Kung Pao Tofu is a delicious vegetarian dinner that tastes like your favorite take-out! The sauce is super-simple to make at home, and will elevate your next stir-fry meal.
Why You’ll Love It
It tastes amazing. This dish tastes remarkably like the kung pao chicken from our local Chinese restaurant, but with an easy vegan twist using crispy baked tofu. It will quickly become one of your favorite weeknight dinners!
It calls for simple ingredients. Kung Pao sauce is typically made with sichuan peppercorns, dried chili peppers, or dried red chilies, but this recipe calls for crushed red pepper flakes because it’s a more common pantry ingredient. If you don’t keep rice vinegar on hand, you can also use balsamic vinegar or Chinese black vinegar, for a tangy flavor.
You get to control the spice. Kung Pao Tofu is known for its spicy flavor, but if you prefer a more mild dish, it’s easy to cut back on the red pepper flakes. Or, if you want more spice, feel free to add more!
It’s easy to prepare. All you need is 7 simple ingredients to assemble the sauce, while the tofu and veggies cook to perfection. If you bake the tofu ahead of time, this dish will come together even faster, or you can skip the baking process, since tofu doesn’t require extra cooking. (Baking just helps add a crispy texture.) No tofu marinade required!
It’s flexible. This recipe is easy to customize, using any ingredients you have on hand. Peanuts are added for crunch and flavor, but you can certainly leave them out. Using tamari (a gluten-free soy sauce) keeps this dish gluten-free, but you can swap that for regular soy sauce, if you need to.
Ingredients You’ll Need
Use firm or extra firm tofu for this recipe, to keep the texture similar to chicken. You can rip the tofu into chunks, or slice it into blocks, depending on your preference.
The arrowroot in this recipe helps to thicken the sauce, giving it a glossy appearance, but you can also use cornstarch, if you have that on hand. You can also add any extra flavoring you like, such as fresh ginger, or any vegetables you need to use up, such as onions, bell peppers, or zucchini.
How to Make Kung Pao Tofu
1. Bake the tofu.
Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, then transfer them to a large bowl. Add in the toasted sesame oil, garlic powder, and salt, and stir well. Then sprinkle on the arrowroot starch (this helps with crispness) and toss again, until you no longer see any powder.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, and arrange the cubes in a single layer on the pan. Bake at 400ºF for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tofu looks crispy on the bottom side. I don’t bother to flip the cubes, but you can halfway through the cooking time, if you’d like to.
2. Cook the veggies.
Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat, and saute the green beans for 2 to 3 minutes. Then add a 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and stir well, then add 1/4 cup of water into the pan (it should immediately start sizzling and steaming) and cover the pan with a lid.
Lower the heat and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, until the green beans reach your desired tenderness. (I usually cook them for 8 minutes, for a very tender result.) You can use this cooking method for nearly any other sturdy veggie you want to cook.
3. Prepare the sauce.
To prepare the kung pao sauce, combine a 1/2 cup of water, the tamari, rice vinegar, maple syrup, toasted sesame oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, and arrowroot starch (or corn starch) in a small bowl or glass measuring cup.
Whisk well to mix, then set it aside.
4. Mix it all together.
When the veggies are tender, and the tofu is done baking, add the sauce to the vegetables, along with the tofu and peanuts, if using. Stir well over medium-high heat, until the sauce thickens and looks glossy. Then taste the mixture, and adjust any seasoning to taste.
Serve over cooked white rice, with sliced green onions and sesame seeds on top, if you like. You can also serve this over cooked quinoa, for extra protein, or any other base you love.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. It’s easy to reheat again in a skillet!
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s common to press a block of tofu between towels to remove any excess liquid, but you can skip that step in this case, to save time. Since the tofu is tossed in a sauce, it’s not as noticeable as if you were serving it as a crispy appetizer or as a salad topping.
If you prefer fried tofu, you can try pan-frying in the skillet, it before cooking the veggies. In this case, you may need to use an extra tablespoon or two of oil, to help it move around the pan. I prefer using the oven, so I can cook the veggies at the same time with minimal oil, but do whatever is easiest for you.
For an oil-free dish, you can saute the veggies in water, and skip the toasted sesame oil in the sauce and tofu. The sesame oil is mostly included for its unique flavor, so keep in mind this will change the taste of the dish.
Looking for more vegan dinner ideas? Try Kung Pao Chickpeas (made in a slow cooker), Vegan Orange Chicken, or Black Bean Tacos for a fast weeknight meal.
Kung Pao Tofu
Kung Pao Tofu is an easy vegetarian dinner that tastes like your favorite take-out! You will love the simple & flavorful sauce, and can use any vegetables that you need to use up.
- 14 oz. block extra firm tofu
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon arrowroot starch (or corn starch)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound green beans , trimmed & cut into 1-inch pieces
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
Kung Pao Sauce
- 3 tablespoons tamari (gluten-free soy sauce)
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- ¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less, for a mild spice)
- 2 teaspoons arrowroot starch
Preheat the oven to 400ºF and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes, then transfer it to a large bowl. Add in the sesame oil, salt, and garlic powder, and stir well. Then sprinkle on the arrowroot and stir again, until no powder is visible. Arrange the tofu cubes in a single layer on the baking sheet, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the bottom side of the tofu is crispy.
While the tofu is cooking, add the olive oil to a large skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat. Saute the green beans for 2 to 3 minutes, then season them with salt and stir well. Add in a 1/4 cup of water (which should start sizzling immediately) then cover the pan with the lid, and let them cook on low heat for 5 to 8 minutes, depending on how tender you want them to be.
While the veggies are cooking, add a 1/2 cup of water to a small bowl or glass measuring cup. To the water, add in the tamari, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, maple syrup, garlic, red pepper flakes, and arrowroot starch. Use a whisk to stir well.
When the vegetables are tender, add in the sauce, baked tofu, and the roasted peanuts, if using. Stir over medium-high heat, until the sauce thickens and looks glossy. Taste the mixture and adjust any seasoning to taste, adding more salt, if needed. Serve the Kung Pao Tofu over cooked rice, and top with sliced green onions and sesame seeds, if you’d like. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
See substitution ideas in the FAQ section of this post.
Calories: 268kcal, Carbohydrates: 25g, Protein: 15g, Fat: 14g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g, Monounsaturated Fat: 6g, Sodium: 2077mg, Potassium: 601mg, Fiber: 5g, Sugar: 11g, Vitamin A: 1192IU, Vitamin C: 19mg, Calcium: 116mg, Iron: 4mg
If you try this vegan Kung Pao Tofu recipe, please leave a comment and star rating below letting me know how you like it.