Sweet and Sour Tofu!

I’m a fan of Asian-inspired sauces. I have a bunch of random East Asian sauce ingredients that I’ve amassed over the ages, and I’ve gotten pretty adept at throwing together in a pleasing way. I call these sauces Asian-inspired because it’s no secret that most of the Chinese food that we know here in the States is indeed Chinese-American. Crab rangoon, for instance, is an American creation, because East Asian cuisine doesn’t include cheese.

Sweet and sour sauce is not one of these Asian-American creations, however. It’s authentically Chinese, and was even handed out by the Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution (hi, Chinese friends who can’t read these because your access to information is restricted!).

Sweet and Sour Tofu—it looks like takeout!

Wherever I can, I try to cook the authentic version of whatever I’m making. I gave up on sweet and sour sauce, though. Most recipes that I found called for pineapple juice and ketchup, amongst other things. The pineapple juice I understood once I cooked the recipe (Ryan declared that sweet and sour anything had to have pineapples and green peppers, and I realised that the reserved pineapple juice is a great sweetener), but the ketchup? I’m confounded.

Wikipedia told me that ‘In China traditionally the sauces are made from mixing sugar or honey with a sour liquid such as rice vinegar, soy sauce, and spices such as ginger and cloves. Sometimes a paste made from tomatoes is used but this is rare and normally restricted to western cooking.’ So basically, start with vinegar and sugar, and you can’t stray too far from the sweet and sour path.

For the tofu, I used Lolo from VeganYumYum’s technique to get it crunchy. I was impatient and crowded the wok, resulting in a giant, stuck-together mass of crispy tofu, but I broke the pieces apart with my (increasingly desensitised to heat) fingers.

This recipe’s super easy. It’s actually mostly a recipe for the sauce—you can add whatever mock meat (tofu, seitan, TVP) you like, throw in some vegetables (peppers and pineapples FTW!), serve over grains (brown rice, udon noodles, mystery Chinese noodle), and enjoy!

fried ingredients for Sweet and Sour Tofu—done!

Garnishes: sesame seeds or chili flakes
Goes well with: a crisp white wine, a clean lager or wheat beer, or some fresh East Asian cuisine to offset all this fried food…but who wants that in winter?

Sweet and Sour Tofu Recipe

By M. M. Cassidy Published: January 25, 2011

  • Yield: 4 Servings
  • Prep: 20 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Ready In: 40 mins

Vinegar and sugar can't go wrong…

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Slice the tofu into small squares or triangles, then toss with egg replacer egg, salt, and peppers. Dust the cubes with cornstarch and toss.
  2. In a wok, heat oil for frying.
  3. If you rice or noodles aren't prepared, then start making it somewhere in here.
  4. When the oil is hot, add tofu, trying not to crowd the pan (if you're patient, which I'm not). Fry, turning, until pieces are crispy and browned on all sides.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the rice vinegar through Sriracha in a small pan over medium heat.
  6. Once bubbling, add the cornstarch mixture and remove from heat.
  7. When the tofu is done, drain on a paper towel (and repeat frying for remaining tofu if necessary). When all pieces are fried, put the tofu back into the wok over medium heat, and add peppers and pineapple, frying until the pineapples are slightly carmelised—something like the last picture above.
  8. Pour sweet and sour sauce over the fried ingredients, tossing to combine.
  9. Serve over grain, sprinkled with sesame seeds.

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