Make your own Chinese take-out favorite meal with this vegetarian sweet and sour tofu recipe. It uses only simple ingredients and is quicker to prepare than waiting for delivery!
Lots of Chinese style take out will offer a sweet and sour meal, but it often comes with chicken. So why not make your own vegan sweet and sour "chicken" meal!
This recipe is quick, simple, healthier than the classic and really is one of my favorite meals to enjoy when craving take out food. The tofu is cooked until crispy and the sweet and sour sauce is such a great balance between tangy and sweet flavors in a rich caramelized texture. And I usually serve it along a coconut pineapple rice, which makes the whole dish even better.
And if you are transitioning towards a more plant-based diet, then this saucy Asian meal is definitively one to try. It does not lack in flavor and the crispy-yet-tender chunks of tofu are so satisfying. It makes for a super saucy tofu that's perfect to add on your favorite veggies.
What you'll need
- Corn Starch
- Tomato paste (I use this tube tomato paste when I need smaller amount, keep in the fridge)
- Maple syrup
- Rice vinegar
- Soy sauce (I use the reduced sodium Shoyu soy sauce, but choose gluten-free Tamari if necessary)
- Sesame oil (optional)
What kind of tofu to use
You will need extra firm tofu to make this recipe. Softer kinds of tofu aren't solid enough to handle being tossed in the corn starch. You do not want to end up with a crumbled tofu at the end! I use our Maine extra firm tofu from Heiwa, but use your favorite kind.
How to prepare the crispy tofu
The tofu is first cooked in the pan until roasted and crispy. Here is how to do it:
To begin, pat dry your bloc of tofu as much as you can. You actually do not need to properly press the tofu to make this recipe as the tofu is not marinated, which is a little quicker. Instead, roll the tofu in a few layers of paper towel, then very gently press on the bloc (do not break it though) to remove the excess water. Then, cut in cubes of about 1 inch (or roughly bite-size).
Add the cubes of tofu to a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and corn starch. Then, stir making sure all the pieces of tofu are covered on all sides with the corn starch. The corn starch will help the tofu get crispier without having to use a ton of oil.
Warm up a large non-stick pan on medium-high heat, then add the corn starch covered cubes of tofu. I first warm up a tiny amount of sesame oil (1 tbsp) to help crisp the pieces (and I love sesame oil flavor), but you don't need to use any oil at all if using a non-stick pan. Cook the cubes, flipping them every few minutes, until browned and crispy.
Easy vegan sweet and sour sauce
While you are roasting the tofu in the pan, then prepare the sauce.
Start by combining the corn starch with a little water in a medium bowl and whisk to break all the clumps. Then, add the rest of the ingredients of the sauce and keep whisking until you can see that the tomato paste is well incorporated.
Once the tofu is done cooking in the pan, pour over the sauce and keep cooking on medium-high heat while constantly stirring around in the pan. The sauce will become bubbly and thicker within 3-5 minutes, then remove from the heat and serve.
Watch how to make it
Sweet and sour tofu serving suggestions
I find this recipe perfect served over rice and a side of roasted peppers. I simply cook the rice before starting the recipe as I use brown rice and it takes a while to cook. I also cook the peppers in a pan as I am roasting the tofu, so it is ready at about the same time.
Other great ideas would be to serve this saucy tofu recipe over noodles, like soba or large udon kind of noodles. Also try pairing it with steamed broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, carrots and even mushroom.
One more thing, diced pineapple would be more than amazing in this sauce. You can use fresh or canned (drain first) and simply add the chunks of fruit (about ¾ cup) when adding the sauce to the pan.
When serving, sprinkle over sesame seeds, green onion and sriracha, if desired.
Sweet and sour tofu cooking tips
- Try to keep the cubes of tofu as intact as you can during preparation, so be gentle when pressing and tossing them in the corn starch as they can break easily.
- Don't overcrowd the tofu while cooking in the pan. The corn starch can make them stick to each other if too close and they will roast better if spaced out.
- If planning on filling the pan with extra veggies, then you might want to consider doubling the sauce.
- To make this recipe gluten-free, then make sure to use gluten-free Tamari.
What if I'm not a fan of tofu
This sweet and sour tofu recipe is SO versatile. If you love the sauce, but not much of a tofu lover, then there are so many other ways to enjoy this recipe.
Try tossing roasted cauliflower in the sauce for a soy-free recipe. OR, check out this cauliflower teriyaki recipe to prepare the breaded cauliflower bites in the oven, but then toss in this sweet and sour sauce (warm and thicken the sauce up in a small sauce pan first) instead of the teriyaki one.
Also would pair well with chickpeas, seitan stripes or tempeh cubes. You can also simply cook lots of veggies in a pan and pour the sauce over until thick and warm for a veggie sweet and sour meal.
The tofu will lose on its crispiness and the sauce tends to get thicker as it rest, but leftovers are still very good. Keep them in a container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Other saucy Asian recipes you might like:
- Quick vegetable stir-fry
- Spicy garlic noodles
- Sweet ginger tofu
- Teriyaki cauliflower
- One-pot broccoli curry ramen
- Oven-baked orange cauliflower
I hope you enjoy this sweet and sour tofu recipe as much as we do! If you try it, please leave a comment below and rate the recipe to let me know how it was. Your feedback is so helpful!
Sweet and Sour Tofu
For the tofu
- 454 g. extra firm tofu - drained and pat dry to remove the remove the excess water, then cubed in inch bite size
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp sesame oil - optional
For the sauce
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ⅓ cup water - or veggie broth
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 garlic cloves - crushed
- rice or noodles
- vegetables, sesame seeds
- In a medium bowl, add the cubed tofu, sprinkle the salt over and toss. Then, add the cornstarch and stir gently to coat each of the pieces. Set aside.
- Warm a large pan, then add the sesame oil (if using) and let it warm up a bit without smoking (you can also avoid the use of oil by using a non-stick pan). Then, transfer the tofu and cook on medium-high heat until crispy and browned while flipping the pieces once in a while. This might take about 15-20 minutes.
- While the tofu is roasting, then make the sauce: whisk the corn starch (1 tbsp) with the water until dissolved. Then, add the rest of the sauce ingredients and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside.
- When the tofu is done cooking, add the sauce mixture to the pan over the tofu and stir to combine. Keep cooking on medium-high heat while stirring often until the sauce is bubbly and has thickened up (should take only 3 minutes or so).
- Serve over rice or noodles with a side of veggies. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Enjoy!
- Make this recipe gluten-free by swapping the soy sauce for gluten-free tamari.
- If you want to add extra veggies to the recipe, then feel free to double the sauce.
- Keep leftover in a air-tight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.