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 you should also try this quick and easy 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, a lighter (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes!
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4.63 from 35 votes
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Kung Pao Tofu

244 Cals 12 Protein 21 Carbs 12.5 Fats
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 20 mins
Total Time: 40 mins
Yield: 4 servings
COURSE: Dinner
CUISINE: Asian, Chinese
Kung Pao Tofu, a lighter (and vegetarian) take on one of my favorite Chinese takeout dishes!


  • 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.


Serving: 11/2 cups, Calories: 244kcal, Carbohydrates: 21g, Protein: 12g, Fat: 12.5g, Saturated Fat: 5g, Sodium: 938mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 9g
WW Points Plus: 6
Keywords: asian tofu, kung pao, sauce for tofu, tofu stir fry chinese, vegetarian tofu recipes

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  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. I only have frozen vegetables. I hope works with those!

  3. Good flavors, but really dry. I’ll double or triple the sauce when I make this again.

  4. 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.

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

  6. This recipe is on regular rotation at our house! We double the veggies but otherwise exactly as is!

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. Double the sauce. And great with black rice

  10. Delicious, healthy and my whole family loved it

  11. 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.

    • 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!

    • 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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!

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

  14. 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.