This incredible sticky tofu with vegan Szechuan sauce makes for an amazing midweek dinner. It only takes 20 minutes to cook and minimal effort! It uses Szechuan peppercorns that complement a sweet and spicy sauce to make a delicious Szechuan tofu dish. For fans of our Chinese jackfruit recipe.
🌟 Why this recipe works
Really simple cooking process – like most stir fries, it is really simple to make this sticky tofu recipe. It’s made in a similar way to our oyster mushroom stir fry. Just start by frying off the tofu (in a pan or an air fryer), then mix the vegan Szechuan sauce ingredients together. Pour that into a hot wok and allow it to bubble – it will become sticky. Add the tofu, then cook for a few more minutes. And that is it. A super simple sticky Szechuan tofu dish that is super filling and full of protein!
Simplified Szechuan sauce ingredients – we use actual Szechuan peppercorns to make the sauce. It is similar to a classic Szechuan sauce or even a Kung Pao sauce but we have made it super simple. For example, we don’t use proper Shaoxing (rice wine) but instead opt for a rice wine vinegar which is a more common ingredient.
Sticky, sweet, spicy and more-ish – sticky tofu with a Szechuan sauce is an all round amazing dish that is so more-ish. We actually made it four times in two weeks and didn’t even get tired of it! An easy stir fry is great for a midweek dinner. Just serve it up with some brown rice or noodles and you have a great easy dinner that’s ready in hardly any time at all!
📋 Ingredient Notes
Tofu – it’s important to use extra-firm tofu, or firm tofu that has been pressed before cooking. We recommend browning the tofu in an air fryer or frying pan first so it really can become sticky tofu. By that, I mean that the tofu pieces should be browned off, which seals the edges of each piece. This means that the sticky vegan Szechuan sauce will stick to the tofu, rather than some of it being absorbed into the tofu. And if you love tofu, try this delicious gochujang tofu.
Szechuan peppercorns – or ‘Szechuan pepper’. These are small red-ish-brown peppercorns that are citrusy and warming. They also create a ‘tingling’ or ‘numbing’ effect on the lips or tongue when eaten. Some people aren’t keen on this effect so it may be worthwhile starting with 1 teaspoon and then seeing how you get on with it – especially if you have never had Szechuan peppercorns before. It’s important to toast them in a frying pan and then grind them with a pestle and mortar (or spice grinder), to make sure the Szechuan flavour permeates throughout the sauce coating the sticky tofu.
Maple syrup – traditionally, in a Chinese style sauce like this one, honey would likely be used. To make sure this sticky tofu with vegan Szechuan sauce is indeed vegan, we have used maple syrup instead. You could try using agave syrup or a vegan honey, but we like the flavour of maple syrup and it works well in our opinion.
Rice wine vinegar – this is used in place of Shaoxing, which is a less common ingredient where we live, but rice wine vinegar can be found in almost any supermarket. It is used to bring balance to the Szechuan sauce by adding a tart element to the stir fry.
Sesame oil – usually sesame oil is used for flavour. In this dish we decided to cook with it from the beginning. The stir-frying time is short on a high heat and it adds a great flavour to the sticky Szechuan tofu. So, it’s unconventional but does work.
Check out the recipe card at the bottom of this article for exact measurements to make this sticky tofu recipe.
🔪 Step-by-step Instructions
This is a step-by-step overview with photos for making sticky Szechuan tofu. The full recipe, along with measurements and detailed instructions can be found in the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
1. Start by sealing and browning the tofu by frying in a splash of oil or in an air fryer, then set aside until later.
2. In a frying pan or wok, toast the Szechuan peppercorns over a medium heat. This should take a couple of minutes and you don’t need to use any oil (doing so would hinder the process!).
3. Tip the peppercorns into a pestle and mortar (or a spice grinder) and then crush the peppercorns until they turn into a coarse powder. Set aside for later.
4. Pour the sesame oil into a wok or frying pan, and place over a high heat. Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli flakes for a minute.
5. Add the crushed peppercorns and liquid ingredients. To make it easier, you can place the liquids along with the crushed peppercorns into a jar and shake or stir it, then simply pour it into the wok. Make sure the liquid is bubbling away in the pan for 5 minutes. It will start to thicken and become gloopy after 5 minutes.
6. Toss in the tofu and coat in the sauce, let it bubble away for another 3-5 minutes until the sauce is sticky and it clings to the tofu. Now you should have something that resembles sticky tofu!
