Kung Pao Tofu
on Oct 06, 2022
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This kung pao tofu recipe takes a different approach because it’s a sheet pan meal that’s made in the oven. (Full disclosure, the sauce simmers on the stove in minutes while the tofu is baking). Bookmark it for your weeknight recipe ideas along with Honey Garlic Tofu, Sweet Potato Black Bean Tofu and Teriyaki Tofu Broccolini—all cooked in the oven too.
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I love a stir-fry, but sometimes I want a more hands-off approach that is still easy. And this sheet pan kung pao tofu does just that. While the tofu and veggies bake in the oven, the sauce cooks on the stove. When everything is ready, you can spoon the sauce onto the tofu, broccoli and red peppers right on the pan. Serve it with brown rice and you have a simple healthy dinner.
What is Kung Pao Sauce?
Hailing from the Sichuan province, this Chinese stir-fry sauce is spicy and often used with a combination of chicken, vegetables and peanuts. Traditionally the heat comes from the Sichuan peppercorns in the sauce, which has salty and sweet flavors with soy sauce, vinegar and sugar. You also see this dish prepared with beef or shrimp.
Why You Need This Healthier Version
For this plant-based recipe, I use tofu. And by baking the tofu in the oven, you can use non-stick cooking spray instead of the oil required to stir-fry it in a frying pan on the stove. The hot metal of the baking sheet still lightly browns the tofu and does a good job roasting the vegetables. Again, I will always make stir-fries, but moving to the oven gives you more opportunity to multitask in the kitchen.
This is what you need:
- Tofu: Use extra firm tofu just like you would with a stir-fry. It has a good chewy texture that holds its own with the broccoli florets.
- Vegetables: I like both broccoli and red peppers. You can also include cauliflower, snow peas or another color of bell pepper. For instance, use a green bell pepper and a red bell pepper. Just make sure that the veggies are in a single layer on the sheet pan, and do not over-crowd them.
- Peanuts: By using roasted salted peanuts, this is a way to season the overall dish. The sauce itself is pretty strong, so that’s why I don’t season it with salt, especially considering the nuts too.
- Soy sauce is the base for the kung pao sauce. I use low-sodium because it is less salty. This allows you to control the seasonings. If you want it to be gluten-free, substitute with tamari.
- Maple syrup (or honey) adds sweetness. I do this rather than whisking in sugar. If you want the recipe to be vegan, go for maple syrup. If not, then you can use honey.
- Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice and has a nice mild acidity.
- Hoison sauce is tangy and sweet and made from fermented soybean paste, chilies, garlic, vinegar, oil and sugar.
- Sesame oil gives the sauce a touch of nuttiness.
- Ginger: Freshly minced ginger is perfect with the garlic, soy sauce and the rest of the ingredients.
- Garlic: I include 2 cloves to round out the sauce without overpowering it.
- Red pepper flakes are what give the sauce a kick. They have a permanent spot in my spice drawer. I recommend 1-1/2 – 2 teaspoons depending on your tolerance for heat. They are made from dried chili peppers, typically chili or cayenne peppers.
- Cornstarch whisked with a tablespoon of water helps to thicken the sauce and make it silky.
- Scallions: Once the tofu and vegetables are out of the oven and tossed in the sauce, I scatter these sliced green onions all over everything. They add something crisp and fresh. Use both the green parts and the white parts.
- Brown rice is a healthy side dish to serve with it.
How To Make Kung Pao Tofu
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray.
1. Prep the tofu. Pat the block with a towel. Then wrap it with fresh paper towels and place a cast iron pan or cutting board on top to press out the excess liquid. Let it sit for 15 minutes. Then cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
2. Place the tofu on the pan and bake it until it is golden on one side, about 10-12 minutes.
3. Make the sauce while the tofu is in the oven. Combine the soy sauce, water, maple syrup, rice vinegar, hoison sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small pot over medium heat. Simmer for a couple minutes.
4. Stir together the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl and whisk it into the sauce. Continue simmering for a couple minute to let the sauce thicken.
5. Flip the tofu to the other side. Add the broccoli and the peppers to the pan between the cubed tofu. Continue cooking for 5 minutes.
6. Add the peanuts to the tofu and veggies. Cook for 5 minutes until the tofu is lightly browned and the broccoli is tender and bright green, but still crisp.
7. Spoon half the sauce on the pan, tossing with the tofu, broccoli and peppers. You can serve extra sauce on the side.
8. Sprinkle with sliced scallions.
Basic brown rice is great paired with kung pao tofu, and it really sops up that wonderful sauce. If you are looking for a salad, try this Asian Cabbage Salad with almond ginger vinaigrette or this Cucumber Carrot Salad.
You can keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Either eat them cold or warm them in the microwave. Store the extra sauce in a separate jar.
More Tofu Recipes
Did you try this simple sheet pan recipe? Please leave a rating and comment below. Thanks!
Kung Pao Tofu
- Non-stick cooking spray
- 1-14 ounce block extra firm tofu
- 3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons hoison sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1-1/2 – 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 pound broccoli cut into florets
- 2 red bell peppers cut in 1/2-inch dice
- 1/3 cup roasted salted peanuts
- 3 scallions thinly sliced
- Brown rice for serving
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a sheet pan with non-stick cooking spray.
- Pat the tofu dry with a towel. Wrap it with a dry towel and place a cast iron pan or cutting board on top to remove more liquid. Let stand for 15 minutes. Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes.
- Arrange the tofu in a single layer across the sheet pan and bake for 10-12 minutes.
- While the tofu is in the oven, make the sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the soy sauce, 1/4 cup water, maple syrup, rice vinegar, hoison sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes. Simmer the mixture for a couple minutes until it is fragrant. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water and whisk into the sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.
- Flip the tofu to the other side. Add the broccoli and the peppers to the pan between the cubed tofu. Continue cooking for 5 minutes.
- Scatter the peanuts across the pan. Cook for an additional 5 minutes until the tofu is lightly browned and the broccoli is tender and bright green, but still crisp.
- On the pan, toss the tofu, broccoli and peppers in half the kung pao sauce. Extra sauce can be served on the side or saved for another use.
- Sprinkle with scallions. Serve with brown rice.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Originally published January 14, 2019. Updated: October 6, 2022.