Fifteen minutes is all you need to make this luscious Kung Pao Tofu recipe!
I haven’t always been a tofu-lover. I ate it every now and then before I decided to go vegetarian for a year, but it was never my favorite.
Last March I went to China and ate as a vegetarian the entire time I was there. This turned out to be a great decision, because as long as I could convey that I didn’t eat meat I always received awesome food. I didn’t have to look over the menu and try to decipher if I was ordering chicken or chicken feet.
My travel companions ordered meat, and plenty of times they were not thrilled with what they got.
Putting aside the issues of translation, cultural immersion, and diet preferences, I’ve always been a bit weird about meat and I DEFINITELY didn’t want to accidentally order chicken feet and then feel like I was being rude if I didn’t eat it.
I spent the trip stuffing my face with plates of Sichuan eggplant, tofu and bok choy, spicy Chinese potatoes, tomato eggs, and plenty of noodles. It was awesome.
I’d never eaten so much tofu in my life; and it was GOOD.
I go through at least two packages of tofu a week now.
My go-to favorite is Kung Pao Tofu!
It legitimately takes only 15 minutes and I nearly always have all the ingredients on hand.
Tofu? Check. Peanuts? Check. Scallions? Check.
I make my Kung Pao sauce with lots of pantry staples and maybe 2 or 3 things that are *special*.
Here we go: garlic + ginger + soy sauce + dark soy sauce + sesame oil + chinkiang vinegar + sugar + corn starch + sichuan peppers
ALRIGHT CALM DOWN. I’m here to help.
First: dark soy sauce.
You can grab this at your local import/international market, or at a well-stocked store like Whole Foods.
You can also order it online at Amazon here.
It’s thicker, darker, and has a slightly different flavor than regular soy sauce. It adds a dark, caramel color to sauces, which is what makes this kung pao tofu so damn pretty. Invest in one bottle and it will last you for ages.
If you absolutely must, you can swap it out for more regular soy sauce. Use half as much, because dark soy sauce isn’t as salty as light (*regular*) soy sauce. So, for example, in this recipe if you wanted to replace the 2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce, you’d want to use 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce. In addition to the 2 teaspoons that the recipe already calls for. So 3 teaspoons. So a tablespoon. Wow, glad I didn’t make that confusing.
Second: Chinkiang vinegar.
I know, right? What the heck is this nonsense? First, let me say that if you are trying to make this RIGHT NOW and don’t have this on hand, you can swap it out for equal parts balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar. The flavor will be slightly different but it is still SUPER tasty. I did this all the time before I finally bucked up and ordered a bottle through Amazon. I could also buy it at the Asian import market in town, but the UPS guy is here every day anyway, soooo…..yeah.
Funny story, two days after I ordered this online I saw it on the shelves of my local grocery store. Who woulda thought?
Right, so chinkiang is a rice-based black vinegar. I don’t really know how else to explain it except to say that it is kind of like a Chinese-style balsamic vinegar. But not so… balsamic-y?
Third: Sichuan peppers.
OH SICHUAN PEPPERS. How I love thee.
These are the spiciness you need in this kung pao recipe.
One guess where I buy mine. If you guessed on Amazon then congratulations, you know all my secrets. Get the Sichuan Peppers here.
For this vegan Kung Pao Tofu recipe, get the peppers themselves, not the peppercorns.
Fourth: Sichuan peppercorns.
You know how when you get kung pao at a restaurant and it kind of makes your tongue tingly? That’s from the Sichuan peppercorns. I’m obsessed with them.
Optionally, get these Sichuan peppercorns and grind them up and put them on this recipe to taste, a quarter to a half teaspoon should do.
Now, to make the kung pao tofu:
Wait! First start cooking the rice.
Start by dicing the tofu up into cubes about the size of your thumbnail. If this seems oddly specific, it’s because it is. The small pieces have the best ratio of crispy outer edges and silky inner goodness.
Pat the tofu pieces dry with a paper towel, then put them in a plastic baggy with some soy sauce.
Then, make the sauce by whisking it all together in a bowl.