7. Serve straight out of the wok while it is piping hot, with brown rice, sesame seeds and a side of stir fry vegetables like these Thai veggies or this Morning glory stir fry.
👩🍳 Expert Tips
Toasting the peppercorns – this actually makes them less citrusy and more woody. Toasting is the traditional method of preparing them to go with meat. However, we have taken this method and paired it with a sticky Szechuan sauce to make sticky tofu! This is typically how Szechuan peppercorns are prepared, to create the classic flavour that people know and love.
Browning the tofu – the sauce sticks better if the tofu has been browned off first. Hence the name ‘sticky tofu’ – the sauce needs to stick to the beancurd, otherwise what’s even the point? If it is added to the sauce while ‘raw’ (i.e. not fried off first) the tofu will be more spongy. That means it will absorb the sauce, rather than get coated in it.
Chilli flakes – Szechuan style sauces and stir fries often use a lot of chilli and are therefore spicy. We love spicy food, so this is perfect for us. It complements the Szechuan flavour really well, and creates a delicious, spicy and kind of intense (in a good way!) sticky tofu. We recommend using chilli flakes. If you would rather have it without, that is cool, just omit the chilli flakes. The sticky tofu will still be delicious!
Add some veg – while we love this sticky tofu (AKA Szechuan bean curd) we also love meals that are packed with vegetables. We have actually made this Szechuan tofu with sugar snap peas and baby corn in the stir fry. However, you could easily stir fry some vegetables separately and serve it on the side. Alternatively, you could make a vegan fried rice that includes vegetables, like our vegan egg fried rice. If you’re in the mood for sticky tofu and rice then that still makes for a delicious and filling meal too!
Szechuan tofu is spicy, salty and sweet. It is a flavour sensation that can even cause a numbing or tingling sensation on the tongue and lips – depending on how much Szechuan pepper is used!
In our recipe the Szechuan sauce is vegan. However, if you’re ordering it from a restaurant, it may not be as honey may be used in it.
🍛 Serving suggestions
🥡 More recipes to try
Sticky Szechuan Tofu
- 400 g extra-firm tofu – chopped into cubes
- 1.5 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic – crushed
- 1 tbsp ginger – chopped finely
- 0.5 tsp chilli flakes
- 0.25 cup light soy sauce
- 4 tbsp maple syrup or vegan honey
- 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- Start by sealing and browning the tofu by frying in a splash of oil or in an air fryer, then set aside until later.400 g extra-firm tofu
- In a frying pan or wok, toast the Szechuan peppercorns over a medium heat. This should take a couple of minutes and you don’t need to use any oil (doing so would hinder the process!).1.5 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
- Tip the peppercorns into a pestle and mortar (or a spice grinder) and then crush the peppercorns until they turn into a coarse powder. Set aside for later.1.5 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
- Pour the sesame oil into a wok or frying pan, and place over a high heat. Fry the garlic, ginger and chilli flakes for a minute.1 tbsp sesame oil, 3 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp ginger, 0.5 tsp chilli flakes
- Add the crushed peppercorns, soy sauce, maple syrup and rice wine vinegar. To make it easier, you can place the liquids along with the crushed peppercorns into a jar and shake or stir it, then simply pour it all into the wok.0.25 cup light soy sauce, 4 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- Make sure the liquid is bubbling away in the pan for 5 minutes. It will start to thicken and become gloopy after 5 minutes.
- Toss in the tofu and coat in the sauce, let it bubble away for another 3-5 minutes until the sauce is sticky and it clings to the tofu.
- Serve straight out of the wok while it is piping hot, with brown rice, sesame seeds and maybe even a side of stir fry vegetables.
- Make sure to use extra-firm tofu or to press firm tofu before cooking.
- Browning off the tofu first helps the sauce stick to the tofu.
- Use tamari in place of the light soy sauce to make this dish gluten free.
- Try adding in a handful of sugar snap peas and baby corn to make it a better balanced meal.
- You can actually tailor the amount of Szechuan peppercorns based on how you would like the sauce to taste. Use 1 - 2 teaspoons, based on what you like. We think the best flavour is with 1.5 teaspoons.
- Best served fresh. We don’t recommend freezing. It keeps well in the fridge for upto 3 days. Reheat thoroughly in the microwave and serve piping hot.