This Szechuan-style tofu is easy to make at home and features all of your favorite spicy, over-the-top flavors. Easily adjust the amount of spiciness, and incorporate a variety of different vegetables. It's a great way to use up the veggies you have on hand! This tofu stir fry is vegan, gluten-free and nut-free.
I've been experimenting with Szechuan peppercorns lately, inspired to try them in a dairy-free ice cream similar to one I had years ago at a local vegan restaurant (though that one used pink peppercorns).
With a fresh bag of peppercorns on hand I needed to use them in other ways, too. Szechuan Tofu for the win!
This Szechuan sauce is somewhat similar to the sauce in this Sticky Sesame Tofu, but minus the toasted sesame oil and with a bit of Chinese five spice - one of our favorite spice blends. And it's every bit as quick and easy to pull together.
You'll LOVE Szechuan Tofu because it's:
- easy enough for weeknights
- a great way to use the veggies you have
- salty, sweet, spicy and SO flavorful
- nutritious and filling!
Ingredients and Substitutions
The three main ingredients that give this Szechuan tofu its unique flavor are Szechuan peppercorns, dried red Chinese chilies, and Chinese five spice.
BUT... if you don't have these ingredients don't be discouraged! There are ways to substitute until you're able to get your hands on these items.
The peppercorns and dried chiles, especially, may be difficult to find in regular grocery stores. So try your local Asian market or order online (links below).
- tofu - if you have access to super-firm tofu, it is the most dense and easiest to work with. It contains very little water and does NOT need to be pressed. Otherwise, look for extra-firm tofu, and press it for 30 minutes beforehand. Here are some simple instructions on how to press tofu if you've never done it before.
- veggies - I love including a variety of colors in this dish to complement the red chilies. A pop of green from broccoli or green beans is nice, but there really are very few limitations on what you can add to the stir fry. See the Variations section below for ideas.
- dried red chilies - I usually order these Chinese red chilies online. They are mostly mild, but every now and then you'll get a spicy one! Feel free to substitute dried Arbol chilies, or go extra spicy with Thai bird's eye chilies.
- Szechuan peppercorns - with their reddish color, floral fragrance, and slight numbing quality, Szechuan peppercorns are the ingredient that takes this dish in a different direction than other stir fries.
The slight citrus flavor and tingly mouth sensation they add to the dish might surprise you if you've never cooked with them before! But don't add too much, or they can start to taste bitter. Feel free to use black pepper, to taste, if you don't have Szechuan peppercorns.
Szechuan Sauce Ingredients
- tamari (for gluten-free) or soy sauce
- maple syrup - adds an irresistible sweetness to the sauce to balance the salt and spice. Sub sugar or agave nectar if needed.
- garlic and ginger - use fresh if you have it; otherwise, the powdered versions of both of these ingredients are fine.
- rice vinegar - commonly found near soy sauce in most grocery stores.
- chili garlic sauce - for a milder option choose a "sweet" red chili sauce like this one from Thai Kitchen; for more heat use sriracha or one similar to this garlic chili sauce.
- Chinese 5 spice - one of my favorite spice blends, most well-stocked stores should carry it, or create your own blend with a recipe for Chinese 5 spice.
More ways to use Chinese 5 spice powder:
Easy Vegan Massaman Curry and Instant Pot Peanut Curry Lentil Soup
- corn starch - this thickens the sauce and helps it cling to the veggies and tofu. Arrowroot may be substituted if you don't have corn starch.
See recipe card below for quantities and full recipe.
Step By Step Process
- Prepare the sauce by whisking together the ingredients in a bowl; set aside. Cook the tofu in oil in a fully preheated skillet or wok (medium heat) until golden on at least two sides. When the tofu is ready to flip it should release easily. If it sticks to the pan, it's likely not yet crisp and golden. Season with 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce and toss. Transfer tofu to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onion to the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper, broccoli, and dried chilies and cook for about 3 minutes, or just until crisp-tender. Scoot the veggies toward one side and add the peppercorns in the open space. Stirring, toast the peppercorns for a few seconds, then stir to incorporate into the vegetables.