Next, heat oil in a pan (I use my 10″ cast iron skillet, but you could also use a wok) and add the dried chilies and peanuts. Let them cook for a few minutes until the peanuts are nicely toasted. Scoop it all out of the pan and put it in a bowl to hang out.
While the oil is still hot, throw in a few sliced up scallions and let them cook for a minute or two until they are a little bit charred. Put them in the bowl with the peanuts.
Now, open up the tofu baggy and chuck in some corn starch. Seal it back up, shake it around to coat the tofu, then fry the coated tofu in the skillet. Let it get brown on one side, then use a big spatula to flip it over in sections.
Add the prepared sauce to the pan and let it coat the tofu. Dump the chilies, peanuts, and scallions back in and give it a quick stir.
Now, we eat.
Here’s the Recipe!
15 Minute Kung Pao Tofu Recipe
- 14 ounces firm tofu - diced into small cubes
- 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 6 to 10 sichuan chili peppers
- 2/3 cup dry-roasted - unsalted peanuts
- 6 scallions - sliced into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
For the Sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger root
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated garlic
- 4 teaspoons chinkiang vinegar
- 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3/4 teaspoon corn starch
- Ground Sichuan peppercorns to taste - a quarter to a half teaspoon should do.
- Pat the tofu pieces dry and add to a plastic zipper-close bag along with two teaspoons of soy sauce. Give it a good shake and set it aside.
- Prepare the sauce by whisking together all of the sauce ingredients until the sugar has dissolved.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the chilies and peanuts. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until the peanuts are lightly toasted. Strain from the pan, reserving the oil, and set aside in a bowl.
- Add the scallions to the hot pan and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until browned. Set aside with the peanuts and chilies.
- Add the tablespoon of cornstarch to the tofu, seal the bag, and give it a good shake to coat. Transfer the coated tofu to the hot pan and fry in a single layer, undisturbed, until deeply browned; about 3 minutes. Turn the tofu and repeat on the second side.
- Pour the prepared sauce into the pan and toss with the tofu. Turn off the heat and return the scallions, peppers, and peanuts to the pan. Give it a good stir then transfer to a serving platter.
- Optionally garnish with ground Sichuan peppercorns. Serve hot.
Please note that this recipe is often misspelled as: kung po tofu, kung pow tofu, king pao tofu, kung poa tofu, kungpao tofu, kung po tofu, kung pai tofu, kung pau tofu and kung bao tofu.
I tried recipe to the exact detail. (including sichuan peppercorns and ch. vinegar. using the quantities in the recipe, the dish came out really dry, just didn’t taste that good. any opinions on what to consider adjusting? my son tried to add soy sauce to his serving to add some “sauce” but of course that ruins the flavor.
I’m not sure why it was dry. You could try doubling the sauce and then start with 1/2 the sauce you made and add more until it is to your liking.
That tingly feeling from traditional Szechuan food? That’s from Szechuan peppercorns, not Szechuan chili peppers. The chilis impart hotness while the peppercorns make your mouth tingle. A lot of Szechuan food uses both, a combination called Mala (ma is hot, la is numbing). The “la” is left out in a lot of American recipes.
Thanks for the info, I have updated the post accordingly.
I loved this recipe. I added some broccoli and bell peppers. I also used a ‘sweet and low’ packet, as I have a special diet and cannot have sugar. It was still amazing. Thanks
Sounds great. If someone can make that in 15 minutes I’ll eat the pan.
To perfect the dish I’ve made it three times. The first session I learned why corn starch is used for frying instead of potato starch. The second session I burned Korean pepper wool and overdosed it. I haven’t found Sichuan peppers yet so I just use the blender on defrosted four Korean peppers dumped into the sauce. The third session, I changed the portion of peanuts to my liking. Thanks for posting and writing about all the Chinese ingredients. I’m a sauce person and the kung pao tofu hit the spot.
Along the way I found another way to roast peanuts. Buy peanuts with skin maybe from an Asian grocery store, set a layer on a pan in an oven, and put them in before the oven heats up. Use low broil for four minutes and fifty- five seconds, stir the peanuts, and turn off the oven. 60 jumping jacks remove the peanuts.