Sweet, tangy, and delicious, this easy Sweet and Sour Tofu is better than takeout and healthier too. Make it in just 20 minutes with simple ingredients and no food coloring.
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Hey Internet, flexes I thought I’d add to my growing list of homemade takeout dishes--this time it’s sweet and sour tofu.
In this easy dish, cubed super firm tofu gets lightly breaded and baked or air fried while we saute onions, bell peppers, and pineapple in the best sweet and tangy vegan sweet and sour sauce.
It comes together in just about 20 minutes and it is delicious, fun, and satisfying.
Sweet and sour (anything) was always one of my favorite takeout dishes. While I was a picky eater, especially about meat, I would eat it as a kid simply because it was drowned in this amazing sauce.
Now I’m a bit older, less picky, but also vegan, so I knew when I had a serious craving, I had to make myself some vegan sweet and sour.
I chose tofu because it’s easy to cook quickly, and my particular method of baking or air frying tofu cubes is so fast, simple, but honestly it just tastes awesome.
The tofu gets a bit of a crispy skin and the bite is firm and flavorful, not soggy or mushy.
After throwing together the sauce and the veggies, we add the cooked tofu to just soak up a bit of that sauce but retain its texture and bite.
It’s perfect served with some rice and garnished with green onions and sesame seeds.
My husband also noticed that the flavors got even better the second day--amazing!
What You’ll Need
- Super firm tofu: I’m talking about the kind in the vacuum-sealed plastic, not a tub full of water. If you only have firm or extra firm tofu (that comes in water), you can still make this deliciousness. Just use a tofu press or two plates or cutting boards, paper towels, and a heavy weight (like books or a cast iron pan) to press the tofu for 20-30 minutes before beginning. Otherwise the tofu may turn out soggy--I speak from experience. The other option you have is taking soft tofu, tossing pieces of it in cornstarch, and pan frying it in a neutral high heat oil. I recommend the super firm tofu if you can find it--I can usually find it in my local supermarket, Trader Joe’s, Asian market, and even Costco. Your other options are using soy curls, seitan chunks, or store-bought vegan chicken pieces--all good substitutes.
- Arrowroot powder or cornstarch: Part 1 of the tofu’s breading (garbanzo bean flour will also work). You’re also welcome to bake or air fry your tofu without any breading, but I think the texture’s better this way. I also use a little of the arrowroot powder or cornstarch to thicken the sauce.
- Nutritional yeast: Part 2 of the tofu’s breading! I know it sounds strange but it’s super savory and delicious here--and no, it does not make the tofu taste cheesy.
- Spices for the tofu breading: I like garlic powder, ginger powder, and a little sea salt for this dish, but use what you like.
- Red or sweet onion: I particularly like the taste of red onion in this, but yellow or white onions would also work well here.
- Bell peppers: Any colors are fine--I used a green bell pepper and a red bell pepper because that was most similar to the takeout I ate growing up.
- Pineapple chunks: Fresh pineapple is best for this--if you don’t feel like cutting up a pineapple, you can often find pre-cut pieces in the prepared fruit and veggie section of your grocery store. As a last resort, frozen or canned pineapple chunks will work, but they may be a little mushy. Try to throw them in near the end.
- Sweet and sour sauce: Either store-bought or homemade vegan sweet and sour sauce are fine, just make sure you read the ingredients if you’re picking it up from the store. Sometimes there are sneaky non-vegan ingredients in there.
- Cooked jasmine (or any) rice, green onion, and sesame seeds for serving
How to Make Sweet and Sour Tofu:
- Begin by preparing the tofu. Add the arrowroot powder or cornstarch, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, ginger powder, and salt to a large reusable bag, container, or a zip top bag and mix it all around. Cube the tofu and while it’s still wet, add the cubes to the bag or container. Seal it, then shake it all around for a minute to coat the tofu completely in the mixture.
- Either air fry the tofu for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) or bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) until the tofu is lightly browned and a little crispy. Make sure to either shake or flip the tofu halfway through so it cooks evenly. You can continue cooking if you want it crispier.
- While the tofu is cooking, whisk together the vegan sweet and sour sauce ingredients if you’re using homemade sauce.
- Next, start sauteing your onions, bell peppers and pineapple at the same time in a medium to large nonstick pot. You can use a bit of oil if you like, or water, soy sauce, or broth, but try to keep the vegetables and pinapple from sticking. We are really only cooking the vegetables till crisp tender (still with a bit of a crunchy bite), but feel free to cook longer if you prefer.
- Pour in the sauce and cook for a few minutes until bubbling. If making homemade sauce (or if you’d like the store-bought to be thicker), mix together 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder or cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water and add to the pot, stirring until incorporated and starting to thicken.
- Finally, add in the cooked tofu and stir for a minute or two so it is evenly coated. Serve over cooked Jasmine (or any) rice and garnish with green onions and sesame seeds. Enjoy!
- Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days.
The History of Sweet and Sour
In researching this recipe, I fell down a bit of a research rabbit hole (reminds me of my graduate school days, so fun!) learning about the origins of sweet and sour sauce.
So the origins are somewhat debated since most cultures have their version of a sweet yet sour sauce. The combination is very pleasing to the palate and fun to play with.
However it is commonly agreed that sweet and sour did originate in China, more specifically in the Canton region, making it a Cantonese originated dish.
It of course starts out with a non-vegan item--pork in this case, which is understandable since I realize that meat has traditionally been a staple in many culture’s culinary traditions.
This dish also has roots in other Chinese regions including Henan and Jiangsu.
The dish traveled to the US with Chinese immigrants, and around the time of WWII it had become a popular dish in Western culture as well.
Some of the ingredients I use may not be entirely traditional, but I like to think my recipe is inspired by the original Chinese dish, and definitely not better--just different.
More Vegan Takeout Type Dishes
I love vegan Chinese takeout inspired food. While this sweet and sour tofu is definitely not authentic Chinese food, more like American Chinese restaurant food, many people including myself grew up loving some of these dishes and I decided it was definitely worthwhile to veganize and share my favorites.
If you like this, you’ll probably also like my:
- Vegan General Tso’s
- Tofu Adobo
- Garlic Noodles (only takes 15 minutes!)
- Vegan Beef and Broccoli
- Vegan Orange Chicken
- Tofu Poke Bowl
- Veggie Lo Mein (only takes 15 minutes!)
- Vegan Teriyaki Chicken with optional Brussels sprouts
- Vegan Kung Pao Chicken
- Teriyaki Cauliflower Wings (more like Chinese takeout and American fusion, oops)
As always, I hope you love this recipe--I know I do, and Mr. Zardyplants does too.
This sweet and sour tofu is:
- Surprisingly healthy
- Perfect for meal prep
- And oh so delicious!
Let me know in the comments below if you make this recipe or tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!