Sweet and Sour Tofu

Make this sweet and sour tofu recipe in under 30 minutes! Crispy tofu and a sticky sweet & sour sauce mimic the classic Chinese takeout dish in this vegetarian friendly meal.

*This post was originally published October 2013. Photographs, recipe & text have been updated.
Make this sweet and sour tofu in under 30 minutes! Crispy tofu and a sticky sweet & sour sauce mimic the classic Chinese takeout dish in this vegetarian friendly meal.

It took me a long time to warm up to the idea of tofu.

Until about 9 years ago, I pretty much thought all versions of it were like the slimy disgusting stuff you find in the warmed up toilet water they call miso soup.

Once I realized a hibachi restaurant’s standard appetizer was probably not the best barometer for judging a food’s potential, however, the world of tofu opened up and recipes like Mapo TofuHot and Sour Egg Drop Soup and Sheet Pan Meal Prep Tofu became go-to meals in my kitchen.

There were a few mishaps along the way to a decent tofu meal like buying the silken kind by accident instead of extra firm.

Although, if you make that mistake just make this healthy peanut butter cookie dough dip with it – problem solved (in a very delicious way!).

Or, being lazy and not spending a few extra minutes to press the water out of it before cubing, thinking it couldn’t make that much of a difference.

Spoiler – it does.

But now I know those things.

And so, when I inevitably forget to take something out of the freezer to defrost for dinner or just prefer to eat a plant-based meal, I almost always have a package of tofu in the fridge as a solid backup plan.

Lately, this sweet and sour tofu recipe is top of the list for a quick and easy Chinese takeout-like meal.

Easy sweet and sour tofu recipe that tastes just like Chinese takeout.

Sweet and sour tofu isn’t something you always find on Chinese takeout menus.

Without a doubt, however, you’ll see sweet and sour chicken.

This recipe is literally an exact copycat just with tofu instead of chicken.

HOW TO MAKE SWEET & SOUR TOFU

This recipe basically boils down to two easy steps:

  • making the sweet and sour sauce
  • making the crispy tofu

I like to start by making the sweet and sour sauce.

It’s made using all pantry/refrigerator staple ingredients. And, I can assure you it’s a lot healthier than the sauce you’d find in your Chinese takeout container.

Once the sauce is made, you can set it aside and turn your attention to the tofu. 

There are a couple tricks to getting nice and crispy tofu we’ll go over below. Trust me when I say they’re worth the extra few minutes because no one likes soggy tofu!

Torn crispy pan-fried pieces of tofu are the base of this sweet and sour tofu recipe.

MAKE THE SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE

Mix the following ingredients together in a small bowl:

  • ketchup
  • soy sauce
  • rice vinegar
  • honey
  • minced garlic
  • minced ginger

Once those are well combined, add the arrowroot powder and a little bit of water to a separate small bowl. Stir until the arrowroot powder is fully dissolved.

Now, add that mixture along with the remaining water to the bowl with the sauce ingredients and stir everything together.

This can be set aside until you need it at the end of the recipe.

This easy sweet and sour tofu comes together in a skillet in just 20 minutes of active time.

MAKE THE CRISPY TOFU

It’s important to not only drain the tofu from the water in the package but also to press it for at least 15 minutes.

Pressing the tofu removes additional water and really helps to get it nice and crispy in the pan.

You can use an actual tofu press if you have one.

Or, do what I do and place the block of tofu on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet. Put a paper towel on top of the tofu then a big heavy cutting board and something heavy on top of that.

It’s a bit of a contraption but it works well and I don’t need to store another single use kitchen gadget.

The other tip for getting crispy tofu pieces is to tear it into bite-sized pieces. This is in place of cutting it into cubes with a knife.

Tearing it with your hands allows for more jagged edges and surface area to get nice and crispy golden in the pan.

It’s not a totally necessary step, you can definitely cut into 1″ cubes if you prefer but, it’s an easy trick that takes no additional time so I like to use this method.

Once you have the tofu torn or cut into approximately 1 inch pieces, add it to a large bowl.

Toss with the soy sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper. I eyeball the salt and pepper based on our taste preferences.

Add the cornmeal and arrowroot powder and toss well until every single piece of tofu is coated in the mixture.

Now it’s time to pan-fry the tofu by adding enough avocado oil to a hot skillet so that it just barely coats the bottom of the pan.

