Crispy tofu cubes with tender bell peppers, tossed in an American-Chinese sweet and sour sauce. Tastes better than takeout – and is the perfect dish to serve with a side of steamed white rice. I’ll show you an easy technique for getting the crispiest tofu. Easy, vegan sweet and sour, ready in 20 minutes!
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works
- It’s a vegan twist on on the iconic sweet and sour chicken.
- The colors are enticing, the sour sauce is tangy and sweet, and you have the perfect balance between tender bell peppers and crispy tofu.
- Dusting and quickly pan frying the tofu cubes gives them a crunchy exterior, while leaving the interior moist and silky. Even tofu skeptics will love it.
- Scratches the takeout itch – and is easy to make.
What is Sweet and Sour Tofu
Sweet and sour tofu is crispy tofu cubes and bell peppers, stir fried in a tangy, gooey American-Chinese sauce. The sauce itself is a balance of savory, sweet and tart flavors – and is an iconic menu staple at takeout spots. This is one of those vegan recipes where you don’t realize you are eating a vegan meal unless someone points it out. Seriously, even kids love it!
Ingredients for Sweet and Sour Tofu
Scroll all the way down for the full recipe!
- Medium firm tofu: Use firm or medium-firm tofu. It’s denser than silken and soft tofu, and will absorb the flavors of the sauce. It is also a great option to pan-fry until crispy! I’ll show you how in a sec.
- Red and green bell pepper: Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin A and C. Even better, it gives your dish another satisfying and tasty crunch.
- Vegetable oil: You’ll want a neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point to create the crisp-edged coating on the tofu.
- Cornstarch or potato starch: Dusting tofu with starch is an essential step to getting the crispy texture that makes Chinese takeout dishes so satisfying. It’s an essential step in making this sweet and sour tofu recipe a success.
Sweet and Sour Sauce Ingredients
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar brings an almost smoky sweetness to the sauce.
- Salt: Adding a touch of salt helps balance the flavor with savory notes.
- 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 you want from Chinese food.
- Rice vinegar: Rice vinegar adds bright, fruity and sour notes to this tofu stir fry. If you do not have rice vinegar, use apple cider vinegar as an alternative.
How to Drain Tofu
Tofu has a high water content. When stir frying tofu you want to try to remove as much of the excess water as possible to avoid a watery stir fry – and so it will properly crisp up in the pan.
Just wrap your tofu in paper towels and rest on a plate until fairly dry. This should take 10-15 minutes tops. If you set it on your cutting board and water is pooling around the bottom of the tofu block, it’s still too wet. Wrap again and press lightly to help absorption. Some people use a tofu press to drain tofu, but it isn’t really necessary. Paper towels are fine.
How to Make Tofu Crispy
We’ll call this the dust and quick fry method. You get a crispy texture while keeping the tofu cubes tender and silky on the inside.
- Drain the tofu block, slice it into bite size cubes and dust each cube with cornstarch so that all the sides are coated. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add a thin layer of neutral cooking oil. Swirl the oil around to coat the pan. When the oil is hot, add the tofu cubes.
- Be careful not to overcrowd the pan as this will lower the cooking temperature and prevent the tofu from crisping up. Cook each side until golden and transfer the cubes to a plate or a small bowl.
How to Make Sweet and Sour Tofu
- Whisk all the ingredients for the sweet and sour sauce in a bowl. Mix until the brown sugar has fully dissolved. Set the bowl aside.
- Next, drain your tofu. Just wrap the tofu block in paper towels and rest for a few minutes. If the paper towels become saturated, re-wrap until the tofu is fairly dry. Then slice the tofu into one-inch cubes.
- Dust the tofu cubes with cornstarch or potato starch until well coated on all sides.
- In a large pan over high heat, add the oil. Once hot, place your tofu cubes, evenly spaced, inside the pan. Pan fry and turn the pieces until they are golden brown on all sides. This takes about 7 minutes or so. Once crispy and browned, transfer the tofu to a plate and set aside.
- Put the bell peppers into the hot pan and stir fry until they start to soften a bit.
- Then return the tofu to the pan and add the sauce, tossing until everything is evenly coated.
- Transfer to a plate and serve immediately.
Pro tip Add a little salt and pepper to the cornstarch before dusting the tofu cubes to bring out the flavors of the sweet and sour sauce.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight food storage container for up to 2 days. That said, this dish tastes best – and will only have the crispy texture – fresh out of the wok.
What to Serve With Sweet and Sour Tofu
Serve this sweet and sour tofu recipe with a side of Japanese rice. Watch our video on How To Make Japanese Rice the stove top or rice cooker method!
If you’re making this takeout classic at home, here are a few other veggie forward Chinese recipes you can whip up to make it a full on feast. No delivery required!
- Easy Vegetable Egg Rolls
- Homemade Vegetable Wonton Soup
- Chinese Broccoli With Garlic Sauce
- Bok Choy With Garlic and Oyster Sauce
- Vegetable Bao Buns
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Tofu is gluten free. However, some farmers will grow both soy and wheat and use the same equipment to harvest both. That can cause cross contamination. Therefore, if you’re steering clear of all wheat, it’s always a good idea to check for the Certified Gluten Free label when buying tofu. My two favorite gluten free brands are House Foods and Morinaga.
For stir fries, you need bean curd that will hold up to both the high heat, and being tossed around in a pan. Three main options come to mind. 1. Medium-firm tofu like we’re using here in this recipe. 2. A fried tofu cutlet like this one. 3. Smoked tofu, which is dense tofu that has been smoked in tea leaves and almost has the texture of meat. All three of these options can withstand being tossed around in a pan with vegetables. Unfortunately, soft silken tofu, like you’d use in a dish like mapo tofu, is much too soft and would disintegrate.
Once opened, tofu will keep refrigerated for 3-5 days if left in a regular Tupperware container. Tofu that has not been opened can be kept in the fridge in the original sealed packaging for about a week past the expiration date written on the label.
For this recipe, yes. Excess moisture in medium to firm tofu will make it almost impossible to be pan fried until crisp. Furthermore, the excess water would stand in the way of your tofu cubes absorbing the flavors of the sweet and sour sauce.
Did you like this recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!Print
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!
- 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 (should not be pooling water on your cutting board). 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.
This Vegan Sweet And Sour Tofu Recipe will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Cornstarch not only creates the trademark gooey thickness in Chinese sauces. It can also be used to add crispiness to tofu, meats and vegetables when they are lightly fried.
- 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: bean curd, Asian, meatless