Kung Pao is an Americanized, Szechuan-style dish found on many Chinese restaurant menus and is most often made with chicken or beef, very often fried in oil. It is typically spicy (the original dish in China uses Szechuan peppercorns and dried chilis) and contains some type of fresh nut such as peanuts or cashews. In this whole food, plant-based version, the tofu is baked rather than fried and broccoli adds vibrant color. You can adjust the spiciness by controlling the amount of cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes you use. The ingredient list may look long, but once you have everything assembled, this dish comes together quickly.
Try this dish served with a steaming pot of black tea!
Kung Pao Tofu
Serves 4-5 generously
For the tofu:
2 - 14 oz packages firm or extra firm tofu, or if you don't like to press tofu try to find a "super firm" version)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2-3 pinches cayenne pepper (use even more if you like it spicy)
2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder
For the sauce:
1/4 cup minced fresh ginger root
4 large cloves (or 8 small cloves) garlic, minced (about 3 tablespoons)
3-4 pinches crushed red pepper (more if you like it spicy)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 cup reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
1/4 cup Hoison sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (see *note)
4 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 cup agave syrup (or date syrup or maple syrup)
1/4 cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 cup vegetable broth
For the dish:
1 - 8 oz. can sliced water chestnuts, drained and rinsed
4 scallions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste
6 cups broccoli florets ( you can use frozen, but fresh will result in a crispier and firmer texture)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons raw (unroasted) cashews (reserve the 2 tablespoons for garnish)
3 cups hot, cooked brown rice
Press each tofu block for 30 minutes to 1 hour (see **note).
While the tofu is being pressed, make the sauce by whisking all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside.
When the tofu is pressed, cut into bite-sized cubes and place the cubes in a large bowl.
Add the maple syrup and cayenne pepper to the tofu cubes and toss gently with a rubber spatula to combine. Using the rubber spatula will prevent the tofu from crumbling. Sprinkle the cornstarch over the cubes and toss again to coat the cubes.
Spread the tofu cubes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes. The tofu should be dry and firm when done. Don't worry if it seems too dry as the sauce will moisten it.
Add the baked tofu cubes to the sauce and stir to combine.
Chop the 2 reserved tablespoons of cashews for the garnish.
Heat the rice if not already hot.
Heat a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium high heat. Once hot, add the water chestnuts, scallions and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir constantly for 4-5 minutes. The water chestnuts will get lightly browned (see photo). If you do not have a non-stick pan and the food begins to stick add some splashes of water.
Add the broccoli to the pan and continue to stir fry 3 more minutes, stirring constantly. You want to keep the ingredients moving to cook evenly.
Add the sauce and cashews to the pan and stir fry 3 more minutes, again stirring constantly. The dish should be heated through but the broccoli should still be bright green.
Remove from the heat and serve immediately over the hot rice and garnish with a few chopped cashews. Enjoy!
*You can crush the sesame seeds a bit using a mortar and pestle to release more flavor before adding to the sauce.
**To press tofu, place on a large plate with a sheet of wax or parchment paper over it. Set another plate on top of this and some heavy objects such as large books or cans on top of this second plate.