That Spicy Chick

Kung Pao Tofu Puffs

Made with crisp on the outside and spongy on the inside fried tofu puffs, this Kung Pao Tofu Puffs stir-fry is full of savory, spicy, and numbing flavors with a hint of sweetness and tang! It’s quick and easy to make in under 30 minutes and SO GOOD with steamed rice!

Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite dish is, I reply ‘Kung Pao Chicken’ without skipping a beat. However, it has to be cooked the authentic Chengdu style way. Not the takeout style which is sometimes overly sweet and loaded with additional vegetables that add too many competing flavors and textures to the simple dish.

I wanted to make a vegetarian/vegan version of my favorite dish for meatless Mondays, so this Kung Pao Tofu Puffs stir-fry was born! It boasts the same irresistible Sichuan flavors and is super tasty with a bowl of steamed rice!

We have:

  • Spongy and chewy fried tofu puffs.
  • Fragrant aromatics like Welsh onion (or spring onion), garlic and ginger.
  • A numbing and spicy kick from Sichuan red peppercorns and dried red chilies.
  • Crunchy peanuts.
  • The most delectable savory sauce with just the right amount of sweetness and tang kissing everything! ❤️ 

This easy stir-fry requires minimal prep time and is ready in just 25 minutes! It’s also a one wok (or pan) wonder which means less cleanup! Pair it with rice, a side of steamed or stir-fried veggies and maybe some other Chinese main dishes, and you’ve got yourself a better than takeout meal at home! 

Closeup front view of plate with kung pao tofu puffs.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Quick and easy! All you need is one wok or pan and just 25 minutes and it’s on the table.
  • Full of authentic ma-la flavors. Sichuan peppercorns give this dish numbing heat (ma – 麻) and while the hot dried Chinese red chilies (la – 辣) add a spicy kick.
  • Perfect textures. Cooking over high heat ensures that everything doesn’t become soggy and the aromatics retain their fragrant aromas and crisp textures. 
  • Irresistible light sauce coating tofu puffs. There’s just the right amount of the perfectly balanced and tasty sauce coating everything.  
  • SO GOOD with steamed rice! Pair it with a side of veggies and steamed rice for a delicious weeknight meal at home! 

Ingredient Notes and Substitutes

Labeled ingredients for Kung Pao Tofu Puffs.
  • Fried Tofu Puffs (dou pok – 豆泡): These are also known as tau pok in Singapore and tow-hu tawt in Thai. They’re available in square, rectangle and triangle shapes and come in packages that are often labeled as ‘soy puffs’ at Asian supermarkets. Look for the small cubed shaped type as they’ll be easier to eat, but any of them will work. They have a slightly crisp and wrinkled exterior and are spongy and porous inside. Find them in the refrigerated section of Asian supermarkets or at the tofu products stall in wet markets (if you are based in Asia).
  • Aromatics: Welsh onion (only the white part), garlic, and ginger. Welsh onion is a type of green onion and looks similar to Western leeks. It is also known as Tokyo or Japanese negi, bunching onion, green onion, and spring onion. However, it has more white part than the typical scallions and green onions found in the United States. It is commonly used instead of spring onion in authentic kung pao chicken. You can substitute with the white and light green parts of 5 spring onions or use the white part of a western leek. 
  • Sichuan Red Peppercorns (huājiāo – 花椒): These have a numbing citrusy flavor and are a key ingredient in an authentic kung pao dish. They aren’t spicy hot, but they do make your tongue buzz and tingle a little. Look for them in an Asian supermarket, Chinese market, or order them online from The Mala Market.
  • Dried Red Chilies: I used Thai Jinda dried chilies which are quite hot, but wonderfully fragrant and aromatic. Use any type of Chinese or Thai dried red chilies you like. Adjust quantity to taste based on how spicy the chilies are and your heat level tolerance. You can shake out and discard some or all of the seeds for a milder dish. Note that the dried chilies are only used to flavor the dish and are not typically eaten. 
  • Fresh Red Chilies (optional): I like to add a few fresh Thai Bird’s Eye chilies for an extra kick of heat even though they aren’t usually added to kung pao dishes. Feel free to omit or use less for a milder dish.
  • Red-Skin Peanuts: Unsalted fried red-skin peanuts are typically used in kung pao dishes to add a nutty flavor and contrasting crunchy texture. They’re readily available in wet market and street shops in Hong Kong and China. If you can only find raw red-skin peanuts at an Asian supermarket where you are, you can easily fry them at home. I’ve included instructions in the recipe card below on how to do so. You can also simply substitute with dry roasted peanuts, which will deliver the crunchy texture too. 
  • Peanut Oil: Or use any neutral oil with a high smoke point.
Labeled sauce ingredients for kung pao tofu puffs.
  • Low Sodium Light Soy Sauce: Reduce the amount by half if using regular soy sauce. 
  • Shao Xing Rice Wine: This is a fragrant Chinese cooking wine available at Asian supermarkets. Substitute with dry sherry if unavailable.
  • Dark Soy Sauce: This is mainly used for color. It is a type of light soy sauce but less salty than regular soy sauce. Substitute with low sodium light soy sauce if unavailable.
  • Chinkiang Vinegar: This is a Chinese black vinegar and can also be found at Asian supermarkets. Substitute with half white and half balsamic vinegar to achieve a similar flavor.
  • Potato Starch: This will help thicken the sauce. You can use corn starch instead if you don’t have it on hand.

