One of the first things I ever got from a local Chinese joint was kung pao chicken. Before that I thought Chinese food was so exotic. But I learned to love it after that. And I found out after that it’s really not such an exotic cuisine at all.
Unfortunately, most of it is fried—and it has a whole lot of oil on top of at that. Now, while it’s certainly delicious, I know that you can lighten it up and still get all the same great taste that you expect from Chinese takeout.
Hmmm, that didn’t come out right.
I guess it’s not good that Chinese takeout has a bad reputation as unhealthy. I mean, well, it usually is unless you’re ordering the steamed broccoli and brown rice with the sauce on the side.
Who does that?
So I set out to make my own version of kung pao with tofu. Once I went veg, whenever I ordered carryout I always got tofu instead of chicken. There weren’t as many menu choices, but I loved the fact that I could get some of my old favorites and they aligned with my new lifestyle.
Then I started experimenting with making my own. The tofu that comes with regular takeout orders is also deep-fried, and I knew I could do better.
Not to mention all the sodium and other undesirable ingredients that seem to come with the territory. I wanted to nix those. MSG? Forget it.
And the oil? Way, way less.
So here’s my version of kung pao tofu. When I made it in a skillet that did not have non-stick coating it, well, stuck. But I like to call it crispy pan scrapings.
Still, it was very delicious.
The peanuts—magically delicious! (Is that a registered trademark?)
If you like your tofu with a firmer texture you might bake it before tossing it in the stir-fry.
Serve with steamed rice and maybe some egg rolls!
Kung Pao Tofu
14 oz pkg extra-firm tofu
3 Tbsp peanut oil
8 dried chiles de árbol
1/3 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup tamari
3 Tbsp mirin
1 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp sugar
Drain and rinse the tofu. Place on a plate, put another plate on top with a weight (such as a can of tomatoes), refrigerate, and press for at least an hour. Drain the water occasionally.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil in a large skillet or wok pan. Cut the tofu into cubes, add to the skillet, and fry until lightly browned stirring frequently, about 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and set aside on a plate.
Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan. Toss the chiles in and fry until just starting to brown, about 1 minute. Remove to the plate with the tofu.
Add the peanuts to the pan and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
Stir the tofu and chiles in the pan along with the green onions.
Whisk together the water, tamari, mirin, corn starch, and sugar. Pour into the pan, stir, and cook until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
Serve and enjoy!