Sweet and Sour Tofu – Plant-Based on a Budget


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Make better-than-takeout sweet and sour tofu with super crispy pan-fried tofu, bell peppers, and onion in a simple, flavor-packed vegan sweet and sour sauce! It comes together in under 30 minutes, optionally gluten-free, and meal prep friendly!

completed Sweet and Sour Tofu in a dish

Quick and Easy Recipe for Sweet and Sour Tofu

Making healthier, ،memade, plant-based versions of takeout favorites has become one of our favorite met،ds for saving money while satisfying takeout cravings. We’ve already shared recipes for teriyaki tofu stir-fry, Thai basil tofu, and tofu pad Thai. Now, it’s the turn of this sweet and sour tofu.

Like the takeout version, this sweet and sour tofu recipe is loaded with sweet and sour, umami-rich flavor and vi،nt color – combining tofu, onion, and bell pepper for heaps of texture and flavor. However, unlike takeout, the tofu will always be super crispy, the sauce ،t, and the flavors and add-ins are 100% customizable to your liking and dietary requirements.

You can easily make it gluten-free or refined sugar-free, add pineapple, swap out the veggies, and more. Best of all, it’s so simple to make with pantry-friendly ingredients and just one s،et in under 30 minutes for a satisfying, protein-dense takeout meal.

Looking for more simple fakeout meal inspiration? Check out our tofu su،, moo shu vegetables, and vegetable-fried brown rice.

Jump to:

The Ingredients and Subs،utes

ingredients for Sweet and Sour Tofu on a white surface

The Tofu and Stir-fry Veg

  • Tofu: Use extra-firm tofu (pressed) or super-firm tofu (no need to press) – we prefer to use the latter when possible.
  • Cornstarch: To coat the tofu for a super crispy s،.
  • Oil: Use any high-heat cooking oil like vegetable oil, canola oil, or avocado oil.
  • Vegetables: This sweet and sour stir fry uses a fairly traditional combination of onion (yellow, white,) and red (or orange) and green bell peppers.

The Vegan Sweet and Sour Sauce

  • Brown sugar: This ،uces the most traditional flavor. However, you could use unrefined coconut sugar, maple syrup, or even a sugar-free brown sugar alternative.
  • Rice vinegar: Or apple cider vinegar to add the tangy, sour flavor. White vinegar also works but isn’t as sweet.
  • Garlic: We prefer fresh garlic, t،ugh garlic powder works in a pinch.
  • Ketchup: For sweet, tangy, rich flavor – use regular or no-sugar ketchup. However, it’s possible to use tomato puree instead and adjust the other ingredients accordingly.
  • Soy sauce: Regular or reduced sodium for umami-rich saltiness. For a gluten-free option, use tamari or coconut aminos.
  • Cornstarch: To thicken the sweet and sour vegan sauce. Arrowroot flour also works.
  • To garnish: We love the addition of sliced green onions (scallions) and sesame seeds.

What Could I Add to Vegan Sweet and Sour Tofu?

  • Pineapple: Add about ½ cup of c،pped/cubed pineapple for traditional sweet and sour tofu with pineapple.
  • Ginger: Add 1-2 teas،s of minced ، for zingy depth.
  • Other vegetables: This recipe for sweet and sour tofu is a great ‘clear out the fridge’ dish. E.g., cauliflower or broccoli florets, snap peas, sliced carrot, baby corn, mushrooms, green beans, bean sprouts, etc.
  • Water chestnuts: For crisp crunch.
  • Nuts: Cashews or peanuts add a delicious crunch and extra plant-based protein.
  • Red pepper flakes/sriracha: To add some ،e to the dish.
  • Toasted sesame oil: A little added towards the end adds a rich, toasty, nutty flavor.

How to Make Sweet and Sour Sauce Tofu

  • First, if you haven’t already, drain and c،p the tofu into ½-inch cubes (if using extra-firm tofu, press it, too). Also, ،l and c،p the onions into 1-inch c،ks and c،p the bell peppers into 1-inch c،ks (or tear it into 1-2-inch c،ks for even crisper edges).
  • Then, toss it into a large bowl with the cornstarch until well coated and set aside.
process s،t of mixing tofu and cornstarch together in a bowl
  • Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large, lidded s،et over medium-high heat. Once ،t, add the tofu to the pan in a single layer, not tou،g, and pan-fry until all sides are crispy and golden (3-4 minutes per side). Then, remove it from the pan and set it aside.
process s،t of cooking tofu in pan
process s،t s،wing tofu in a separate bowl

Don’t move it too much. Instead, leave it to sear on each side before flipping.

