This delicious easy chili garlic tofu has crispy chewy chunks of tofu and fresh veggies in a thick sticky sauce, perfect for serving over rice or when you feel like making a quick fakeaway at home.
Why you’ll love it
- It’s easy to make.
- It’s made takeout-style and is fabulous served over steamed white rice to soak up the luscious sauce.
- Save leftovers for stuffing wraps along with crunchy shredded cabbage and carrot and cucumber matchsticks, or for adding to Buddha bowls.
- It’s egg-free and dairy-free and suitable for vegetarians. It can also be made vegan by swapping out the honey for agave or maple syrup.
- You can adjust the amount of chili garlic sauce to take this recipe from mild-medium spicy to hot hot hot!
Ingredients and substitutions
I’ve included an image of the ingredients below so you can see at a glance what you need and check whether you have the right ones.
Scroll down below to see what substitutions can be made in case you’re missing any ingredients. I used onions and peppers but you can add or substitute different vegetables like broccoli or carrots as well (no more than two additional cups of veggies though or you won’t have enough sauce).
As always, remember that I test my recipes several times but the more substitutions you make, the less likely it is that you’ll have a successful end result.
Red/green bell peppers: I use a small one of each color in this recipe but you can just use one large red or green one if you prefer.
Onion: Two small or one large onions of any type. You can also substitute the white parts of spring or green onions. Don’t omit the onion as it gives the sauce lots of flavor and texture.
Tofu: Use only firm or extra-firm tofu for this dish, not silken tofu (which will fall apart).
Chili garlic sauce: This is an essential ingredient and if you haven’t tried chili garlic sauce before you are in for a treat. Use a high-quality one, like Huy Fong or Lee Kum Kee (the one I used in this recipe). Once opened, chili garlic sauce lasts up to nine months in the refrigerator, so it’s definitely worth getting. You can also use it to make my spicy silken tofu recipe.
Oil: Use any fairly plain vegetable oil like canola oil, sunflower oil, or corn oil.
Vegetable stock: You can use whatever type of stock you have to hand, or make some up with stock cubes or bouillon (follow the package instructions).
Ketchup: It sounds odd but it really does give the dish that restaurant-style flavor. Use quality ketchup that you actually like the taste of. I like to use Heinz reduced-sugar ketchup in this recipe.
Vinegar: Any mild vinegar will do, like rice vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar.
Sesame oil: This should be toasted sesame oil. Gives a lovely thick finish to the sauce but you can omit it if you must.
Garlic powder: There is plenty of fresh tasting garlic flavor in the chili garlic sauce but garlic powder really adds another dimension. If you don’t have any to hand you can omit it or substitute it with four minced cloves added in the last two minutes of cooking the peppers and onion.
Cornstarch: Cornstarch gives the sauce its thickened finish so I don’t recommend omitting it. If you don’t have any you can swap it out for potato starch or tapioca flour. In a pinch you can even use regular all-purpose flour, just double the amount and add it to the fried peppers and onion and stir for a minute before continuing with the rest of the steps.
Honey: If you don’t have any honey you can use any other liquid sweetener like agave or maple syrup, although in testing honey gave the best flavor.
Soy sauce: I used regular soy sauce but you can use light or low-sodium soy sauce (just keep in mind you may need to add some salt at the end). If you don’t have soy sauce you can substitute it with tamari, coconut aminos, liquid aminos, or vegan Worcestershire sauce.
How to make it
This is a fairly basic and straightforward recipe but I’ve included detailed steps and process shots below in case you have any doubts or want to check on your progress..
Crisping up the tofu
Slightly crisp chewy tofu is the star of this dish so getting it right is important. There are a few different ways to get it like this, but you do need to press the tofu before getting it crispy.
You can either do this by wrapping the tofu in paper towels or a clean tea towel and placing on a chopping board or in a colander with a heavy weight on top, or by using a tofu press such as TofuBud. Press it for at least thirty minutes, then get ready to crisp up your tofu.
I fried the tofu for this recipe but you can also just toss the tofu with a tablespoon of vegetable oil and bake it for half an hour on baking paper at 400ºF (200ºC), flipping halfway through.
The air fryer is also great for crisping up tofu, again just toss it with the oil (or use a few spritzes of oil spray) and cook it at 400ºF for ten minutes, shaking halfway through.
- Chop the pressed tofu into one-inch cubes as I did, or slice into thin triangles (these are easier to fry, to be honest).
- Add a tablespoon of oil to a large heavy skillet or frying pan and heat on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the tofu cubes, toss to coat in the oil, and sauté for two-three minutes on each side until golden brown and crispy. This is easier if you’ve cut your tofu into thin triangular wedges as you would only need to fry two sides. Remove the crispy tofu from the pan with a slotted spatula.
- While the tofu is crisping up, peel the onion, and chop the onion and peppers.
- Add the remaining half tablespoon of oil to the pan on high heat and when it’s hot, add the chopped vegetables and stir fry until softened and slightly browned about three minutes.
