Make Your Own Take Out: Szechuan Style Tofu and Vegetables

Szechuan stir fry is one of my favorite things to order from a take out place – it’s spicy, satisfying, and full of veggies!

It may be a TMI moment but I make or order szechuan stir fry especially when I’m feeling stuffy, because that spicy sauce helps loosen up the stuffiness minus any medicine. Double win!

Let’s talk tofu…

I know tofu isn’t the most appetizing protein for many people, but once you try it you’ll see that it’s just like anything else.

I have three rules for making tofu: 1) be a little heavy-handed with the salt and pepper when you’re seasoning it, 2) always always ALWAYS season it (I know some cooks out there rarely use salt and pepper. I have no idea why that is! You’re missing out on so much flavor!), and 3) be patient.

Tofu is essentially a blank slate. Straight out of the package, it really doesn’t taste like anything. What does that mean? YOU have to give it flavor! I can’t stress seasoning it enough – otherwise it’ll taste like, well, nothing! Who wants that?

The other important rule when cooking tofu is to BE PATIENT. Tofu is not a quick-cooking protein like chicken or shrimp, and if you try to stir fry it as such it’ll burn and fall apart. Trust me, I’ve done it. The best way to cook tofu is in it’s own small pan on medium heat until it’s crispy. I may be a bad cook for admitting this, but at times I have to walk away when I’m cooking tofu to make sure I don’t touch it while it’s browning. I’m not kidding when I say it takes a while, probably a good 8-10 minutes on each side. It’s hard to burn tofu if you keep it on medium heat, so stay in that sweet zone and you’re home free!

Szechuan Style Tofu and Vegetables

  • 1 package extra firm tofu, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch strips
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 8oz whole mushrooms, quartered
  • 2-3 stalks celery, sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 – 1/2 cups broccoli florets, separated into bite-size pieces
  • 1 small can of bamboo shoots, drained
  • 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1/2 Tbsp Sriracha hot chili sauce (or more/less to taste – I like it spicy!)

In a small skillet, heat 1 tsp of olive oil over medium heat for the tofu.

Tofu comes packed in a TON of water, drain that off. Then wrap the tofu loosely in a kitchen towel and give it few firm presses to get the excess water out. When the skillet gets heated, add the tofu and season with at least 2 tsp salt and 1 tsp pepper. Then follow the rules and leave it alone! Let it cook low and slow while you prep the other vegetables and make the rest of your stir fry. Only touch the tofu when you’re flipping it to a new side, but let it go until it’s crispy brown on all sides.

For the rest of the stir fry I like to do it in a big electric skillet. That way you have plenty of room to work with all your vegetables, it minimizes water, and keeps temperature constant. If you don’t have one, a large skillet will work just fine! Start with the sauce because the stir fry comes together super quick, and you want it ready so that your veggies don’t cook too far. Combine everything  above from soy sauce down to the Sriracha into a small cup and whisk it together until the cornstarch is dissolved.

If you don’t have or don’t want to buy Sriracha you could get a jar of chili garlic sauce (it’s kind of gel-like and you can find it in the Asian foods section) and just leave out the fresh garlic in the szechuan sauce.

Once the tofu is brown and crispy, heat your electric skillet to about 320-350 and add 1 Tsp of safflower oil. (You could use regular vegetable oil too, safflower is just good for higher temperatures. I had it on hand and this is pretty much all I use it for, so I try to use it when I can.) When the skillet’s nice and hot, add the onions, separating the slices as you add them to the pan. Saute the onions for 1-2 minutes, then add the bell pepper and celery and saute another 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli and mushrooms, put the lid on the skillet and saute about 2-3 minutes to desired tenderness (I like my veggies on the crunchy side). If you choose to season the veggies (you really don’t HAVE to since the szechuan sauce has a ton of flavor) do it with a very light hand, especially when it comes to the salt. When your veggies have reached the tenderness you like, add the tofu, bamboo shoots (drained), and sauce mixture into the pan with the veggies. Turn the heat down to low until the sauce thickens. Serve with a nice, healthy pile of brown rice and enjoy!

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5 thoughts on “Make Your Own Take Out: Szechuan Style Tofu and Vegetables

  1. We had tofu the other day. The instructions said to wrap in paper towels and squish it with a heavy pan. Within minutes the paper was saturated! It said the more water you squashed out the better. I fried it up as you say here and then used it in a kind of curry strir fry. It wasn’t bad but it wasn;t great – i reckon your seasoning tip would have been the way to go – it was still pretty tasteless and felt a bit ‘wet’ in the mouth – thanks for the tip about salt etc!

    • Ah! I did forget to say to pat it dry – thank you (edit coming)! I usually take that step too, I don’t squish it too much just wrap it in a towel and give a few firm pats. Tofu is definitely one of those things you have to experiment with before you get it right, but starting with the right seasoning is key. Do you remember what grade of tofu it was (firm, soft, medium, etc.)? Maybe that’s why it still had a bit of a “wet” taste like you said. I always use firm or extra firm, and I haven’t had any problems with wetness so long as it gets crispy.

      • I don’t know what grade it was but I think I’ll follow your tip and fry it a while longer – and we will be doing it again cos my other half is a vegetarian and I’m on a diet! (mind you frying and diet aren’t two words that go together that well)

      • Gotcha! My hubs prefers vegetarian meals as well (since my pregnancy it hasn’t been so easy just being vegetarians). The more you play around with it the easier cooking tofu will be. Don’t think of it as “frying” think of it as…crispifying 🙂

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