This homemade kung pao dish lets lager show off its flavour-boosting powers in the signature salty-sweet sauce. Amped up with just the right amount of heat, it is wickedly good over crispy, golden tofu cubes and simple stir-fried veggies. Pressing the tofu first removes excess moisture, which helps the cubes get nice and crispy.
Ingredients for the Crispy Tofu
2 350 g packages extra-firm tofu, drained
3 tbsp (45 mL) cornstarch
1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) pepper
1-1/2 tbsp (22.5 mL) sesame oil, divided
Ingredients for the Kung Pao Sauce
1/3 cup (80 mL) soy sauce
1/3 cup (80 mL) American or Canadian lager
2-1/2 tbsp (37.5 mL) maple syrup
1-1/2 tbsp (22.5 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar
1-1/2 tsp (7.5 mL) sriracha or Asian chili paste (such as sambal oelek), see tips
3/4 tsp (4 mL) salt
Ingredients for the Stir-Fry
1 tbsp (15 mL) sesame oil
1 medium-large head broccoli, cut into small florets (about 4 cups)
2 red peppers, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
3 to 5 whole dried red chilies (see tips)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tbsp (22.5 mL) minced ginger or jarred ginger paste
4 green onions (white and light green parts), cut in 1-inch-long pieces
Dark green parts of green onions, thinly sliced (optional)
1/3 cup (80 mL) salted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
Directions for the Crispy Tofu
Wrap drained tofu in a clean tea towel or several paper towels. Place on a plate or cutting board and top with another plate or cutting board. Place a weight (such as a large book or canned item) on top. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Remove weight and unwrap tofu. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a medium bowl. Add cornstarch, salt and pepper. Gently toss to coat. Set aside.
In a large nonstick skillet or wok, heat 1 tbsp (15 mL) sesame oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add half of the tofu (doing 2 batches prevents overcrowding — tofu needs space to crisp up). Cook until bottoms are golden and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip and cook until bottoms are golden and crispy, another 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer tofu to a large plate and set aside.
Repeat with remaining tofu and remaining 1/2 tbsp (7.5 mL) sesame oil. Set skillet aside for stir-fry.
Directions for the Kung Pao Sauce
While pressing tofu, in a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, lager, maple syrup, vinegar, sriracha and salt. Set aside.
Directions for the Stir-Fry
1. In reserved skillet, heat sesame oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add broccoli, red peppers and green pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until vegetables are just tender-crisp, about 4 minutes.
2. Add chilies, garlic, ginger, and white and light green parts of green onions. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and green onions start to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Return tofu to skillet and pour Kung Pao Sauce overtop. Stir gently to coat. Cook just until sauce begins to bubble, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until sauce is thickened and flavours meld, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Serve immediately over steamed rice in individual bowls. Garnish with dark green parts of green onions and peanuts (if using).
Some Asian chili pastes, such as sambal oelek, may contain shrimp paste or fish sauce, which (obviously) aren’t vegan. If you’re looking to make a 100% plant-based dish, use sriracha, which doesn’t contain any animal products. Or read ingredient labels and choose a vegan version of your favourite chili paste.
If you don’t have whole dried red chilies, red pepper flakes make a fine substitute. Use anywhere from a pinch to 1/4 tsp (1 mL) for a mildly spicy dish. Or more, if you want to bring the heat!