- Whisk together all the sauce ingredients apart from the cornstarch (the soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, vegetable stock, vinegar, honey, garlic powder, ketchup, and chili garlic sauce). If you want a mild-medium spice level just use two tablespoons of chili garlic sauce. If you like it spicy add three (I add three). If you’re not sure just add two, you can always add more later on if you wish.
- Add the sauce to the pan and add back in the tofu, stir to mix. Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat slightly to keep at a lively simmer for around five minutes
- Whisk the cornstarch with two tablespoons of cold water and add to the pan and mix quickly. When the mixture starts bubbling again (increase the heat if you want this to happen faster), cook for three minutes, stirring often. Done!
Taste and adjust seasoning if needed or add extra chili garlic sauce if you’d like it even hotter. Serve over noodles or steamed rice.
If you’d like a nice vegetable side dish that pairs well with this recipe, I highly recommend The Woks Of Life’s smashed Asian cucumber salad, which is the cucumber dish you can see beside the tofu on several photos on this page.
What you’ll need:
- A tofu press (optional). Otherwise, a clean dishcloth or tea towel, a chopping board, and a heavy pan or pot to use as a weight (I use our fruit bowl when it’s full).
- A sharp knife and chopping board.
- A large skillet or non-stick frying pan.
- Measuring cups and spoons (ideally).
- A slotted spatula.
- A large spoon or ladle for serving.
- If you want your tofu extra crispy and takeaway-like, spray with a little oil or toss with an extra teaspoon, sprinkle a tablespoon of cornstarch over it, and toss well to coat before frying or baking.
- When using cornstarch to thicken sauces, always keep the sauce at a high simmer for at least three minutes after adding the cornstarch to “cook” the cornstarch taste out.
- If you want your sauce extra thick and sticky, you can increase the amount of cornstarch to one and a half tablespoons. I prefer just a tablespoon because I like some sauce on my rice.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Sambal oelek is a good substitute if you crush four tablespoons of garlic and mix it in with it. Sriracha can also be directly swapped for the same amount of chili garlic sauce.
Leftover chili garlic tofu will keep in the fridge in a tightly sealed container for up to five days, keeping in mind that it will get slightly spicier the longer it sits. Reheating in the microwave is best, for three minutes on high power, stopping and mixing halfway through. If the sauce thickens up too much you can just loosen it by adding a tablespoon or two of water before reheating and mixing.
Other delicious tofu recipes
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- 17.5oz of tofu (500g)
- 1½ Tablespoons neutral oil (see notes), divided
- 1 small red pepper
- 1 small green pepper
- 1 large or two small onions
- 1½ Tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1½ cups vegetable stock (360ml)
- 1½ Tablespoons vinegar (see notes)
- 3 Tablespoons honey (or agave/maple syrup for vegans)
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 2-3 Tablespoons chili garlic sauce (see notes)
- 1 Tablespoon ketchup
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch* (see notes)
- Press the tofu for 30 minutes either in a tofu press or by wrapping it in a clean dishcloth or tea towel and placing it on a chopping board with a heavy weight on top (a cast iron pan, another chopping board with canned food on top, whatever you have to hand).
- Chop the tofu into one-inch cubes or triangles, whatever you prefer.
- Add one tablespoon of the oil to a large skillet or large non-stick frying pan and heat on medium-high heat. When hot add the tofu and fry 2-3 minutes on each side until the tofu is browned and crispy.
- Peel the onion and chop the onion and peppers.
- Rremove the tofu from the pan and add the remaining half tablespoon of oil, increasing heat to high. Add the chopped vegetables when the oil is very hot and stir fry for three minutes until softened.
- Whisk together all the sauce ingredients except the cornstarch, and add to the pan along with the fried tofu. Mix to combine. When boiling, reduce the heat slightly and leave to cook for five minutes.
- Whisk the cornstarch with two tablespoons of water to make a slurry and add to the pan. Quickly stir to distribute the cornstarch and increase the heat to high. When the mixture is at a lively simmer, reduce the heat slightly and cook for three minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking.
- Done! Taste and adjust salt if needed, and increase the chili garlic sauce if you want it spicier.
Oil - you can use any neutral-tasting oil, like canola, sunflower, corn, or vegetable oil.
Vinegar - use any mild vinegar like ACV, rice, red or white wine vinegar, etc.
Chili garlic sauce - use Huy Fong or Lee Kum Kee brands. Two tablespoons is mild-medium spicy, three should be medium-hot spicy.
Ccornstarch - I add one tablespoon as I like the sauce a little looser to soak into steamed rice, but you can increase it to one and a half tablespoons if you want the tofu in a very thick sticky sauce.
Amount Per Serving Calories 288Total Fat 15gSaturated Fat 2gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 13gCholesterol 0mgSodium 834mgCarbohydrates 28gFiber 3gSugar 19gProtein 15g