Add the tofu to the pan (it should sizzle immediately when it hits the hot oil. If not, your skillet isn’t hot enough!) and cook on each side until golden brown and crispy.

Transfer the tofu to a plate lined with a paper towel and set aside.

Craving takeout? Try this sweet and sour tofu recipe for a healthier spin on a classic Chinese dish.

BRING IT ALL TOGETHER

Now that both the tofu and the sweet and sour sauce are done, add the peppers and onions to the pan and cook until just slightly softened, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the sauce and tofu back to the pan and stir until everything is well combined. Cook for about 1 minute until the arrowroot powder activates and the sauce thickens.

Serve the sweet and sour tofu immediately (it’s perfect over some white rice) and garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds.

DOES THIS REALLY TASTE LIKE TAKEOUT?

It does, I promise!

The sweet and sour sauce is sweet from the honey and ketchup and a touch “sour” (tart is really a better word for it) from the vinegar.

It’s just perfectly salty enough from the soy sauce and it thickens into a delicious, sticky, caramelized coating on the tofu and vegetables when it comes together in the end.

When I asked Ulysses what he thought as he scarfed it up for lunch, he said “It tastes just like takeout except it’s not globbed on in disgusting amounts with a disturbing amount of cornstarch”.

That’s my guy.

Sweet and sour tofu is a plant-based spin on the classic Chinese sweet and sour takeout dishes.

SUBSTITION OPTIONS

Let’s talk substitutions because there are quite a few for this recipe that will work just as well.

To make this a vegan sweet and sour tofu recipe, just use maple syrup in place of the honey in the sauce.

For a completely gluten-free recipe, make sure to use tamari or coconut aminos in place of the soy sauce. I suggest using a low-sodium version of tamari or soy no matter which you choose.

Where I specify arrowroot powder, you can use either cornstarch or tapioca starch interchangeably. So no worries if you don’t keep arrowroot in your pantry!

WHAT ABOUT PINEAPPLE?

I’d love to do a poll on whether the Chinese places where you live add pineapple to their sweet and sour takeout dishes. 

Here in NY, it seems to be a 50/50 split. I didn’t add pineapple chunks to this version. But, you can absolutely do that if you prefer the dish that way.

If you do, just add them to the skillet when you add the peppers and onions. 

I think freshly cut pineapple is best. But, even canned pineapple chunks that have been drained of their liquid would work.

If you like things on the sweet side, you may like this option best!

Make sweet and sour tofu easily at home in these simple steps.

So, while I stand firm in my distaste for miso soup (seriously, I’ll never understand you guys who lovingly slurp that stuff up), I do love tofu prepared like it is in this easy sweet and sour tofu recipe. 

It reminds me of a quick skillet version of this BBQ Mango Tofu and it never disappoints when you’re craving something takeout-like but also plant-based and a bit healthier!

More easy takeout-like one-skillet dinners:

Jalapeno Mango Chicken Skillet
Buffalo Turkey Cauliflower Skillet
Chinese Chicken Zoodles
Creamy Skillet Turmeric Chicken with Chickpeas
Sriracha Lime Chicken Skillet

sweet and sour tofu

Sweet & Sour Tofu

Yield: 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

Make this sweet and sour tofu in under 30 minutes. Crispy tofu and a sticky sweet & sour sauce mimic the classic Chinese takeout dish in this vegetarian friendly meal.

Ingredients

  • 14-ounce block extra firm tofu - drained, pressed & torn into 1" pieces
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot
  • 1 red, orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons avocado oil for pan-frying
  • chopped scallions for garnish
  • sesame seeds for garnish

SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE

  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
  • 1/4 cup water

Instructions

  1. Make sweet and sour sauce by combining all ingredients except water and arrowroot powder in a small bowl. Whisk to combine. Combine 1 tablespoon of water with the arrowroot powder in a separate bowl and stir until arrowroot dissolves. Add the water and arrowroot mixture to the sauce bowl. Whisk until everything is well combined. Set aside.
  2. Toss the torn or cubed tofu pieces with the soy sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
  3. Add the cornmeal and arrowroot powder and toss together until every piece of tofu is well coated with the mixture.
  4. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add avocado oil to the pan.
  5. Once hot, place the tofu in the pan and cook until golden and crispy on the bottom. Flip each piece and cook until the other side is golden and crispy as well. Transfer tofu to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium and add peppers and onions to the skillet. Cook until softened, about 2-3 minutes.
  7. Pour the sweet and sour sauce into the skillet and add the tofu back to the pan.
  8. Stir until everything is coated in the sauce and cook until the sauce has thickened, about 1 minute.
  9. Garnish with sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Serve immediately.

