Crispy sweet and sour tofu is based on a classic Chinese takeaway dish, and it tastes just like takeout or ‘fakeout’! Ready in just 30 minutes, you’ll need just one pan and it’s naturally gluten free. It makes the most perfect cubes of crispy tofu along with sliced peppers and onions. Plus, if you’re going all out, it’s great when served with vegan egg fried rice.
🌟 Why this recipe works
- Versatile – this sweet and sour tofu is so versatile. While we chose to add peppers (capsicum), broccoli and pineapple, you can add other vegetables if you like. You can even omit the pineapple – it’s not necessarily traditional and it’s a love/hate ingredient in dishes like this! While Dan loves pineapple in sweet and sour tofu, I’m not so keen.
- Perfectly crispy tofu – while a more traditional recipe would include batter, along with deep frying the tofu, we’ve decided to crisp up the tofu another way. Instead, we utilise cornflour (which is also gluten free), coat the tofu in it and pan fry it instead. We feel it’s lighter yet still crispy and delicious this way!
- Crunchy vegetables – as this is a stir fry, the vegetables should be crunchy. That means they’re only cooked for a few minutes at high temperature.
- Simple – this is a takeout style dish, so it may look harder to cook than it really is! We use standard cupboard ingredients, use just one pan and simple cooking methods.
- Inspired by authentic dish – sweet and sour is a traditional Cantonese/Chinese dish, but we’re making a takeout style version of it, that isn’t traditional. It’s often served with bitesize chunks of meat, that has the sweet and sour sauce poured over it. However, in Chinese restaurants and takeaways in the UK, the protein is often mixed with the sauce in the wok, and then served together, rather than poured over on the plate. As this dish is mimicking a take out sweet and sour tofu, we’ve gone with the mix in the wok method.
📋 Ingredient Notes
- Tofu – a lot of the time, sweet and sour tofu recipes start by covering the tofu in batter and then deep frying. In our version, the tofu is covered with cornflour and pan fried. You could shallow fry, deep fry or even use the air fryer at this beginning stage instead. Our top tip for tofu though, is to make sure you’re using the correct type for the dish you’re making. In this case you need to use firm or extra firm tofu. And steer clear of silken tofu. If using firm tofu, be sure to press it first. We like to use a tofu press for this. If you’ve bought extra firm tofu, it will be ready to cook with, no need for pressing. That’s why we love cooking with Tofoo Co tofu – it’s pre-pressed and ready to cook.
- Cornflour and water mix – this is used to thicken the vegan sweet and sour sauce. It’s added towards the end of cooking, and gives the sauce the correct thick texture that we all know and love. If you skip this, the sauce will be watery, and we don’t want that!
- Pineapple – love it or hate it, pineapple is common in sweet and sour takeout dishes. We’ve included it. If you’re looking for that delicious takeout style sweet and sour, don’t miss out the pineapple! If you're not keen, omit it.
- Broccoli – we just find that broccoli goes so well with sweet and sour. It’s up to you if you want to include it, we’re firmly in the broccoli sweet and sour camp, and would definitely recommend keeping it in this dish.
- Ketchup – maybe it’s non-traditional, but it works. Ketchup helps create the correct colour for sweet and sour sauce, as well as the sweet and sour flavour, so it’s a key ingredient that shouldn’t be omitted.
- Sugar – it wouldn't be sweet and sour without a bit of sweetness! We use brown sugar, so it can be unrefined. You can use white sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or agave – it’s up to you. But as it’s in the name, this dish needs the sweetness from a bit of sugar.
Check out the recipe card at the bottom of this article for exact measurements.
🔪 Step-by-step Instructions
These steps are an overview to go with the photos of each stage. Head to the recipe card below for full ingredient measurements, instructions and recipe notes to make the crispiest and most delicious sweet and sour tofu.
1. Put 1 tbsp of the cornflour in a bowl and then toss the tofu in it until all pieces are well coated.
2. Get a wok on the hob with 1 tbsp of oil and get it to a medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook until nicely browned and it has a bit of a crisp outside, then take the tofu out and set to one side for later.
3. Optionally, in the same pan, add a splash of oil or oil spray, and bring back up to a medium heat, then pop in the peppers and chilli (if using) in and fry for 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the spring onions and stir fry for one more minute.
5. Now get the broccoli, pineapple, ketchup, vinegar, sugar and stock in there - give it a good mix and bring it up to a simmer.
6. While the sauce is coming up to a simmer, mix the remaining 1 tbsp of cornflour with a splash of water until you have a thick, but still slightly runny paste – stir it into the sweet and sour tofu sauce. Add the tofu back in and cook for 2-3 minutes, until hot. Season with salt, to taste.
👩🍳 Expert Tips
- Frying the tofu – you can actually fry the tofu with or without oil in a pan, in an air fryer or deep fat fryer, depending on the outcome that you would like. We pan fry the tofu once coated in cornflour, until golden and super crispy. It’s lighter than deep frying or shallow frying, yet still delicious and super crispy.
