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Kung Pao Tofu

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Kung Pao Tofu, a lighter, healthy (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes! So good and loaded with veggies!

Kung Pao Tofu, a lighter (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes!
Kung Pao Tofu

I love Chinese takeout, but I don’t love all the extra calories. That’s why I like to take classic Chinese dishes and make lighter versions. If you love tofu, see more tofu recipes like my Sriracha Tofu or this Tofu Stir Fry recipe. For more take-out makeovers try Orange Chicken and Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry makeovers. Kung Pao Tofu would awesome served with my take on Wonton Soup. The only thing better than eating one of your favorite Chinese meals is eating a healthier version so you can enjoy it more often!

Kung Pao Tofu in a large wok.

In this recipe, I’m keeping it vegetarian with tofu as the main protein in the dish, but shrimp or chicken would also work great. I wanted to use easy to find ingredients but still get that authentic flavor, which I think we nailed it. It’s so good! I subbed sherry for Chinese vinegar and Sambal Oelek for whole chilies (which I find annoying when trying to eat around them anyway).

Tofu is so versatile because it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce it’s cooked in. Tofu is excellent in Chinese stir fries, and kung pao sauce is perfect for tofu.

This recipe takes a little time to prep, but once everything is ready, it comes together quickly. It’s an easy stir fry that would be perfect for a busy weeknight. Just prep the vegetables, tofu, and sauce ahead of time. Then, stir fry the ingredients when you’re ready for dinner. It cooks in under 15 minutes! Leftovers would make an easy lunch the next day. Although I served this over rice, the servings are so large you could def skip ir.

What is kung pao sauce made of?

Kung pao sauce is a brown, spicy, salty, and slightly sweet sauce. The ingredients for this kung pao sauce are soy sauce, rice vinegar, sherry, brown sugar, and sambal oelek. Rather than using chili peppers, I like making it with sambal oelek which gives the sauce its heat. This popular red condiment consists of red chili peppers, vinegar, and salt. I recommend using 2-3 teaspoons depending on your preference for spice.

What kind of tofu is best for stir fry?

Extra firm tofu is best for stir frying, but firm tofu would also work. Extra firm tofu holds its shape really well, so it won’t fall apart in the high heat. It’s also great for baking and grilling.

How do you stir fry crispy tofu?

To get crispy stir-fried tofu, start with extra firm tofu. It won’t fall apart and get mushy once cooked. It’s important to drain excess water out of the tofu. Just put it between some paper towels or tea towels and press to release the water. Then, cut the tofu into cubes and add to a wok on medium heat. Pan fry the tofu for 8-10 minutes, flipping the cubes until they’re brown and crispy on all sides.

How to stir fry extra firm tofuHow to stir fry extra firm tofuMarinating tofu before stir frying.Stir fried tofu for Kung PaoKung Pao Tofu, a lighter (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes!

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Kung Pao Tofu

4.63 from 35 votes
Kung Pao Tofu, a lighter (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes!
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese
Kung Pao Tofu, a lighter (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes!
Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 40 mins
Yield: 4 servings
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups


  • 1 14-ounce package extra firm tofu, drained
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons reduced sodium or gluten-free soy sauce*
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
  • 1 2-inch piece ginger, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium scallions, chopped, whites and green separated
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise cut 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cut 1 inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2-3 teaspoons Sambal Oelek, fresh ground chili paste*
  • 2 tablespoons, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons lightly salted peanuts, chopped


  • Place tofu on a tea towel or paper towels. Cover with another towel and gently press tofu to get rid of excess water.
  • Transfer to cutting board, flip on its side and slice in half lengthwise. Flip it back over to lay flat on the cutting board and cut into 32 equal cubes.
  • Place in a medium size shallow container so the cubes can lay in an even layer.
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce with 2 tablespoons cornstarch. Whisk to combine and then pour over tofu. Gently flip cubes to make sure all sides are covered in marinade. Allow to sit while you make the sauce.
  • In a medium bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup water, remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch, vinegar, sherry, brown sugar and Sambal (use 3 teaspoons if you like it really spicy*). Whisk to combine.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons sesame oil in a large deep skillet or wok over medium heat. Carefully add the tofu (the oil may splatter).
  • Fry the tofu for 8-10 minutes, flipping every minute or so to brown all sides. Transfer to a plate.
  • Add remaining teaspoon of sesame oil to the pan then the add ginger, garlic and scallion whites. Sauté 30 seconds.
  • Increase heat to high and add the zucchini and peppers. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring until slightly cooked, then add the tofu and sauce.
  • Cook, stirring often, to combine, for 2 to 4 minutes until thickened.
  • To serve sprinkle peanuts and scallion greens on top and serve immediately.

Last Step:

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Serving: 1 1/2 cups, Calories: 244 kcal, Carbohydrates: 21 g, Protein: 12 g, Fat: 12.5 g, Saturated Fat: 5 g, Sodium: 938 mg, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 9 g


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80 comments on “Kung Pao Tofu”

  1. How does this do as leftovers? Or should I just marinade in the fridge and cook as needed. I am just cooking for one.

  2. This is so good I have to turn right around and make it again. I didn’t have sambal oelek so I used a teaspoon of gochujang instead.

  3. Made as-is (although added shiitake mushrooms). Good flavors, presentation was pretty with the red and green vegetables. Would make again.

  4. This is our go to vegetarian dinner! I like to make the tofu in the air fryer (400 degrees for 10 minutes, shaking half way through), but otherwise follow this pretty closely. The sauce is super flavorful and balanced, so I started using it for other stir fries!