- Add the sauce, and cook for about 2 minutes or until hot and thickened.
- Return the tofu to the pan, and toss to incorporate. Garnish with green onion and sesame seeds, if desired.
Serve with your favorite rice, or double the sauce and serve with noodles.
Garnish with plenty of green onion and sesame seeds. For those who crave more spice, red pepper flakes and chili garlic sauce may be served on the side.
extra spicy - choose a hot variety of chili garlic sauce, and add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes when adding the peppercorns to the pan.
other veggies - try eggplant (for a Panda Express eggplant tofu copycat), green beans, cabbage, snow peas, carrot, cauliflower, or a leafy green like spinach or kale.
Leftovers reheat well throughout the week. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Since the recipe doesn't make a huge amount I haven't tried freezing it yet, but all of the ingredients are freezer-friendly.
Nothing like black peppercorns, Szechuan peppercorns have a floral, and almost citrus-y aroma. Their flavor is also citrus-y, and as you eat them you'll notice a slight tingling, or numbing sensation in your mouth. Less is more with Szechuan peppercorns, as too much can begin to taste bitter and overpower the other flavors in the dish.
The spiciness comes from dried chilies, chili garlic sauce, and peppercorns. As written, I would say this recipe is mild to moderate in spiciness. You can increase the heat by using an extra spicy chili sauce and adding crushed red pepper flakes. Or use fewer chilies to reduce the spiciness.
Use patience when cooking the tofu, and always, always fully preheat the pan. Use medium heat and allow plenty of time for the underside to become golden before attempting to flip, otherwise the tofu will stick.
If you'd rather bake the tofu, simply season with tamari or soy sauce, and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 25 minutes, flipping at the halfway point.
You might also like:
Szechuan Tofu With Vegetables
For the sauce:
- 3 tablespoons tamari (for GF) or soy sauce
- 2 ½ tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce - choose one labeled "sweet" for mild heat, or select a spicier variety
- 5 large cloves garlic, minced - or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 heaping teaspoon freshly grated ginger root - or ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
- 1 tablespoon corn starch - or arrowroot
For the stir fry:
- 1 (16 oz) package super firm tofu, cubed and patted dry - or if using extra firm tofu, press for 30 minutes first
- 1 tablespoon high heat cooking oil such as avocado
- 1 tablespoon tamari - or soy sauce
- ½ large onion, chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 large crown fresh broccoli, cut into small florets - or approx. 2 to 3 cups chopped/bite-size veggies of choice; see post above for ideas
- 10 to 12 dried red Chinese chilies - or Arbol chilies
- ½ to 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns, lightly smashed - or sub black pepper, to taste
- ¼ cup sliced green onion
- sesame seeds, optional, for garnish
- First, make the sauce by whisking together the ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.
- Preheat a large cast iron skillet or wok over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat. Cook the tofu until golden on at least two sides. Use patience here! When the tofu is ready to flip it should release easily. If it sticks to the pan, it's not ready to flip. Once tofu is golden and crisp, drizzle with 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce and toss. Transfer tofu to a plate and set aside.
- To the same pan add the onion, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bell pepper, broccoli, any other veggies you're using, and dried chilies, and cook for about 3 minutes or until crisp-tender. Slide the veggies toward one side and add the Szechuan peppercorns directly to the pan. Stirring, toast the peppercorns for 5 to 10 seconds, then stir to incorporate into the vegetables.
- Add the sauce, and cook for about 2 minutes or until hot and thickened. Return the tofu to the pan, and toss to incorporate. Garnish with green onion and sesame seeds, if desired. Serve as is or with rice or noodles.
- extra spicy - choose a hot variety of chili garlic sauce, and add a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes when you add the peppercorns to the pan.
- other veggies - try eggplant (for a Panda Express eggplant tofu copycat), green beans, cabbage, snow peas, carrot, or cauliflower.
Estimated Nutrition (per serving)
Nutrition information is an estimate and will vary depending on the exact amounts and specific products and ingredients used. We calculate this information using the online calculator cronometer.com.