Notes

SUBSTITION OPTIONS:

-use cornstarch or tapioca starch in place of arrowroot powder.

-use maple syrup in place of honey for a vegan sweet and sour sauce.

-use tamari or coconut aminos in place of soy sauce.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 308Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 596mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 4gSugar: 13gProtein: 14g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

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152 Comments

  1. Erika

    Great idea! I love using tofu to re-create my favorite chinese takeout recipes. I would make mongolian tofu – one of my favorites at our local chinese restaurant.

    Reply
  2. Emily

    I’m mildly obsessed with BBQ so my go-to tofu recipe involved grilling or baking BBQ tofu. I only buy the sprouted kind as well, I don’t restrict myself in terms of soy but I’m aware of it. This recipe looks delicious :)

    Reply
  3. Kelly D

    I would like to try the Wildwood Original Meatless Meatballs and I would make spaghetti and meatballs for my family. My kids would enjoy this meal since they tend to go for simpler yet delicious dinners.

    Reply
  4. Abby

    I would make your recipe because it looks amazing and the only time I have had tofu is at a resturNt and it was not appealing!

    Reply
  5. Anna

    Tofu is great, but only if you prepare it properly. I too made mistakes when I first started cooking with it, but now I love it! I love baking up a batch of marinaded tofu to add to dishes all week long!

    Reply
  6. Adina

    This tofu recipe looks amazing. My absolute favorite way to cook tofu is in the oven though, because I can put it in and forget about it.

    Reply
  7. Kristen B

    I’d love to try this sweet and sour tofu! We also love making asian lettuce wraps with tofu as our protein!

    Reply
  8. Kat

    I’m TOFU retarted when it comes to cooking it and my kid LOVES Tofu. For the record, she loves miso soup tofu :) anywho, I need to make this.

    Reply
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  10. Betsy

    I love tofu – and I’m not a vegetarian! I’d use it to make this sweet & sour tofu, and I also really like it in smoothies.

    Reply
  11. Theresa Rothweiler

    I have a recipe for Pineapple Not So Fried Rice that is extremely good and uses tofu so I would make that!

    Reply
  12. Hj Witzel

    Oh boy, your tofu looks so delicious!!! I LOVE tofu, but my hubby isn’t a fan of it unless it’s crispy outside and not-so-mushy inside. I think I’ll give your recipe a try if (even if I don’t win) I win this giveaway!!!

    Reply
  13. Megan

    I’d make this, honestly! Tofu isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about, but your pics look sooooo good! :)

    Reply
  14. marlies

    Yum! I would make miso soup! haha i know you’re not a fan, but i love it! I’ve had sub-par miso soup for sure, but I think when you make it yourself you can do some QC :)

    Reply
  15. Mahdi M

    I’d make broiled tofu. I recently got turned on to it, and it’s really easy! All I do is drain the tofu for about 6 hours in a strainer(just slit the package and let it sit there upside down). Season it how I want, (I like to mix butter and olive oil with different seasonings) and broil it for about 9 minutes on each side for medium sized rectangular cubes in a foil lined pan. So easy and the oven gives it a wonderful flavor that you can’t achieve stovetop.

    Reply
  16. Rachel

    I had a lemon tofu at a Korean restaurant. The dish was amazing! It’s similar to lemon chicken. I’ve been trying to recreate it!

    Reply
  17. Madeline

    I’d like to make Peanut Noodles with the Tomato & Herbs Angel Hair (the dish uses ginger, sesame oil, green onions, peanut butter, soy sauce, and of course, noodles).

    Reply
  18. Maya

    I’m pretty appalled that no one has said anything yet about your racist comment that miso soup is “warmed up toilet water.” You’re allowed to personally dislike whatever foods you want but saying that certain foods from non-Western countries are equivalent to sewage is racist. Miso soup is also Japanese, not Chinese, so in the future do your research before you insult ethnic foods in a racist way.