  5. The sauce would have been better with less vinegar and more sugar. Also, the tofu coated with so much cornstarch stuck to the pan and burned.

  6. Long time patron (have some cookbooks as well). I’m half Chinese and wanted to point out that this recipe is very similar to what I grew up with, there’s nothing particularly ‘lightened’ about it–the pre-roll story of this recipe mostly drips with anglo-racism toward Asian foods.

    For some reason people have the perception that take-out is unhealthy (maybe some of the deep-fried add-ons that are popular in America), but at its base stir-fries you get are usually not much more than a vegetable oil, veggies, protein, and a starch-based thickener.

    Gina! Please take a moment when writing your posts to double check biases–there is a somewhat long history of white people “cleaning up” Chinese food; it is erasure and ridiculous when this recipe could have come from my mom.

    1. I am flabbergasted at your desire to create an issue where none exists! How would Gina know this is a dish that your mom made unless she grew up in a Chinese household? I’ve grown up with healthy Indian foods, but if a Brit only ever had access to butter chicken from a restaurant, how would they know that there are other healthier options in Indian cuisine? It might make them ignorant, but racist is such a stretch! How many chinese websites exist in English to show us that there are healthier chinese versions of popular Americanised/Westernised foods?

      You need to check your biases before calling out other people for their (non existent) ones.

      @Gina, I made this recipe and loved it!

    2. I agree with Reenu, but I also have one other thing to add. This dish is CERTAINLY a “lightened up” version in comparison to takeout food from a restaurant, which is what she explicitly stated that she is comparing it to. She is not comparing her dish to home-cooked meals from Chinese households. ALL takeout foods from ANY restaurant, no matter the ethnicity, use lots of extra fats/oils/cream/butter to amp up flavor. I’m sure your mom, and everybody else’s mom, cooks differently than they do at restaurants. No racism here. Gina is just trying to offer up a different option to takeout, specifically. 

    3. Brian, all my dishes are lightened up with less oil and sugar. All Italian, Greek etc. I am hispanic and even lighten those dishes up. If you’re looking for more traditional dishes, this site is probably not what you are looking for.

  7. I have 2 questions.  1.  What can I substitute for the sherry?  2.  What do the asterisks in the list of ingredients signify?  

    I look forward to trying this recipe!

  8. Avatar photo
    Judith Wilson

    Can this be done in an air fryer instead? If so, what temperature and time would you recommend.

  9. I was new to tofu. I’ve bought it before and then toss it before actually using. I made this on a day that my husband was working. It was very good. My cooked tofu doesn’t actually look like the picture. But that’s OK.

  10. Added a crown of broccoli to one red pepper and two small zucchini., and 1/2 cup scallions, and a couple teaspoons sesame seeds. Really liked the tofu and I baked it on parchment rather then stir frying it, at 400 (after marinating in the low sodium soy sauce and cornstarch and I did add 1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil.) It turned out wonderfully and I could have eaten the whole lot just like that without anything else on it. I roasted the veggies in the oven on baking sheets rather then trying to stir frying, since oven already on and it is easy to do. I made the soy sauce rice vinegar etc marinade with addition of 1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice on the stove top. Instead of tossing all the roasted veggies and tofu with all the sauce, I just added about 1/4 cup sauce to the finished veggies in a large bowl, and then husband able to add more sauce to his portions as desired, so a lot of extra sauce available. I did that as I am not fond of any type of Asian sauce–or rarely am, so that way it was not overwhelming amount of it in veggies and tofu. Husband loved sauce. (I did use an extra firm tofu silken ( Mori-nu) at 45 calorie per 1/4 serving.–worked great–did press out moisture as directed for a good hour or so)

  11. Wow! This was really good! In the past, I’ve not been a huge tofu fan but thus this recipe changed my mind. The tofu was great, the sauce was just right, veggies came out excellent and the peanut topped it all off. This will be one of my favorites.

  12. This was great. I really enjoyed the spice. I added cauliflower and peas to mine because I didn’t have tofu on hand. Wonderful, easy recipe. Highly recommend.

    1. I omitted the sherry and the meal turned out fine. I’ve made this meal numerous times over the past year and have enjoyed it!

  13. Avatar photo
    Jennie Leano

    I would like to try cooking the tofu in the air fryer. However, I’m not sure what temperature to use or how long to cook it. Does anyone have any suggestions? Thank you for your help! I’m looking forward to trying this recipe!

  14. This tasted nothing like Kung Pao. I felt like it was way too vinegar based where normally it’s the perfect combo of sweet and spicy. :/

  15. Great recipe! Sauce is amazing! I did have to make some substitutions based on what we had on hand and personal preference. Was out of cornstarch so used flour instead – cornstarch would for sure have added that extra “crisp” though. I did put the tofu in the air fryer vs sautéing. Used one zucchini and then a head of broccoli. Did not have sherry so added a splash of white wine instead. Added some mushrooms that needed to be used up as well. Love the versatility and will definitely be making this recipe again! 

  16. Delicious! Had to make a couple substitutions because of what I had in my house, but it was still tasty. I used broccoli instead of zucchini (which, honestly, I think I prefer!), and I didn’t have sherry so I used brandy (this was questionable, but luckily it still turned out. I am looking forward to making it with sherry like it’s supposed to be! ha!). Was filling and lots of different textures.

  17. Made this last night and added shrimp and used curry paste instead of chili paste
    My family LOVED it! Will definitely make it again!