This is a delicious and better-than-takeout vegan Chinese Szechuan Kung Pao Tofu! This packs some authentic Sichuan/Szechuan flavours from the Sichuan peppercorns that are distinct for their numbing spice (which I love!) but what also makes this dish Kung Pao are the peanuts!
KUNG PAO TOFU
宫爆豆腐 or Gōng bào dòufu is a delicious vegan/vegetarian version of Kung Pao Chicken that I had a love-hate relationship with growing up.
One of the memories I can never forgot during one of my family’s visits to China years back when I was still in grade school was the Kung Pao Chicken we had in almost every meal. It was a very tasty dish packed with a good kick of spice from the peppercorns but there was something about the delicate balance of sweet, savoury, and tanginess from the sauce.
It got to the point though that I had Kung Pao Chicken so often that I didn’t want to eat any of it for a while–hence the love-hate relationship haha.
These are basically crisp pieces of tofu in a deliciously savoury, sticky, sweet, sour sauce with that nice crunch from toasted peanuts.
AND OF COURSE, It has a kick of numbing spice from Szechuan peppercorns, that for me, are a must!
Below is another version I made with the tofu sliced into large triangular pieces:
This is a vegan and vegetarian friendly recipe perfect paired this with rice for a super tasty and satisfying meal!
THE KEY TO COOKING CRISPY TOFU
SOME FAQS/NOTES BEFORE WE GET STARTED:
What’s the best tofu to use? Extra firm tofu or tokwa
Can I freeze my tofu? If you want that extra meaty texture (water inside the tofu expands as it freezer, creating these nice layers), then by all means, go ahead!
If you’re freezing your tofu, NO NEED TO PRESS IT BEFORE FREEZING. You can simply freeze your whole packed of tofu or place your tofu on a freezer safe container and freeze it overnight.
Make sure your tofu is thawed completely before you press it!
STEP 1: Make sure to press the tofu to drain out excess liquid.
I like to wrap mine in a towel and then place a heavy flat surface on top. Such as a few more chopping boards. You can also get a tofu press to help you out!
STEP 2: Slice the tofu into 1″ cubes or into triangles or any other shape of your choice!
STEP 3: Coating with cornstarch (aka corn flour) before pan-frying gets that nice crispy exterior! Potato starch works great too!
STEP 4: Make sure the oil is HOT before you add in the tofu!
STEP 5: Pan-fry until golden brown and crisp on all sides!
Step 6: Set the tofu aside and drain the excess oil to prepare the other ingredients for the dish.
THE SUPER TASTY SAUCE
1 – The sauce is what brings this dish to life! It’s the aromatics that perfectly blend together with the savoury sauce.
It’s the Chinese black vinegar or Chinkiang Vinegar that really brighten up this sauce, too.
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Fried peanuts or roasted peanuts (if you don’t have access to fried peanuts) are both great for this dish. Mine were salted, so that added a nice saltiness to the dish, too!
If you have plain, unroasted/raw peanuts then I recommend to pan-fry these on your pan to lightly toasted them.
They give that nice added crunch and bite.
If you’re allergic to peanuts, cashews work well too. Or you can opt not to add any nuts!
Szechuan Peppercorns or Powder
For that distinctly numbing spice that I love fro this dish, I really recommend using Szechuan peppercorns!
I have whole Szechuan peppercorns that I bought around 1 year ago (they last really long, as long as you store them in a cool try place) that I just process or ground up into an almost powder form to use for my recipes.
You can also just use whole peppercorns but I prefer to use them in a ground up version.
HOW TO COOK THE KUNG PAO TOFU
Let’s get back to the fried tofu!
DO I NEED A WOK?
Nope! I actually love to use a non-stick pan to cook this dish for easier clean-up and to be able to pan-fry my tofu well without worrying of it sticking to my pan.
I simply cleared the same pan and left a bit of oil.
From there, sauté all the onions and pepper with some Shaoxing wine.
Once the wine has evaporated, you can add in the the szechuan pepper.
Pour in the sauce into the pan.
The sauce will slowly thicken from the starch and turn into a glaze.
Once it has thickened, you can add back in the crisp pieces of tofu!
The sauce will turn into a stick glaze-like consistency and beautifully coat the tofu.
Then add in the peanuts.
Enjoy your vegan Kung Pao Tofu, that’s really like the restaurant version (or maybe even better).
Serve it with some rice, and enjoy!
I’ve made this recipe with cauliflower before but I can say that tofu absorbs flavour a lot better so this dish was so satisfying and perfect with some rice!
Check out the recipe below. Enjoy!
You can also check out my other vegan tofu recipes here or down below:
Check out my tips on how to store tofu!
