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Kung Pao Tofu

This kung pao tofu recipe might just become a new favorite, especially for those of you spice lovers out there. Crispy tofu is tossed with sauteed bell peppers, spicy red chilis, and crunchy peanuts and finished in a silky smooth sauce that is savory, spicy, and just a tiny bit sweet.

Chopsticks holding tofu.


 

There’s something so intriguing about a simple, delicious, quick and easy stir fry, and this is one of my favorites. Lightly crisped cubes of tofu tossed with crunchy peanuts and sauteed veggies and peppers in a sauce that is just out of this world. It’s savory, spicy, and slightly sweet all at the same time. It’s sure to have you licking your chopsticks for every last drop.

Why You’ll Love This Kung Pao Tofu

  • Flavor explosion. This meal really packs a punch. The sauce is savory and spicy with just a hint of sweetness, and the peanuts present an earthy nuttiness.
  • Texture. My favorite part of this dish is the pleasant crunch of the peanuts against the tender tofu and veggies.
  • Better than takeout. Not only does this tofu favorite rival that of your local takeout restaurant, but by making it at home, you get to skip all of the mystery additives often found in takeout food.
  • So colorful. The visual appeal of this Chinese main is incredible. The bright reds of the chilis and bell peppers, the vibrant green of the scallions, and the deep, caramel brown of the sauce make for one head-turning dish.
Tofu and chilies in a skillet, garnished with peanuts.

What is Kung Pao?

Kung pao is a popular Chinese entree consisting of veggies, chili peppers, peanuts, and a protein (in this case, tofu) that are stir-fried in a flavorful sauce. The typical kung pao sauce is savory and spicy but has notes of sweetness in it as well.

Recipe Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need to turn this takeout recipe into a delicious reality. Don’t forget to scroll to the recipe card below for precise measurements.

  • Extra firm tofu – I highly recommend using extra firm tofu here. Softer versions won’t hold up as well in the frying pan.
  • Cornstarch – The cornstarch helps the tofu crisp up to a beautiful golden brown. You will also need to whisk together cornstarch and water to make a cornstarch slurry that will work to thicken the sauce.
  • Vegetable oil for frying – I used canola oil but any neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point will do.
  • Soy sauce – I prefer low-sodium soy sauce. It gives you more control over the flavor of the final product. You could use coconut aminos here instead if you’d like.
  • Rice vinegar – The rice wine vinegar adds a nice acidity to the sauce.
  • Chinese cooking wine – Also known as Shaoxing wine, this is a rice wine you can find at most grocery stores. If not, look for it at a liquor store or an Asian food market.
  • Honey – For a hint of sweetness.
  • Ground ginger
  • Toasted sesame oil and chili oil – For flavor and fat.
  • Vegetables – any color bell peppers and whole scallions.
  • Whole dried red chili peppers – You can find these at any Asian market and in the international section of your grocery store. You can also get them on Amazon.
  • Whole Szechuan peppercorns – If you are feeling a little shy about spice, you can leave these out or use fewer of them.
  • Roasted peanuts – I like using unsalted peanuts. Salted peanuts tend to be overpowering.

How to Make Kung Pao Tofu

Ready to get stir-frying? Who needs greasy takeout when you can make your own (better and better for you) version of this Chinese classic in the comfort of your own home, all in under an hour? Let’s get started.

  • Prep the tofu. Press the tofu under something heavy for 30 minutes. Discard the expelled liquid.
  • Prepare to fry. Cube the tofu. Whisk together the cornstarch and salt. Toss the tofu in the cornstarch mixture to coat.
  • Fry the tofu. Fry the tofu in ~1/4 inch of oil over medium-high heat until golden brown and crispy. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside.
  • Make the sauce. Whisk together the ingredients for the sauce (aside from the cornstarch and water). In a separate bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water. Whisk the cornstarch slurry into the sauce.
  • Stir fry the veggies. Saute the bell peppers in oil over medium-high heat until softened. Add the chilis, garlic, and the whites of the scallions. Saute until fragrant.
  • Put it all together. Return the tofu to the pan and stir in the sauce and the peppercorns. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the peanuts.
  • Serve. Serve warm garnished with the green parts of the scallions.
Up close image of a wooden spoon in a mixture of tofu and chilies.

Tips For Success

  • Don’t skip the press. Tofu contains a ton of water and, if you try to fry it without pressing out as much of that water as possible, the tofu will not crisp up properly. Instead, it will steam and break apart.
  • Be ready. Once you start browning the tofu, things will move fast. So, it’s good to have all of your veggies chopped and your sauce ready to go and within reach before you even turn on the stove.
  • Cook with heat. You want to keep the heat up while you are browning the tofu and sauteing the veggies. The tofu won’t brown properly if the heat is too low and the veggies will lose their crispness.
  • Don’t crowd the pan. If the pan is too crowded, the tofu will steam instead of getting nice and crispy. Fry in batches if you need to.
  • Stir occasionally. When browning the tofu, don’t move it around too much. You risk breaking the tofu apart and robbing the cubes of a proper chance to crisp up.
  • Keep things moving. When sauteing the veggies and then again when thickening the sauce, stir the contents of the pan continuously to avoid burning your ingredients.
  • Be patient. The sauce might seem a little thin at first but it will thicken up as it cooks. Be patient and keep things moving in the pan.

