Using these simple ingredients is how I like to make my tofu taste good! Crispy tofu cubes with bell peppers, tossed in a sweet and sour sauce make the perfect dish to serve with a side of steamed white rice. This is an easy sweet and sour vegan tofu recipe ready in 20 minutes!
I was inspired to make this recipe when my husband and I took a trip to a quiet beachside resort in Japan for three weeks.
When I came back from Brooklyn, I was feeling sleepy from the jet lag and craving Chinese food. But not just any type of Chinese food – I wanted a big bowl of vegan sweet and sour tofu.
Since there aren’t many restaurants who offer a good version of it, I decided to make it myself, and I landed on this go-to vegan sweet and sour tofu recipe that’s too good not to share!
What is Tofu?
Tofu is made from soybeans that’s then turned into condensed soy milk. Coagulating the soy milk (which helps solidify its form) is then pressed into the white block of tofu you may be familiar with. It’s a process often compared to how cheese is made from milk.
Ingredients for Sweet and Sour Tofu
Scroll all the way down for the full recipe!
- Medium firm tofu: Medium firm tofu is the best to use because it’s denser than silken and soft and can better absorb flavors to enhance your dish. It’s also best for when you want to pan-fry your tofu!
- Red and green bell pepper: Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin A and C. Even better, it gives your dish a satisfying and tasty crunch to offset the general soft nature of tofu.
- Vegetable oil: Cooking tofu in vegetable oil helps create the crisp-edge coating many desire from their tofu.
- Corn starch or potato starch: Dusting your tofu with your preferred starch is an essential step to getting the crispy texture that makes this dish most satisfying!
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar helps create a smoky flavor to your marinades!
- Salt: Adding a touch of salt helps balance the flavor, ensuring it enhances the sweet nature of the sauce while counteracting any potential bitterness.
- Ketchup: Not only does ketchup contribute to the sauce’s unique color, it helps contribute to its thicker consistency allowing it to better stick to the tofu.
- Soy sauce: Soy sauce is the base that makes this sauce ultra flavorful—giving you the tasty umami flavor that compliments your tofu.
- Rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar: Using your desired vinegar base helps contribute to the sauce’s unique and complex flavor.
- Water: Surprisingly, water contributes to flavor while also aiding in how the sauce consistency and thickness is formed.
How To Make Tofu Crispy
Sweet and sour tofu takes less than 20 minutes to make and hits the spot if you are craving sweet and gooey American Chinese food. As you know, I love using the dust and quick fry method with tofu because it gives it a nice, crispy texture while keeping the tofu cubes moist and silky on the inside.
It’s the best!
The method is very simple; once the tofu block is drained properly, slice it into bite size cubes and dust each cube with corn starch so that all the sides are coated. Grab a large skillet, warm the pan on medium-high heat, then turn the heat up to high and add a thin layer of oil (neutral flavor is better for this recipe). Swirl the oil around to cover the frying pan and when the oil is hot, almost smoking, add a few tofu cubes.
Be careful not to overcrowd the pan as this will lower the cooking temperature and prevent the tofu from getting crispy. Cook each side until golden and transfer the cubes to a plate or a small bowl.
Works like a charm! What you will end up with are crispy on the outside, tender and soft on the inside tofu cubes.
Trouble with Tofu? Here’s How To Properly Prepare it
The first thing to do when cooking with tofu is to drain it properly. This is very important. This is often where many people have trouble with tofu, because if it’s not drained properly, it won’t give you the desired result you’re looking for. So take care to ensure pressed tofu is used.
Since tofu has a high water content, you want to try to remove as much of the excess water as you can to avoid a watery stir fry or salad. Silken tofu in particular is very high in water.
To avoid soggy tofu, you can let the tofu block rest on a plate for 15 minutes (that’s a traditional way to do it in Japan), roll it in a paper towel to remove excess liquid, and change it a few times. You can also press tofu to ensure there isn’t much liquid in your tofu using a tofu press like this one: Gourmet Tofu Xpress
For medium firm and firm tofu, you can slice the block into bite-size tofu cubes on a cutting board and proceed with your recipe. Silken tofu, on the other hand, is a bit trickier since it’s so delicate.
I recommend slicing the tofu on a plate or on a surface that’s smooth. I’ve seen people holding the block in the palm of their hand and doing it that way but that seems a little too dangerous for me. I prefer sticking to the plate method.
Is Tofu Gluten Free?
While tofu itself is gluten free, some farmers will grow wheat and soy using the same equipment for both. Because of that, it’s always a good idea to check for a Certified Gluten-Free label before buying tofu.
My two favorite gluten free brands are:
Vegan Sweet and Sour Tofu
Transitioning into a vegan diet or a more plant-based one?