Full ingredient list and amounts are in the recipe card below.

Plate with Kung Pao Tofu Puffs.

How to Make Kung Pao Tofu Puffs

Process steps to stir-fry Kung Pao Tofu Puffs.

1. Stir-fry the aromatics. Heat peanut oil in a wok over high heat. Stir-fry the Welsh onion white parts, garlic and ginger until fragrant.

2. Stir-fry the Sichuan peppercorns, and fresh and dried chilies. Just for a few brief seconds to combine. Take care to not let the peppercorns and dried chilies burn or they will become bitter.

3. Add the tofu puffs and sauce. Toss continuously until everything is evenly coated. The sauce will thicken and cling to everything very quickly. Add a splash of water if needed and continue tossing.

4. Toss through the fried red-skin peanuts. Switch off the heat.

Serve! Serve immediately with warm steamed rice and a side of stir-fried or steamed veggies if desired.

Kung pao tofu stir-fry on plate and two bowls with steamed white rice.

Full detailed instructions are in the recipe card below.

Cook’s Tips

  • Use a large wok or a deep edged heavy bottomed frying pan. A large cast iron wok is ideal to achieve the signature ‘wok hei’ (breath of the wok) flavor that comes from stir-frying in it. However, a deep a deep edged heavy bottomed frying pan will work well too if you don’t overcrowd it.
  • Keep things constantly moving. High heat and stir-frying quickly will ensure that the ingredients don’t get too soggy or burn.
  • Mise en place. Just like most stir-fries, this one is cooked very fast. Have everything prepped and by the side of your wok before you start cooking.
  • Use gluten free sauces and condiments to make it gluten-free. Use Tamari or gluten-free soy sauce, dry sherry for the Shao Xing rice wine, and half balsamic and half white vinegar to replace the Chinkiang vinegar. Be sure to check the ingredients on the tofu puffs package to make sure it is 100% gluten-free.
Chopsticks holding up a crispy sauce coated tofu piece.

FAQs

Can I use a different tofu?

Crispy pan-fried tofu cubes can be used but not soft or medium tofu. The tofu should have a crisp exterior in order for it to withstand the force of the quick stir-fry method without breaking apart. You can also use cubed extra firm tofu. Toss it in some corn starch before pan-frying all sides until a crisp on the exterior and golden brown. Then use it for the stir-fry.