- Black Pepper Tofu Steaks
- Tofu “Chicken” Teriyaki
- Korean Spicy Braised Tofu
- Fried ‘Chicken’ and Gravy
- Tofu Katsu
- Nori-Wrapped Tofu in Spicy Sauce
Are you looking for more delicious, vegan recipes?Looking for more Vegan Asian recipes? You can get a copy of my upcoming cookbook, Vegan Asian!
If you crave vegan-friendly versions of classic Asian dishes, this cookbook is packed with Southeast and East Asian dishes inspired by those I grew up enjoying at home and those I’ve tried from my travels. From iconic Thai dishes to piping-hot Japanese fare and everything in between, the recipes in this will take your palate on a delicious food trip across Asia, and hopefully keep you coming back for more!
If you try out this recipe, I’d appreciate if you leave a rating or simply click on the stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ on my recipe card!
Kung Pao Tofu (宫爆豆腐)
- 500 g extra firm tofu
- 1 tbsp chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar (see notes)
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp chili garlic sauce or chili oil (adjust according to desired spice), see homemade recipe here
- 3 tbsp room temperature water
- 1/2 tbsp cornstarch or potato starch
- 1 tsp grated or minced ginger
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 scallion sliced (white parts included)
For Tofu Coating and Cooking
- 3-4 tbsp cornstarch or potato starch
- ¾ tsp salt
- 1/4 cup neutral oil for frying (more or less depending on the size of your pan)
- 1 tbsp neutral oil for pan-frying
- 1/2 medium onion sliced into squares
- 1 small red bell pepper sliced into squares
- 2 dried chiles optional (see notes)
- 1 scallion chopped (white parts included)
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine sub with dry sherry or other rice wine
- 1-2 tsp szechuan pepper powder or whole pepper corns (see notes)
- 1/4 cup fried or roasted peanuts plus more for garnishing (see notes)
- More scallions for garnishing
- Steamed rice
- Drain excess water out of the tofu. I usually do this by wrapping them with a towel and placing a plate on top of them but you can also opt to use a tofu press.
Coating the Tofu
- Slice the tofu diagonally into large squares before cutting them in half to form triangles. You can also slice them into 1-inch cubes.
- In a large bowl or container, mix in the cornstarch and salt.
- Coat each piece of tofu in the cornstarch mixture. If you need more cornstarch to coat the tofu, feel free to add 1 tbsp more.
Cooking the Tofu
- Heat a large non-stick pan or skillet over high heat. Add in around ¼ cup of oil. Note that this will depend on the size of your pan. But a thin later of oil to cover the surface of the pan is good. Leave the oil to heat up.
- Once the oil is hot, add in the coated tofu.
- Pan fry the tofu over medium high heat on each side until golden brown and crisp. Ensure that the tofu do not stick to one another in the pan. You may need to fry them in 2-3 batches depending on the size of your frying pan.
- Set the tofu aside.
- Peanuts: If you're using raw/untoasted peanuts, you can quickly dry toast them on the pan until lightly brown and aromatic before cooking the rest of the dish and just set them aside for later.
- You can remove some oil from the same pan and leave 1 tbsp for sautéing.
- In the same frying pan over high heat, add in the onions. Sauté until tender over high heat, around 1 minute.
- Add in the bell pepper and cook until tender, around 2 minutes.
- Turn up the heat. Add in 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine or other rice wine then leave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until it has evaporated.
- Add in the szechuan pepper powder then mix well.
- Add in the scallions and dried chili (if using) the mix together.
- Afterwards, give the sauce good mix again to prevent the starch from sticking to the bottom. Over medium heat, pour in the sauce to the pan. Immediately stir. The sauce will slowly thicken due to the starch.
- When the sauce has slightly thickened, add in the crispy tofu pieces and immediately mix to coat.
- By this time the sauce will have thickened into a glaze.
- Turn off the heat then add in the peanuts.
- If using heavily salted peanuts, I highly recommend to lessen the soy sauce in the sauce to 2 tbsp first and just add more soy sauce, to taste, if needed.
- If you’re using raw/unroasted peanuts, you can quickly dry toast them on the pan until lightly brown and aromatic before cooking the rest of the dish and just set them aside for later.
- I highly recommend to use Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar for this recipe because it has this subtle fruitless that you don’t get with other vinegar. But if you don’t have access to it, then you can use rice vinegar.
- Feel free to adjust the amount of vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and chili oil depending on how you’d like your sauce to taste!
- For a gluten-free option: use tamari instead of soy sauce.
- If you opt to use dried chiles, you can opt to keep them whole or slice them up if you’d like that added spice.
- You can add more or less szechuan pepper according to your desired numbing spice.
- I have whole Szechuan peppercorns that bought in around 1 year ago (they last really long, as long as you store them in a cool try place) that I just process or ground up into an almost powder form to use for my recipes.
- For this recipe, you can opt to use either whole to crushed/ground peppercorns but I would really recommend it in powder form for the best flavour.
