Perk up your ears, everybody— this next recipe in my Take Out at Home series is a winner. It got a big thumbs up from my husband and he specifically wanted me to tell you that. I’ve been after him for years to join me in cutting down on meat, but I couldn’t convince him with my vegetarian dinners. The strange thing is, he does love tofu, and it was me who was holding out on that. It took me a while to come around. I don’t know if it was the idea of bean curd, or the texture, or what, but I was suspicious and avoided it for the longest time. With this gutsy Kung Pao Tofu and my SPICY TOFU PAD THAI we now have a couple of really special meatless meals that we both agree on. If you are trying to cut down on animal protein I hope you’ll try this. If you are already a tofu lover, this is a great recipe for your files.
I think everybody knows it’s so important to limit our meat eating, but some of us have a harder time than others letting go. I love vegetables and I’m happy with a plate of them for dinner any time, but my husband literally can’t conceive of dinner without some kind of meat. Over the years the only two things that will lure him away from meat are tofu and mushrooms. They both have a ‘meaty’ texture and can be real godsends if you’re looking for ways to eat meatless meals, even once or twice a week.
Kung Pao chicken is a Chinese restaurant favorite, and because of its spicy hot flavors it makes a good base for tofu, which will pick up the flavors of anything you add it to. In this recipe the tofu gets quickly fried, restaurant style, but you could skip that step if you want. The important thing is that the vivid flavors and famous heat of the kung pao recipe gives this vegetarian dish some oomph, which is important in the dead of winter.
- a 14 oz container of "firm" tofu (I used about 3/4 of the block of tofu)
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1 tsp salt
- vegetable oil for frying
- 1-2 Tbsp chopped dried hot peppers, to taste (or red pepper flakes)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
- approximately 2 cups sliced onion (about 1 medium)
- approximately 2 cups of chopped colorful bell peppers
- 1 cup raw peanuts (you can use roasted unsalted if you like)
- 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp Szechuan pepper, freshly ground, if possible
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/4 cup water
- sliced green onions
- Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes, and set on paper towels to absorb excess moisture.
- Mix the flour and salt together in a small bowl.
- Heat several inches of oil in a pot to a temperature of 350F.
- Working in batches, dredge the tofu in the flour, lightly coating all sides and shaking off excess. Drop into the hot oil and fry for a couple of minutes, until it just turns a light golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Work in small batches so you don't crowd the pan, and dredge the tofu just before dropping in the oil --- don't do that ahead of time.
- Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.
- Coat the bottom of a wok lightly with vegetable oil and heat over medium high heat. Stir fry the hot peppers, ginger and garlic for a minute or so until fragrant.
- Add the onions and stir fry until they start to soften, and then add the sweet peppers. Stir fry a few minutes longer, just until the peppers become glossy and bright, don't over cook them.
- Add the peanuts to the pan, and then the tofu. Heat through, stirring very gently so you don't break the tofu.
- Push the contents of the wok to one side and add the sauce. Quickly bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly. It will start to thicken as it heats. Mix the sauce into the rest of the ingredients, again moving everything around gently so you don't break the delicate tofu. You are just looking to heat everything through. Add more water to the pan at this point if the sauce seems too thick.
- Serve hot with rice, or on its own. Garnish with sliced scallions if desired.
Be sure to buy firm tofu.
With the exception of the Szechuan peppercorns, everything for this recipe is readily available in the grocery story, although you may have to ask about the dried red peppers, they’re often hidden away in corners of supermarkets. It’s worth tracking down the peppercorns, especially if you like to cook Asian food at home. The ‘peppercorns’ aren’t related to black pepper at all — they’re the seed pods of a tree in the citrus family. They’re one of the components of five spice powder, and aren’t hot like you might expect. They have a pungent, citrus flavor, and a unique tongue-tingling effect. You can use them whole or grind them, and it’s well worth having a little bag of them in your spice cupboard.
Other interpretations of Kung Pao to try—
Kung Pao Tacos / Prevention
Kung Pao Chicken / Recipe Girl
Kung Pao Shrimp / Running to the Kitchen
Kung Pao Chicken / Barefeet in the Kitchen
Kung Pao Shrimp / Handle the Heat
Kung Pao Spaghetti/ Damn Delicious
Crock Pot Kung Pao Chicken / Heather’s Dish
Kung Pao Chicken in the Slow Cooker / 365 Days of Slow Cooking
Skinny Kung Pao Chicken or Tofu / Savoring the Thyme
Kung Pao Chicken / The Daring Gourmet
Kung Pao Chicken / The Perfect Pantry