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crispy vegan kung pao tofu

January 22, 2015

This hit the spot. It tastes like something from an Americanized Chinese restaurant – sweet, crunchy, salty, and satisfying. I definitely recommend this one. If you can get past frying the tofu, the sauce takes three minutes to cook up, and your house will smell great.

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vegetable or peanut oil for frying or baking
1/8 cup plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
1/4 cup cold water
1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 3/4-inch cubes, pressed with something heavy to release moisture, and ideally patted dry to avoid the oil spitting
1/4 cup water or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Sichuan broad bean chili paste (I used miso and chili-garlic paste)
1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
3 scallions, whites finely minced, and greens finely sliced, reserved separately
3 cloves minced garlic (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sichuan peppercorns, divided
12 hot Chinese dry chili peppers (I used 6)
2 small leeks, white and light green parts only, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 1/2 cup total) (I left these out and it was still great)
2 ribs celery, split in half lengthwise and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 long green Chinese hot pepper, stemmed and seeded, cut into 3/4-inch squares (I omitted this)
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
Cooked white rice, for serving
Procedures

1
Heat oil in a wok to 350°F. (You can also bake the tofu if you prefer! If baking it, move to step 3.) Whisk together cornstarch, flour, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Add water and whisk until a smooth batter is formed, adding up to 2 tablespoons additional water if batter is too thick. It should have the consistency of thin paint and fall off of the whisk in thin ribbons that instantly disappear as they hit the surface of the batter in the bowl.

2
Add tofu and carefully turn to coat. Working one at a time, lift one piece and allow excess batter to drip off. Carefully lower into hot oil. Repeat with remaining tofu until wok is full. Fry, using a metal spider or slotted spatula to rotate and agitate pieces as they cook until evenly pale golden and crisp all over, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all tofu is fried. Carefully pour oil out of wok.

3
Combine stock, soy sauce, bean paste, vinegar, sugar, and remaining 2 teaspoons corn starch in a small bowl. Set aside. Combine scallion whites, garlic, and ginger in a second small bowl. Set aside. Coarsely grind half of peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

4
Set a fine mesh strainer over a heatproof bowl or saucepan. Return 1/4 cup oil to wok and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add remaining half of peppercorns and chilies and cook, stirring, for 5 seconds. Immediately drain through fine mesh strainer. Pick out chilies and set aside. Discard cooked peppercorns

5
Return infused oil to the wok and heat over high heat until lightly smoking. Add leeks, celery, and long pepper and cook, stirring and tossing, until vegetables are lightly charred and tender-crisp, about 1 1/2 minutes. Clear a space in the center of the wok and add the scallion/ginger/garlic mixture. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add peanuts, dried chilies, and drained tofu. Stir sauce mixture and add to wok. Cook, tossing and folding ingredients together until tofu is fully coated. Add scallion greens and ground peppercorns and toss to combine. Serve immediately with white rice.

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adapted from serious eats

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