Every once in a while I get a craving for sweet and sour pork. Truth be told, this is not one of my favorite Chinese dishes, it wasn’t particularly even easy to find on a menu in Beijing. It was more of a Westernized version of Chinese food than anything else. BUT with its crispy and fried meat tossed with bell peppers and pineapple in a sweet sauce, it was naggingly delicious to me. Sweet sauce was never my favorite nor was the addition of pineapple to savory dishes, but I’ll eat anything crispy and fried and somehow the combination of it all oddly worked.
As my mind naturally gravitates towards things I can deep fry and make delicious, my instinct was to experiment with sweet and sour tofu. Tofu gets a bad rap in my opinion because a lot of people out there don’t know to cook it or season it properly which often times leaves a bland impression. I, however, am a tofu lover and (with the exception of stinky tofu), and am always enthusiastic for any tofu concoction on the menu in any of its many forms: tofu skins, tofu puffs, firm tofu, silken tofu, etc, etc. You name it and I’ll give it a try.
Luckily for me, crisping up the tofu and using it as an excellent substitution for deep fried pork was easy. I don’t think of it as a healthier or (shudder) vegan version of the classic sweet and sour dish, but see it for what it is: as another way for this tofu fan to eat more tofu.
3 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tbsp chili sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
pinch of salt
1 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp water
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 yellow bell pepper
1/4 c pineapple
1 small onion
1 tbsp sliced ginger
1 tbsp sliced garlic (about 2-3 cloves)
1/2 tsp szechuan peppercorns
5 dried chiles (cut in half, seeds removed)
400g (~14 oz) firm tofu
1/2 -1 cup (65-128g) cornstarch
1 tbsp soy sauce
Remove tofu from packaging and dry it off as best as you can. Make sure to carefully squeeze our any remaining water from the tofu block. Next, cut the tofu into large chunks about 1in/2cm or so in size. Sprinkle 1-2 tbsp of soy sauce on it carefully mix together. Wait a minute or so for the tofu to soak up the fluid, then dredge the tofu chunks in cornstarch and set aside. The cornstarch is going to give the tofu a crispy coating while simultaneously drawing out any excess water, allowing it to be crispy and chewy when fried so don’t skimp on it.
Mix all ingredients together. Whisk to combine. Set aside.
Roughly cut up the bell peppers , onion and pineapple into 1in/2cm sized chunks (roughly the same size as the tofu chunks). Place in a bowl and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine sliced ginger, sliced garlic, Szechuan peppercorns and dried red chiles. Set aside.
When ready, heat a generous amount of oil over high heat in a wok. When oil is HOT, add tofu and fry until golden brown and crispy. This should take around 5-10 minutes depending on the heat of your stovetop. When crispy and golden brown, remove tofu from oil, transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.
Remove the majority of the oil from wok, leaving 1-2 tbsp of oil behind. Add sliced garlic, sliced ginger, Szechuan peppercorns and dried red chilies to wok. Cook over high heat until fragrant, stirring constantly until fragrant (this should be about 1-2 minutes). Be careful not to burn it. Once fragrant, add chopped bell peppers, onion and pineapple. Cook on high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. You want the vegetables to pick up the heat of the wok, be slightly cooked but still crisp. When ready, add crispy tofu and stir to combine. Finally, add sauce and stir so that everything is evenly coated in sauce. Let cook for 1-2 minutes in the heat to allow for the sauce to thicken.