How long do tofu puffs last?

The unopened package will last up until its expiration date in the fridge. If the package is opened or if you’ve purchased freshly fried tofu puffs from the wet market and brought it home in a plastic bag, transfer to a sealed airtight container and use within 3 days. If they smell off at any point and have a sour scent, they’ve gone bad and should be discarded.

Can I make kung pao tofu with vegetables?

If you wish to boost the nutritional content you can certainly add vegetables to this kung pao tofu puffs. Half the tofu puffs amount and add up to 2 cups of crisp stir-fry friendly vegetables such as zucchini, bell pepper (any color), celery, onion, broccoli florets, etc. 

Chopsticks holding up a tofu piece and plate with tofu stir-fry. Text overlay "Kung Pao Tofu Puffs" and "thatspicychick.com".

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Kung Pao Tofu Puffs

Plate with Kung Pao Tofu Puffs.

This Kung Pao Tofu Puffs stir-fry is full of savory, spicy, and numbing flavors with a hint of sweetness and tang! It’s quick and easy to make in under 30 minutes and SO GOOD with steamed rice!

  • Author: Lavina
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stir-fry
  • Cuisine: Sichuan

Ingredients

Scale

For the Kung Pao Tofu Puffs Stir-fry:

  • 34 TBLS Peanut Oil (or other neutral flavored oil with a high smoke point)
  • ¼ cup unsalted Fried Red-Skin Peanuts (or unsalted dry roasted peanuts – note 1)
  • 1 Welsh Onion, white part only (note 2) – sliced into ¾-inch wide pieces
  • 6 Garlic cloves – thinly sliced
  • 1.5-inch piece Ginger – thinly sliced (about 2 tablespoons sliced)
  • 3 fresh Red Chilies (optional – Thai Bird’s Eye or any other small hot red chilies – note 3), to taste – thinly sliced
  • 1 TSP Sichuan Red Peppercorns (note 4) – red husks only, stems and black seeds discarded
  • 412 Chinese or Thai Dried Chilies (note 5) – stems removed, snipped in ¾-inch pieces
  • 200 grams / 7 ounces Fried Tofu Puffs (dou pok’note 6)

For the Sauce:

  • 1 TSP Potato Starch (or Corn Starch)
  • 2 TSP White Sugar, to taste
  • ¼ TSP Kosher Salt (use half the amount if using iodized table salt)
  • 2.5 TBLS Low Sodium Light Soy Sauce
  • 2 TBLS Shao Xing Rice Wine (substitute dry sherry if unavailable)
  • 1 TBLS Chinkiang Vinegar (substitute ½ tablespoon each balsamic and distilled white vinegar if unavailable)
  • ½ TSP Dark Soy Sauce
  • 1 TSP Sesame Oil
  • ¼ cup + 1 TBLS Water

Instructions

Prep:

  1. Fry the peanuts: (Note: Skip this step if using already fried red-skin peanuts or dry roasted peanuts). Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a small pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, turn the heat down to medium-low and add the red-skin peanuts. Fry gently, moving the peanuts often and shaking the pot by the handle occasionally, until the skins are a deep shade of reddish-brown – about 2-3 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Then transfer to a sheet of parchment paper/nonstick cooking paper and allow to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Prepare the fresh and dry ingredients: Slice/cut the Welsh onion (or spring onion white and light green parts), garlic, ginger, fresh red chilies (if using), Sichuan red peppercorns and dried chilies as indicated in the ‘ingredients’ section. (Tip: Shake out and discard some or all of the seeds from the dried chilies for a milder dish.)
  3. Make the sauce: Whisk together the potato starch, white sugar, kosher salt, low sodium light soy sauce, Shao Xing rice wine, Chinkiang vinegar, dark soy sauce, sesame oil and water in a small measuring cup (or bowl) until combined well.