You are going to love this simple ingredient recipe that’s a vegan twist on sweet and sour chicken! This is the perfect recipe to get you started because it doesn’t lack any flavor—you won’t miss the meat, I promise! It’s one of those tofu dishes that tofu skeptics would fall in love with.
The colors are enticing, the sour sauce is tangy and sweet, and you have the perfect balance between tender bell peppers and crispy tofu. This is one of those vegan recipes where you don’t realize you are eating a vegan meal unless someone tells you—even kids love it!
Different Ways to Use Tofu in Dishes
Cooking with tofu is one of my favorite things, since it’s such a versatile and simple ingredient. You can marinate tofu (I have a yummy London broil tofu marinade), deep fry, stir fry, sautee, boil, steam, bake, freeze, blend or even eat it raw.
Tofu can be used as the main ingredient of a dish—like in this dish—or just as part of a dish. I often add it to my smoothies as a healthier substitute to dairy to mimic the creamy texture. You can check out my post, 30 Delicious Tofu Recipes, for more ideas on how to cook with tofu.
The more I cook with tofu, the more I understand why it’s such an important staple in Asian cooking. Some will say it has no taste, but I beg to differ! Tofu has a delicate sweetness that pairs beautifully with umami.
What Type of Tofu to Use in Stir Fries
I have a natural tendency to prefer dishes that are on the lighter side which is why I will pick tofu over meat 90% of the time. But the type of tofu I use in stir fries is different than just plain regular firm tofu. I use smoked tofu because of its compressed texture that reminds me of the texture of meat. You can slice smoked tofu and it won’t fall apart which means it can withstand being tossed around in a pan with vegetables.
Smoked tofu is smoked in tea leaves and is so dense that it almost looks like cheese. It has a golden hue and tastes like the name says it – smoked. You can find this type of tofu in Chinese or Asian grocery stores. This specific tofu will pair nicely with the sweet and sour sauce this recipe calls for.
How Long Does Tofu Last?
Tofu that has not been opened can keep in the fridge until one or two weeks past the expiration date written on the label.
Once opened it will keep refrigerate for 3-5 days if left in a regular Tupperware container.
The best way to preserve tofu is by putting it in a tofu storage container. Since I cook with tofu all the time, the one I purchased gets plenty of use! It comes with a strainer to keep the tofu dry, which extends its shelf life to about one week, making it even more useful
This sweet and sour tofu recipe tastes best when served fresh and hot because of the nature of the crispy tofu cubes. You can cook it in advance and take it to lunch the next day but I can’t guarantee you’ll get the same Oh-my-gosh-this-is-so-amazing reaction as you would if you ate it right out of the pan. Serve it on top of some cooked veggies and a fresh bed of rice in a small bowl, or on its own with a light salad on the side. Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds if desired. You can’t go wrong with this simple but delicious recipe!
Other Delicious Tofu Recipes You Might Enjoy:
Did you like this sweet and sour tofu recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!
Serve this recipe with a side of Japanese rice. Watch our video on How To Make Japanese Rice the stove top or rice cooker method!Print
Vegan Sweet and Sour Tofu
This sweet and sour tofu recipe is a quick and tasy dinner option that’s much better than takeout – and is ready in just 20 minutes!
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 4 people 1x
- Category: Vegan
- Method: Stir frying
- Cuisine: Chinese
- 14 ounces medium firm tofu
- 1 red bell pepper (cored and chopped into bite size pieces)
- 1 green bell pepper (cored and chopped into bite size pieces)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- cornstarch for dusting
For the Sweet and Sour Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon ketchup
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar or cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup water
- Whisk all the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce (until sugar has dissolved) in a bowl and set aside.
- Drain tofu and wrap in paper towel or tea towel to remove excess water. Repeat 3 to 4 times until the tofu is drier. Slice tofu into 1 inch cubes.
- Dust tofu with potato starch until all sides are well coated.
- In a large pan over high heat, add oil and tofu and fry until all sides are slightly golden (about 7 minutes). Transfer tofu to a plate and set aside.
- Add red and green bell pepper to the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, until peppers have softened but still yield a crunch.
- Return tofu to the pan, add sauce and stir until tofu and bell peppers are coated.
- Turn the heat off, transfer to a plate and serve.
- Serving Size:
- Calories: 187
- Sugar: 11 g
- Sodium: 452.6 mg
- Fat: 8 g
- Saturated Fat: 1.7 g
- Carbohydrates: 18.6 g
- Fiber: 2.4 g
- Protein: 9.9 g
- Cholesterol: 3.5 mg
Keywords: recipe, Asian, tofu, vegetarian, plant based, meatless