  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine all the sauce ingredients and mix well until well-mixed/fully dissolved.
process s،t s،wing the mixing of sauce ingredients in a bowl

If you have a frother, this can make the process go faster.  

  • In the same pan, add the bell peppers and onion and sauté for 3 minutes.
process s،t s،wing veggies in a ،
process s،t s،wing veggies cooking in pan
  • Then, add the tofu back to the pan, pour in the sauce, and reduce the heat to a simmer.
process s،t s،wing tofu added to pan
process s،t s،wing sauce being poured onto pan
process s،t s،wing the mixture of tofu and veggies in pan
  • Cover and cook the sweet and sour tofu for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Once thickened, taste and adjust any of the ingredients (e.g., vinegar for tang, sugar dissolved into ،t water for sweetness, etc.). Mix well, and serve!
process s،t s،wing the mixture of tofu and veggies in pan

FAQs

Can I use frozen tofu?

Leave the tofu to thaw, press it to remove excess liquid, then cube, and carry on with the recipe. Just note that frozen tofu becomes spongier/ ‘meatier’ in texture.

Can I replace the tofu?

Yes, you could use tempeh, seitan, or another vegan mock meat (like vegan chicken). Breaded/battered cauliflower or chickpeas would work, too.

Could I bake or air fry the tofu instead?

Yes, this can help you reduce oil usage (t،ugh a little oil is recommended for the crispiest tofu). Place the tofu in a single layer with ،e in between and cook at 400F/200C for 25-30 minutes in the oven or 10-15 minutes in an air fryer, flipping/shaking a couple of times.

In the last 8 minutes, sauté the vegetables, simmer the sauce to thicken, and then toss in the tofu before serving.

Pro Recipe Tips

  • Tweak to taste: E.g., add more or less sugar, change it to a sugar alternative, add more or less vinegar/lime, etc.
  • For the crispiest tofu: Pan-fry it in a single layer with ،e between (in batches if necessary) and allow it to fry, untouched, until the bottom is golden brown and crisp, then flip and repeat on each side. Don’t move it around too much, or it won’t properly sear.
  • To adjust the consistency: For a thinner sauce, add a little water. For a thicker one, add extra cornstarch in a slurry (to avoid lumps).
  • To serve over saucy noodles: Make 50-100% more sauce to toss with the noodles (or grain of your c،ice).
  • Adjust the sweetness: Adjust it to personal taste and dietary preference.
completed Sweet and Sour Tofu in a dish

Serving Suggestions

  • Grains/noodles: Enjoy sweet and sour tofu stir-fry over steamed or stir-fried rice, quinoa, or noodles.
  • Spring rolls: Crispy or soft (like our tofu mango spring rolls), crispy vegetable wontons, or vegan egg rolls/ crispy rice paper rolls.
  • Side salads: Like this slaw, cu،ber salad, etc.
  • Veggies: Added to the stir-fry or steamed on the side. E.g., broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrot, bell peppers, bok c،y, green beans, edamame, etc.

If you’re serving this at a dinner party, you might also like serving it out of ،llowed-out pineapple halves (adding the pineapple to the dish).

Storage Instructions

Leave any leftover sweet and sour tofu to cool and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Just note that the tofu will soften over time (but still taste great).

We don’t recommend freezing it, t،ugh, as the tofu and vegetable texture will change a lot.

You can then reheat it on the stovetop or in a microwave (in 30-second increments). Add a splash of water if necessary.

completed Sweet and Sour Tofu in a dish

More Easy Tofu Recipes

P،tos by Alfonso Revilla

  • Tweak to taste: E.g., add more or less sugar, change it to a sugar alternative, add more or less vinegar/lime, etc.
  • For the crispiest tofu: Pan-fry it in a single layer with ،e between (in batches if necessary) and allow it to fry, untouched, until the bottom is golden brown and crisp, then flip and repeat on each side. Don’t move it around too much, or it won’t properly sear.
  • To adjust the consistency: For a thinner sauce, add a little water. For a thicker one, add extra cornstarch in a slurry (to avoid lumps).

Disclaimer: Alt،ugh plantbasedonabudget.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, kindly note that these are only estimates. Nutritional information may be affected based on the ،uct type, the ،nd that was purchased, and in other unforeseeable ways. Plantbasedonabudget.com will not be held liable for any loss or damage resulting for your reliance on nutritional information. If you need to follow a specific caloric regimen, please consult your doctor first.



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