Kung Pao Tofu on a table in a Studio
(Laura Chase de Formigny for The Washington Post/food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kung Pao Tofu

Linda Shiue’s lightened-up take on kung pao features the trademark Sichuan combination of heat from chiles and a tingly, numbing sensation from the peppercorns. This dish doesn’t skimp on the fiery spice. If you’d like it tamer, remove the seeds and ribs from the serrano chile, or use a milder chile, such as Fresno. The whole dried chiles add heat and color to the dish, and you should include them when serving. But unless you have a very high tolerance for heat, you might want to eat around them.

Serve with rice.

Sichuan peppercorns can be found at Asian supermarkets, some well-stocked groceries and at such online sources as foodsofnations.com.

Adapted from “Spicebox Kitchen” by Linda Shiue (Hachette Books, 2021).


measuring cup
Servings: 4
  • One (14-ounce) package firm tofu
  • 2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar) or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or other vegetable oil, divided
  • 6 dried red chiles
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 3 scallions, white and light green parts separated from dark green, thinly sliced
  • 1 red serrano chile, sliced (may substitute green serrano; remove seeds and ribs if you want less spice)
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
  • Cooked rice, for serving


Time Icon Total: 25 mins
  1. Step 1

    Wrap the tofu in a clean dish towel and microwave on high for 1 minute. Unwrap, rewrap with a fresh towel, and repeat. (This gets rid of excess liquid and is faster than pressing the tofu.) Unwrap, and slice the tofu into bite-size pieces.

  2. Step 2

    In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin and sesame oil.

  3. Step 3

    In a large nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil until shimmering. Working in batches if necessary, add the sliced tofu in one layer and fry, undisturbed, until the bottom is golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Flip the pieces (you may need to scrape them up with a spatula if they’re sticking) and repeat until the other side is browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

  4. Step 4

    Add the dried chiles and peppercorns to the pan and cook, tossing, just until fragrant, 10 to 20 seconds. (Be careful not to burn them!) Transfer the mixture to another plate.

  5. Step 5

    Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of canola oil to the skillet and increase the heat to high. Add the white and light green parts of the scallions, chile, ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, 10 seconds. Add the fried tofu and prepared sauce and stir-fry until the sauce is fragrant and coats the tofu evenly, 10 seconds. Add the peppercorn mixture and the peanuts and stir-fry until combined, 10 seconds.

  6. Step 6

    Transfer to a serving dish, top with the dark green scallion slices and serve hot with rice.

Nutritional Facts

Per serving

  • Calories


  • Carbohydrates

    9 g

  • Fat

    15 g

  • Fiber

    3 g

  • Protein

    13 g

  • Saturated Fat

    2 g

  • Sodium

    144 mg

  • Sugar

    3 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

Adapted from “Spicebox Kitchen” by Linda Shiue (Hachette Books, 2021).

Tested by Joe Yonan