into the mix. It works particularly well with eggplant, cauliflower, carrots, and mushrooms.
You could also create a sweet and sour tofu stir fry, using the sauce as a stir fry sauce and adding shredded vegetables, beansprouts, and noodles. To ensure that you keep the sweet and sour tofu vegan, check the noodle packet to make sure they are egg-free!
While our recipe is a basis for delicious crispy sweet and sour tofu, you can be creative with your dish and add whatever ingredients you like!
Sweet and sour tofu is a deliciously comforting dish that is surprisingly difficult to find in many restaurants. That's what makes this recipe so exceptional - it provides you with a wonderful form of comfort food that you might not find elsewhere and is reasonably easy to make. Just ensure that your tofu is adequately pressed and seasoned, and you'll be able to make such a delicious sweet and sour tofu dish that you won't be ordering a takeaway for a while!