    Reply
  19. Kristina

    Gina, I just made this and it was an absolute hit! I have been trying to make tofu taste delicious at home for a while now, and this was by far the best tofu I have made. I love the trick of coating it in cornmeal, it was so crispy. Then by tossing in the sauce at the end, it kept it nice and crispy and was perfect. Thanks to this new technique, I will be making tofu much more often :)

    Reply
    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      yay! so glad you liked it :) I’m never going back to non-cornmeal crusted tofu after this either, so good, right?!

      Reply
  20. Ally

    I’d probably make this! My usual standby is oven baked tofu with peanut sauce but I looooove a new recipe (:

    P.S. Thank goodness. I can’t stand miso soup either and my friends think I’m crazy.

    Reply
  21. LAMusing

    Meatless meatballs – I can use my fave sweet and sour sauce with them and serve over rice with grilled pineapple.

    Reply
  22. Wild Orchid

    I would love to use the Wildwood Slim Longnoodle pasta with my spaghetti and meatball recipe.

    Thanks for the chance to win!
    wildorchid985 at gmail dot com

    Reply
  23. Nicole Larsen

    I would use the Pasta Slim Tofu Spaghetti Noodles to make Spaghetti since that’s one of our favorite dishes!

    Reply
  24. Tabathia B

    I would use the Meatless Crumbles Italian-Inspired and add it to the wildwood spaghetti

    tbarrettno1 at gmail dot com

    Reply
  25. Lisa Garner

    I would love to make fish tacos with Wildwood/Emerald Valley Kitchen Organic Salsa.
    lisalmg25 at gmail dot com

    Reply
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  27. Laura

    This is awesome! I am always looking for ways to cook tofu that won’t end up with it being mushy, and this was perfect. My meat eating boyfriend loved the texture too. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  28. Marie Shanahan

    I just tried to make tofu at home, myself, for the first time tonight and it came out INCREDIBLE!! Thanks so much for your wise council and recipes, they really helped me to figure out how to cook it. It’s a bit “daunting” just in that it’s so watery/squishy and “odd” when you aren’t used to cooking with it. But it came out good. So thank you!

    Reply
    1. Running to the Kitchen Post author

      Yeah, or use the side of the knife. It doesn’t have to be completely paste like, basically just to mix them together and get it more incorporated than mincing the two would.

      Reply
  29. Brooke Lazor

    Just made this! Adding the cornmeal is such a great idea for the tofu and added some great texture. I would normally crisp the tofu, then just add soy sauce, hot sauce and honey to the tofu while it’s in the pan but it doesn’t exactly coat, become a sauce, or work very well. LOL! Reducing the sauce really adds to it!

    Thx for the recipe! :)

    Reply
  30. Terrie K.

    I would make crispy Wildwood extra firm tofu with schezuan stir-fry broccoli. Thank you for your recipe and all the hints you provided.

    Reply
  31. Jessica

    I literally just made this and I’m sitting here in awe of how crispy the tofu is and how delightfully sticky the sauce it! Thanks for this recipe, it’s a keeper!!!

    Reply
  32. Pingback: 20 Healthy and Delicious Tofu Recipes: | The Preppy Post Grad

  33. Kellylynn Vercher Browne

    This is a winner my Pastors wife liked it with a Very Good remark. This is just as good as my Bourban tofu recipe and I plan on making it for our couples meeting.Thanks so much for posting this great recipe sometimes one ingredient can make a world of difference.

    Reply
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  36. vivian

    Made this tonight, and I loved the flavour. Served with rice and stir fried vegetables. i’m so glad there is some left over for lunch tomorrow. Thanks!

    Reply
  37. Shelley Fulton

    I love that this recipe includes its own, homemade sweet and sour sauce, instead of relying on the gunk out of a grocery store bottle! I know what you mean about not liking tofu when you’ve never tried it in a GOOD recipe (like this one!) – it can be pretty bad, but once you try it in a great preparation it can be a total game-changer! Oh – and I clicked through to the peanut butter cookie dough dip, too, and bookmarked it – looks fantastic!

    Reply
  38. Lisa Huff

    Looks way better than takeout!! And funny you should bring up the pineapple. I’ve noticed that only about half the restaurants here add pineapple. I’m totally team pineapple but would eat it without of course. :)

    Reply
  39. Heidy Linn

    Your sweet and sour tofu recipe was off the chain delish! My husband who doesn’t usually care for tofu gobbled it up like no tomorrow! Super excited to make this for my best friend who LOVES tofu!

    Have a great day
    H

    Reply

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