For the Kung Pao Tofu Puffs Stir-fry:

  1. Stir-fry the aromatics: Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil to the wok and heat over high heat. Once hot, add the Welsh onion white parts, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for 20-30 seconds until fragrant.
  2. Stir-fry the chilies: Add the fresh chilies, Sichuan red peppercorns and dried chilies. Stir-fry for 15 seconds to combine, taking care to not let the dried chilies and peppercorns burn.
  3. Add the tofu puffs and sauce: Give the sauce a quick stir with a spoon to loosen up the potato starch that will have settled at the bottom. Add the tofu puffs into the wok and pour the sauce over everything. Toss continuously for 30-40 seconds until everything is evenly coated in the sauce. (Note: If the sauce thickens too quickly, add a splash of water and continue tossing.)
  4. Toss through peanuts: Add the fried red-skin peanuts and toss briefly to combine, then switch off the heat.
  5. To Serve: Transfer to a serving plate or dish and serve immediately with warm steamed rice.

Notes

  1. Unsalted Fried Red-Skin Peanuts. Look for these in an Asian or Chinese supermarket. If you can only find raw red-skin peanuts, follow step 1 in the ‘Prep’ section of the instructions to fry them. Alternatively, substitute with dry roasted peanuts – they will also work well to deliver the nutty flavor and crunchy texture.
  2. Welsh Onion. This is a type of green onion and looks similar to Western leeks. It is also known as Tokyo or Japanese negi, bunching onion, green onion, and spring onion. However, it has more white part than the typical scallions and green onions found in the United States. Substitute with the white part of a western leek or 5 spring onion (scallion/green onion) white and light green parts that are cut into ¾-inch pieces.
  3. Fresh Red Chilies. Feel free to leave them out for a milder dish.
  4. Sichuan Red Peppercorns (hua jiao – 花椒). These have a numbing citrusy flavor and are a key ingredient. They aren’t spicy hot, but they do make your tongue buzz and tingle a little. Find them in an Asian supermarket, Chinese market, or order them online.
  5. Chinese or Thai Dried Chilies. I used Thai Jinda dried chilies which are quite hot, but wonderfully fragrant and aromatic. Use any type of Chinese or Thai dried red chilies you like. Adjust quantity to taste based on how spicy the chilies are and your heat level tolerance. You can shake out and discard some or all of the seeds for a milder dish. Note that the dried chilies are only used to flavor the dish and are not typically eaten.
  6. Fried Tofu Puffs (dou pok – 豆泡). These are also known as tau pok in Singapore and tow-hu tawt in Thai. They’re available in square, rectangle and triangle shapes and come in packages that are often labeled as ‘soy puffs’ at Asian supermarkets. Look for the small cubed shaped type as they’ll be easier to eat, but any of them will work.  Find them in the refrigerated section of Asian supermarkets or at the tofu products stall in wet markets (if you are based in Asia).
  7. To make it gluten-free. Use tamari or gluten-free soy sauce, dry sherry for the Shao Xing rice wine, and half balsamic and half white vinegar to replace the Chinkiang vinegar. Be sure to check the ingredients on the tofu puffs package to make sure it is 100% gluten-free.
  8. Leftovers and storing. This is best when eaten on the same day of cooking as the tofu puffs will become dryer over time in the fridge. Although leftovers can be reheated and eaten the next day, be prepared for an altered texture. Store leftovers in a sealed airtight container in the fridge and reheat in the microwave on high for 1-2 minutes.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 325
  • Sugar: 6.1g
  • Sodium: 412.5mg
  • Fat: 26g
  • Saturated Fat: 4.1g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 12.6g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 17.8g
  • Fiber: 4.4g
  • Protein: 12.4g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg

Keywords: kung pao tofu, tofu puffs stir-fry, kung pao tofu puffs

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One comment on “Kung Pao Tofu Puffs”

  1. Yummy. Very nice. Thanks for sharing.

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