- Sauce thickness – if the sauce isn’t as thick as you would like it, add half a tablespoon more of cornflour, mixed with a splash of water. This should thicken it up nicely.
- Bite size tofu pieces – it’s important to chop the tofu into bitesize chunks. That way it’s easier to eat with chopsticks, and they’ll cook evenly if they’re all roughly the same size!
- Press the tofu – as mentioned above, if using firm tofu, it will need to be pressed using a tofu press, roughly for an hour before cooking. Removing water from tofu helps it to soak up more of the flavours.
- Vegetables – this recipe is versatile. While we use a mix of broccoli, peppers and spring onion, you can use an array of vegetables. Try using carrots, cabbage, courgette or even aubergine.
- Stock to use – we recommend using vegan chicken stock by Massel. We buy it on Amazon. It’s actually surprising how many ‘meaty’ stocks are available these days that are vegan! If you don’t have a vegan chicken stock, use the old faithful – vegetable stock.
Mostly, sweet and sour sauce is vegan. Most shop bought sauces are vegan but sweet and sour is typically a meat based dish. So usually the sauce is paired with a meat. But this vegan sweet and sour is served with tofu.
Yes, sweet and sour sauce can be frozen. You can freeze this sweet and sour tofu for up to three months. Tofu changes texture once it's frozen and thawed, so be aware that it may be more ‘meaty’ when it’s reheated.
In traditional takeout recipes, red food dye would be used to make the rich red colour of the sauce. In our recipe, we use ketchup, and the sauce goes pretty red.
Yes. If you’re making just the sauce in advance, it can be refrigerated for around 3 days. We would recommend making this one according to the recipe and eating it fresh. It’s not as nice after it has been sitting in the fridge for days, as the sauce will congeal. When heating, add a couple tablespoons of water to help it loosen up.
Yes, absolutely! Just coat the tofu in cornflour, as directed, and then pop in the air fryer. It should take around 10-15 minutes on 375 degrees F (190 C). Find out more about air frying tofu.
We’d recommend keeping the sugar in this recipe – it is sweet and sour tofu afterall. It would be a bit too sour if you don’t add any sweetness. You do have options though. You can use brown sugar, maple syrup or agave syrup – these would mean that the sugar used is unrefined.
🍛 What to serve it with
More recipes to try
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Sweet and Sour Tofu
- 280 g extra-firm tofu – cut into 2cm bitesize chunks
- 2 tbsp oil – or oil spray
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 2 red peppers - cut into 2cm pieces
- 8 spring onions - cut into 2cm pieces
- 200 g broccoli - cut into small florets
- 200 g pineapple - cut into chunks
- 4 tbsp tomato ketchup
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 250 ml vegetable stock
- Salt – to taste
- 1 red chilli – optional, chopped finely.
- Put 1 tbsp of the cornflour in a bowl and then toss the tofu in it until all pieces are well coated.280 g extra-firm tofu, 2 tbsp cornflour
- Get a wok on the hob with 1 tablespoon of oil and get it to a medium-high heat. Add the tofu and cook until nicely browned and it has a bit of a crisp outside, then take the tofu out and set to one side for later.2 tbsp oil
- Optionally, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil (or oil spray), and bring back up to a medium heat, then pop in the peppers and chilli (if using) in and fry for 2-3 minutes.2 tbsp oil, 2 red peppers, 1 red chilli
- Add the spring onions and stir fry for one more minute.8 spring onions
- Now get the broccoli, pineapple, ketchup, vinegar, sugar and stock in there - give it a good mix and bring it up to a boil.200 g broccoli, 200 g pineapple, 4 tbsp tomato ketchup, 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp brown sugar, 250 ml vegetable stock
- While the sauce is coming up to a simmer, mix the remaining 1 tbsp of cornflour with a splash of water until you have a thick, but still slightly runny paste - stir it into the sweet and sour tofu sauce.2 tbsp cornflour
- Add the tofu back in and cook for 2-3 minutes, until hot. Season with salt, to taste.Salt
- Firm Tofu – it can be pan fried, shallow fried, air fried or even deep fried. If air frying, it will take 10-15 minutes on 375 degrees F (190 C). Make sure the tofu is pressed if you have firm tofu, if it’s ‘extra firm’ you don’t need to press it.
- Stock – use vegan chicken stock if you have it, if not, use vegetable stock. Make sure to check that it’s gluten free, if you need the dish to be gluten free.
- Sugar – feel free to use maple syrup or agave syrup instead of brown sugar. We recommend keeping some form of sugar in the dish, to make sure the flavours are balanced.
- Vegetables – mix up the veggies. Courgette, aubergine, carrots and cabbage all work well.
- Storage – this recipe does keep in the fridge for three days. The sauce will congeal in the fridge, so add a couple of tablespoons of water when reheating. Ideally, this sweet and sour tofu is best served and eaten fresh.