Tofu should not taste bland if it is properly cooked and seasoned. This sweet and sour tofu (糖醋豆腐) will surely make your mouth foaming uncontrollably!
The tofu is pan-fried, then doused in a sweet and sour sauce, with the intermingling of flavors from ketchup, vinegar, and soy sauce. It is then stir-fried with the crisp and crunchy vegetables to deliver a well-balanced texture and flavor.
This recipe is the spin-off from the sweet and sour pork and is a vegetarian dish with universal appeal to everyone.
Here is my version of the sweet and sour tofu.
Sweet and sour tofu – the step-by-step guide
Let’s kick things off with step one.
1. Cut the tofu into bite-size cubes
Cut the tofu into bite-size, about two cm cubes.
Use firm tofu to avoid breaking in the pan
Firm tofu is less likely to break and much easier to manage than soft tofu. I can get firm tofu (labeled as pressed tofu) at the supermarket, which is reasonably firm to handle.
If you are not able to get the pressed tofu, you can press it yourself at home.
- Line a plate with a few paper towels.
- Place the block of tofu on the paper towels.
- Put a few paper towels on top of the tofu.
- Place a chopping board on top, then weigh it down by putting some objects (another plate, for example) on the chopping board. Add the weight gradually so that it is not too heavy until it breaks the tofu.
- Let the tofu sit for a while. The weight will speed up the water exuding from the tofu.
Add some soy sauce to marinate
Place the tofu cubes in a large bowl. Drizzle about two tablespoons of light soy sauce on it. Mix it gently if the tofu is firm enough to handle.
Remove as much water as possible from the tofu
Let the tofu cubes sit in the bowl for half an hour or longer. You will notice more water will release from the tofu.
Transfer the tofu cubes carefully to a dry plate. It is essential to make the tofu cubes as dry as possible so that they will not splatter in the pan while pan-frying.
2. Get ready the vegetables for stir-frying
The sweet and sour tofu recipe is improvised from the sweet and sour pork, which is widely popular among the Chinese. It is an adaptation by replacing the pork with tofu. As such, I am using the same set of vegetables as if I am cooking with pork. The vegetables I use are onion, bell peppers, and cucumber. These vegetables are mostly crunchy, which provides a different texture to the soft and chewy tofu.
Cut the cucumber into wedges or slices. The bell pepper should be cut into pieces about the size of the tofu. As for the onion, cut into chunks similar to the size of the tofu. By doing so, the vegetables will cook through at the same time.
Can I use other vegetables?
Pineapple is a common ingredient for this recipe. I omit it because it is not available to me. If you want to add the pineapple cubes, you can either cut the fresh pineapple into cubes or canned pineapple. Discard the brine and only use the pineapple cubes from the can.
You can also add some thinly sliced scallions and sprinkle some white sesame seeds on top before serving, although it is not a common practice in Asia
3. Prepare the sweet and sour sauce for the tofu
There are three principal components- sugar for the sweetness, vinegar for the sourness, and the light soy sauce for the savory flavor.
What is the difference between General Tso’s sauce and sweet and sour sauce?
The significant difference between the sweet and sour sauce and General Tso’s sauce is the inclusion of ketchup. As you may notice, the quantity of ketchup is the highest among all the ingredients. The amount of soy sauce for General Tso’s sauce is also much higher than the sweet and sour sauce.
How to make my improvised version of sweet and sour sauce?
You can formulate your own sweet and sour sauce as long as the sauce consists of the component of sweetness, sourness, and saltiness.
For sweetness, both white and brown sugar are suitable for the sauce. You can add some sweetened Chinese plum sauce to the recipe and reduce the quantity of sugar. Some people like to add some maltose to produce a thick sauce without the use of any cornstarch slurry.
Lemon juice is also a welcome addition to provide an acidic note apart from the vinegar. It is customary to use white vinegar instead of black vinegar to produce a bright finishing color.
Light soya sauce provides the umami in addition to the saltiness, although some recipes suggest only using salt.
Add individual seasonings directly into the pan
You can add the individual’s seasonings separately to the pan without pre-mix the sauce. You can do that if you are familiar with the formula because stir-frying is a quick process, and therefore you have to add the seasonings quickly without delay.
Otherwise, it is more accurate to combine all the ingredients in advance.
4. Brown the tofu on both sides
The chef in the restaurant usually prefers to deep-fry the pork or tofu because it takes less time in a busy restaurant. The tofu will brown more evenly, more presentable and resulting in a firmer texture by deep-frying
However, it requires much more oil, which may not be the best option for the home cooks. Therefore, I pan-fry the tofu with a non-stick pan when I cooked it at home.
Here are the steps:
- Coat the tofu pieces with cornstarch.
- Shake off the excess and immediately put it in a non-stick pan with some oil.
- Pan-fry the tofu until both sides are brown. Remove.
5. Stir-fry the vegetables
Now it comes to the final step – stir-frying. Here are the steps:
- Saute the minced garlic and ginger until aromatic over medium heat.
- Add the onions to the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for half a minute, followed by adding the cucumber and then the bell pepper. You can start to increase the heat by now.
- Add the stir-fry sauce to the pan. Give it a few quick stirs to prevent it from burning.
- Add the tofu and douse with the sauce.
- Once the tofu is well-combined with the sauce, dish out, and serves.
Is cornstarch slurry necessary?
Cornstarch slurry is not necessary if you are using ketchup with a thick consistency. However, if you choose to substitute it with tomato paste or puree, you may need to thicken the sauce with cornstarch slurry.
It is prepared by mixing two teaspoons of cornstarch with two tablespoons of water. Add the cornstarch slurry to the sauce and let it cook through until the sauce has a thick, translucent texture. Then add the tofu and combine well and serve.
For the tofu and other vegetables (A)
- 900g pressed tofu (weight minus the water in the packaging)
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- Sufficient cornstarch to coat the tofu for pan-frying
- 2 tsp minced ginger
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 onion, about 180g (6 oz)
- 1 Japanese cucumber, about 100g (3.5 oz)
- 2 medium-sized bell peppers, about 200g (7 oz)
For the sauce (B)
- Cut the pressed tofu into bite-size, about 2 inches square. Season with light soy sauce and set aside for 30 minutes to drain off the excess liquid.
- Coat the tofu with cornstarch. Shake off the excess. Pan-fry the tofu with some oil in a pan, to brown both sides. Removed.
- Cut the onions into small chunks, bell peppers into small pieces, and cucumber into wedges.
- Saute the minced garlic and ginger until aromatic. Add the vegetables and stir-fry over high heat until they start to smell fragrant.
- Add the sauce (B) to the vegetables and stir it continuously until it starts to boil.
- Return the tofu to the pan. Mix well with the sauce and serve.
As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 484Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1386mgCarbohydrates: 56gFiber: 4gSugar: 15gProtein: 28g