This Post Has 27 Comments
My husband and I liked this dish. It was a long process but good in the end. We did think it was too salty and should have had less sezchuan powder. And since I doubled the recipe, it needed more sauce when we ate the leftovers the next day so if I make it again I will slightly up the sauce ingredients. One more thing, since I have never cooked with chilis and the recipe didn’t specify, I didn’t know whether to cut up the dried chilies (and toss or keep the seeds) or toss them in whole. Hubbie said I should have tossed them in whole.
Hi Eve, thank you so much for your feedback! Realised I didn’t get to specify what to do with the chiles. Will definitely edit this in. As for the szechuan powder, you’re free to lessen as needed (though I do love mine with lots of szechuan powder haha I love its numbing spice.)
Btw thanks for all the recipes! You are getting this white girl into Chinese cooking and I love it! I’ve been to two Asian markets so far to get your ingredients and they have been amazing! I have ingredients for 3 more of your recipes.
Thank you !!
I make this once a week. It’s delicious
Thank you Adriana! 🙂
This was delicious! Since we are limiting carbs, I substituted the cornstarch with blanched almond flour, and also used Truvia instead of sugar and shoyu instead of regular soy sauce. It was amazing! Next time I will also up the sauce, only because I love lots of sauce. Thanks for a great recipe!
This was absolutely wonderful. Quick and easy to make as well. Thank you so much for creating and sharing this recipe.
Thanks Bojana 🙂
Very spicy but amazing flavor! I couldn’t find Szechuan pepper, Chinese black vinegar or Shaoxing wine at my local grocery store but found adequate substitutes. I also included bamboo shoots.
Didn’t let me down! Absolutely delicious. I will add this to our recipe book.
Thanks Allison! 🙂
This recipe is INCREDIBLE! Plus, I love getting introduced to new ingredients. Before making this I had not cooked with Szechuan pepper, Shaoxing wine, or black vinegar. Definitely game-changers. Thank you!
Thank you Annie! Happy you got to try cooking with these ingredients!! ◡̈
Love this recipe! I’ve been making it with a few substitutes for ingredients but I’m slowly building my pantry so I have everything since it’s become a staple for me 🙂 I’m new to cooking with chilis but I like a relatively medium spice level generally speaking. I was wondering if you could recommend a certain type of dried chili? What do you use? Just not sure where to look or if there’s a specific type I should get. Thank you!
Hi Alex! Glad you like it. As for the chiles, I just usually get whatever dried chiles are available in my local Chinese store. The ones i get are usually repackaged into small pouches and don’t have labels. The ones I get are usually just referred to as ‘Chinese chiles’ but there are a lot of varieties. There’s a ‘facing heaven’ chili variety that’s long and really spicy. In general I’d recommend to check out your local Asian store for what they have. There are also arbor chiles that are more commonly used in Mexican cooking but I find that those go well in stir-fries too ◡̈ hope this helps!!
Super helpful! Thanks, Jeeca!
Tried this the other day and my fiancé and I loved it!! Used rice vinegar instead of Shaoxing wine and black peppercorn instead of Szechuan. Thank you for this! Excited to try more of your recipes
Glad you guys liked it! ◡̈
I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for a while and finally made it today – so delicious!!
I found it just a bit dry, so I think I would make 1.5x the sauce next time, but other than that it was wonderful!!
Thank you for making this dish seem so accessible!!
Yaay, thank you too!
We’ve made this three times and it’s been a hit every time. We make some minor modifications–adding broccoli, going a little lighter on the oil–but flavor profile from the Chinese vinegar, mirin, and Szechuan powder is amazing. (Just don’t accidentally dump all the powder in one part of the pan like I did the first time – it was a while before my mouth recovered :D). Totally worth it to grab those online.
This is part of our regular dinner rotation now, and we’re excited to try even more of your recipes. Thank you so much for sharing!
Oh dear I totally feel you on the szechuan powder! Haha. And thanks so much too! ◡̈
Hey Jessica, I think your website was exactly what I needed! Tried this meal today and it was amazing. Then directly ordered your book 😀
The szechuan pepper is definitely a key ingredient, I love that stuff.
Greetings from Germany, keep up the good work.
Danke schon Niklas! Glad you liked it! ◡̈
I tried it once more. As it is Sunday I had to use some impromptu ingredients (broccoli instead of bell pepper and soft, white tofu instead of firm one). Tasted amazing as well, broccoli really works well with the thick chinese sauces I think (also in Hot Pot). The tofu was definitely worse though. 谢谢
Hi Niklas, I hope the soft tofu didn’t break apart since it’s definitely a lot more delicate to work with. Thanks for leaving this review! ◡̈
I just used bigger pieces, no problem at all! It’s just that the texture is a bit worse for ‘chicken’.