Vegan Sweet and Sour Tofu Recipe
There are many easy and delicious vegan options in Chinese cuisine, and you can begin recreating stir-fries, noodle dishes, dumplings, and a whole lot more in your own kitchen today. Sweet and sour tofu is an adaptation of a classic Chinese dish that the whole family is sure to love, and you can change out your favorite vegetable ingredients and spices to find your favorite heat levels and texture.
One of the most important elements in Chinese cooking is the sauces, especially in vegan cooking. Here at Fly By Jing, we carry a wide variety of modern adaptations and classic ingredients that make it easy to mix up all of your favorite Chinese food sauces at home. We believe that food helps us to connect around the world and through history.
That is why we also want to share our favorite stories and contexts surrounding great dishes and the evolutions of recipes like vegan sweet and sour tofu.
History of Vegan Chinese Cooking
Chinese cuisine has a long history of vegetarian and vegan cooking, and the history of tofu is particularly interesting. Because Chinese food doesn’t traditionally employ dairy products, many vegetarian dishes are vegan, as well, or can be easily adjusted to match a vegan diet.
The ubiquity of vegetarian dishes in Chinese cuisine can be traced back to several hundred years B.C., and the spread of both Buddhism and Taoism. It is difficult to determine the exact start of Buddhism, but it began in India somewhere between the 6th and 4th-century B.C. and spread to China, where it went through many iterations and evolutions.
Taoism, by contrast, first got its start in China as an evolution of the philosophies of Lao Tzu, though there is evidence to indicate that Lao Tzu might not have existed as an individual, and spiritual status is sometimes given to the author of the original texts.
Both of these religions strongly believe that humans should strive to avoid causing any harm to sentient life, and a core tenet of their peaceful principles includes variations of vegetarianism. Because Buddhism and Taoism are both ancient religions, there have been many evolutions of the guidelines and requirements surrounding their vegetarian ethics, but the rise of vegetarian dishes continued and grew throughout the generations.
By the 1600s, many citizens outside of the temple were also enjoying vegetarian fare, and even the Imperial Courts ate vegetarian dishes. Specialist chefs and recipes evolved, and Chinese food continues to have a strong vegetarian foundation today.
What Is the Sweet and Sour Flavor Profile?
One of the reasons Chinese food always delivers such great flavors is because of balance. Spicy, sweet, umami, and savory: each Chinese food dish works to balance spices and ingredients, as well as textures, for the perfect eating experience in every bite—and sweet and sour dishes are the perfect example.
It is difficult to chase the true origin of sweet and sour sauce because many different recipes in Chinese cooking blend similar flavors to this dish. According to some stories, the sauce first developed in Henan, a region in China, but that version was used more as a dipping sauce than in the cooking process. There is a Cantonese sweet and sour pork, which uses a different cooking method, and variations on sweet and sour dishes have appeared not only in regions across China and countries across Europe, but all over the world.
Chinese American cuisine also has its own variation of sweet and sour sauce, with different fruit and vegetable options and deep-fried meat. In fact, the version of sweet and sour sauce as many people know it is very much the product of the American immigration experience. It often uses ingredients like tomato, which can give it a sort of barbeque flavor. And this great dish also gets its sweetness from pineapple and pineapple juice.
How to Make Vegan Sweet and Sour Tofu at Home
Vegan sweet and sour tofu is one of the best ways to bring your favorite Chinese food flavors home. Here’s what you’ll want to know about making vegan sweet and sour tofu yourself.
For the Tofu
Tofu: For this dish, you’ll want to use firm or extra firm tofu that has been given enough time to dry. You can cut it into any shape you prefer, but it should be ½-inch thick.
Vegetables: Common vegetables used in vegan sweet and sour tofu are carrots, onions, and red and green bell peppers.
Ginger and Garlic: You’ll find ginger and garlic in many great Chinese food dishes. They help provide fresh, earthy, and spicy flavors and give any meal a bold and aromatic kick.
For the Sauce
Pineapple Juice: This dish gets much of its sweetness from the pineapple juice, and it gives the dish a fresh and slightly fruity flavor that is hard not to love.
Rice Vinegar: As the name indicates, rice vinegar is made of fermented rice, and it also helps to add some sweetness to your sauce.
Brown Sugar: In addition to the pineapple and fermented rice, this dish calls for a dash of brown sugar, which helps to give it some of that classic barbeque taste.
Cornstarch & Water: Cornstarch is used to help thicken your dish. Make a flurry with water and add it right at the end to get the right viscosity for your tofu.
Oil: If you’re cooking a lot of Chinese food at home, you’ll want to have a neutral oil on hand. Peanut and canola oils have high flashpoints, which makes it easier to get those great stir-fries at high heat.
Pineapple Chunks: In addition to your favorite vegetables, pineapple chunks help to add great texture and bursts of sweet and tangy flavor to your sauce.
Once you have prepared all of the ingredients you need for your sweet and sour sauce, cooking the dish is pretty easy. You can also adjust and swap out ingredients to get the flavors you want, like switching up vegetables or adding a splash of spice, so experiment with your recipe and share your favorites with friends and family.
Step One: Drain your tofu and prepare your vegetables. If using sliced carrots, blanch them in boiling water to achieve the proper texture.
Step Two: Prepare your sauce by combining your ingredients and mixing gently. Add your cornstarch flurry last and adjust the viscosity as needed.
Step Three: Fry your tofu. Be careful not to overcrowd the wok. If you have too much tofu for more than a layer in the wok, fry in batches to achieve even heat and texture.
Step Four: Heat the oil and cook the ginger and garlic until fragrant.
Step Five: Cook your vegetables, starting with the onions and adding the peppers when ready.
Step Six: Pour the sauce into the wok and adjust the heat as necessary.
Step Seven: Allow the sauce to thicken, then add the pineapple and tofu to the wok. Cook for 1-2 minutes until ingredients are evenly coated and warmed. Serve over rice.
What Pairs Well With Vegan Sweet and Sour Tofu?
When it comes to cooking vegan Chinese food, there are many different dishes you can begin trying at home. Here are a few of our other vegan favorites that will add to a vegan Chinese celebratory dinner with friends and family.
Noodles: Noodles are an excellent choice for vegan home chefs. They can be easily adjusted or adapted to fit a vegan diet, with options like spicy Sichuan noodles, biang biang noodles, and more.
Dumplings: Whether you like vegetables, meat alternatives, herbs, or spices, there’s a dumpling dish for you. It’s very easy to make dumplings vegan, especially if you’re cooking at home. Start cooking up dumpling dishes and share your favorite today.
Chinese Salad: Mix up cucumber salads, peanut salads, or soybean sprout salads for a fresh and delicious side dish that matches well with your vegan sweet and sour tofu.
Vegan sweet and sour tofu is just one great way to achieve your favorite Chinese food flavors at home while sticking to your vegan diet. It’s easy to make and full of bold and sweet ingredients like pineapples and ginger, which soak into firm tofu and deliver a bright burst of flavor in every bite.
When you’re ready to search for more vegan Chinese food recipes and to find the ingredients you need to make sauces, sides, and more, Fly By Jing is here to help. We carry a wide variety of spices and sauces, like chili crisp and mala spice mix, and want to share our favorite recipes and history, as well. Begin cooking up dishes like vegan sweet and sour tofu and serve up at the next great party today.
Tofu History-Chinese Cuisine | The Spruce Eats
Sweet And Sour Sauce | Traditional Sauce From Hunan, China | Taste Atlas