Serving Suggestions

It’s a classic move to serve saucy kung pao tofu over steamed white rice. I love it over fried rice too, though. This Chicken Fried Rice is so tasty but leave out the chicken if you are a vegetarian. If you aren’t much of a rice person, this Chicken Chow Mein (again, sans chicken if you prefer) would be a great call. Even though this Chinese-inspired dish already includes a hearty dose of veggies, I love serving it with a Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad, my famous Baby Bok Choy with Warm Garlic Soy Dressing, or these easy Sesame Snap Peas.

Kung pao tofu served over white rice.

Proper Storage

  • To store. Once the kung pao tofu has cooled to room temperature, seal it in an airtight container. You can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • To reheat. Allow your leftovers to thaw in the fridge (if frozen). Then, heat a bit of vegetable oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the leftovers, and saute until heated through. Alternatively, microwave individual portions in 30-second intervals until warm.

More Chinese Takeout-Inspired Recipes

Tired of dialing takeout? Me too! Luckily, many Chinese takeout-inspired dishes are pretty easy to recreate at home. Here are some other recipe you might enjoy.

Chopsticks holding tofu.

Kung Pao Tofu

Katerina | Diethood
If you enjoy Chinese takeout, you're going to love this kung pao tofu. Crispy tofu is tossed with sauteed bell peppers, spicy red chilis, and crunchy peanuts and finished in a velvety, smooth, spicy sauce.
4.08 from 25 votes
Servings : 6 servings
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients
  

For the tofu
  • 32 ounces extra firm tofu
  • ½ cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • vegetable oil for frying
For the sauce
  • cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoons chili oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • cup water
For the stir fry
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 6 whole dried red chili peppers
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 scallions, chopped, green and white parts included
  • 1 teaspoon whole szechuan peppercorns
  • ½ cup roasted peanuts

Instructions
 

  • Press the tofu. Place the tofu in a baking dish, top with aluminum foil, and lay a heavy pot (or something similar) over the top. Let the tofu sit under the weight for 30 minutes. Discard the expelled liquid.
  • Prepare to fry. Cut the tofu into cubes. Whisk together the cornstarch and salt. Toss the tofu in the cornstarch mixture to coat.
  • Fry the tofu. Heat ¼ inch of oil over medium-high heat in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the tofu. Fry until golden brown on all sides, turning the cubes occasionally. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside. Do not crowd the pan. Fry in batches if need be.
  • Make the sauce. Whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, Chinese cooking wine, honey, ginger, sesame oil, and chili oil. Whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth and then whisk the cornstarch mixture into the rest of the sauce.
  • Stir fry the veggies. Heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat in the same pan you fried the tofu in. Add the bell peppers and saute for a few minutes or until softened. Add the chilis, garlic, and the white parts of the scallions and saute for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
  • Put it all together. Return the tofu to the pan and stir in the sauce along with the peppercorns. Stir until the sauce begins to thicken. Stir in the peanuts.
  • Serve. Remove from heat and serve warm, garnished with the green parts of the scallions.

Notes

  • Press the tofu to remove water and ensure it crisps up.
  • Prep your ingredients before cooking; things will move quickly once you start.
  • Maintain medium-high heat for proper browning and to keep veggies crisp.
  • Avoid overcrowding the pan with the tofu. Cook in batches if necessary.
  • Minimize the stirring when browning the tofu to prevent breaking it.
  • Stir continuously when sautéing the veggies and thickening the sauce to prevent it from burning.

Nutrition

Serving: 1 cup | Calories: 441 kcal | Carbohydrates: 34 g | Protein: 17 g | Fat: 27 g | Saturated Fat: 4 g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 13 g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9 g | Trans Fat: 0.1 g | Sodium: 1262 mg | Potassium: 503 mg | Fiber: 3 g | Sugar: 15 g | Vitamin A: 1494 IU | Vitamin C: 54 mg | Calcium: 82 mg | Iron: 3 mg

Nutritional info is an estimate and provided as courtesy. Values may vary according to the ingredients and tools used. Please use your preferred nutritional calculator for more detailed info.

Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: kung pao tofu, kung pao tofu recipe, recipe for kung pao tofu
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20 comments on “Kung Pao Tofu”

  1. Avatar photo
    Michele Trim

    I loved this recipe!! I would definitely omit the Szechuan peppercorns from now on…they are strange tasting and not necessary in my opinion.

    1. Katerina - Diethood
      Elizabeta Micevska

      Happy to hear you loved the recipe! It’s good to adjust it to your taste, like omitting the Szechuan peppercorns if they’re not to your liking. Thank YOU! 🙂

  2. We love cooking your recipe instead of doing take out! It so delicious and the whole family loves it!

    1. That’s wonderful to hear! It’s great that the recipe is a hit with your family and a tasty alternative to takeout. Thank YOU! 🙂

  3. I’ve always been a bit hesitant to cook tofu at home, but your Kung Pao Tofu recipe has completely changed my mind. It was absolutely delicious and packed with so much flavor!

    1. That’s fantastic to hear! I’m so glad the Kung Pao Tofu recipe won you over and that you found it flavorful and delicious. Thank YOU! 🙂

    1. That’s fantastic to hear! It’s always rewarding when a recipe turns out great and your family enjoys it. Thank YOU! 🙂

    1. It’s great to hear that the meal was a hit and that pairing it with rice worked out well. Thank YOU! 🙂

  4. Anyone who’s ever said they don’t like tofu should try this recipe! It’s so good, and the tofu just soaked up all the delicious flavors.

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