When you think of Chinese food, I would bet one of the last ingredients you would ever think of would be mayonnaise. I know that’s true for me. But that’s exactly the ingredient that is in this recipe for Kung Pao Tofu.
I wish I could take the credit for this successful culinary matchmaking but I can’t. Vegetarian Times holds an annual Chef’s Challenge competition for culinary students. After the Veg Times staff narrowed the contestants down to 14 finalists, readers got to vote for their favorites. Chef Mariano Gascon who attends the School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College in Chicago won for “Best Appetizer.” His winning creation? Kung Pao Sliders topped with a chilled zucchini and carrot slaw in peanut sauce – a peanut sauce that contains the familiar slaw ingredient of mayonnaise (see the original recipe at Vegetarian Times, Jan/Feb 2011).
The sliders looked absolutely delicious but I didn’t want to make burgers with cold slaw. I wanted to make a hot dish filled with tofu and lots of veggies that was also gluten-free. So I adapted Chef Gascon’s recipe to create my own version of Kung Pao Tofu. It was hearty and delicious. Obviously, you can use whatever veggies are your favorites or whatever you have in the fridge. I’m pretty sure I could have made a peanut sauce without the mayonnaise but it seemed like something I just had to try. Hats off to Chef Gascon!
For the tofu:
1 package extra-firm tofu, drained
3 Tbs. gluten-free tamari
1 Tbs. agave nectar
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. oil for pan frying (I prefer safflower)
For the vegetables:
1 tsp. safflower oil
2 large carrots, chopped
2 zucchini, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
1 yellow squash, chopped
1/2 small purple cabbage, shredded
3 Tbs. tamari
2 Tbs. vegan mayonnaise
2 Tbs. peanut butter
2 Tbs. agave nectar
2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar
2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. hot sauce (optional or to taste)
1/4 cup peanuts, toasted
Cut the tofu into cubes. In a bowl, add the tamari, agave, toasted sesame oil and cornstarch. Whisk until mixed. Add the tofu to the marinade and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
While the tofu is chilling in the marinade, make the sauce for the dish. In a bowl, combine the tamari, mayonnaise, peanut butter, agave, brown rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, garlic, pepper and hot sauce (optional). Whisk together until smooth. If the mixture seems too thick, just slowly add water until it is at the consistency you desire. Set aside.
In a small skillet, add the peanuts and toast them over a low flame. Be careful not to let them burn. Shake the skillet every now and then to turn the peanuts. You know they are ready when you can smell them.
In a deep skillet (or wok), add the oil over high heat. Drain the tofu from the marinade and place the tofu in the hot skillet. Let cook, turning the pieces often, until the cubes are browned on all sides. This will probably take about 15 minutes. While the tofu is cooking, chop up the veggies you are using.
When the tofu is browned, remove from the skillet and set aside. Don’t forget to check on the peanuts. If they are done, turn the heat off. Add the remaining oil to the hot skillet and add the veggies, one by one, stirring often, until they are just tender. It’s good to let the veggies keep their crunch, especially since a sauce is going on top. The vegetables looked so colorful and beautiful, I almost hated to put a brown sauce on top of them.
When the veggies are to your liking, add the peanut butter and mayo sauce on top and mix through until the sauce is heated through. Add the tofu back to the skillet and garnish with the toasted peanuts.