Sweet & sour tofu

Sweet & sour tofu is something I never order in a Chinese or Thai restaurant in Australia, as it often tends to be pretty naff when it’s made for the western palate – too sweet, not enough balance of flavour. But when I learned to make it in Thailand from my cooking teacher, I discovered sweet & sour can be a veritable explosion of complex flavours and textures, provided you’re good at the balancing act required 😉

The secrets to a fabulous sweet & sour? Well, the secret’s in the sauce, of course 😛 My version is heavy on the sour, thanks to lime juice, and adds plenty of pep with a teeny bit of chilli and soy sauce. I also go heavy on the garlic and ginger to round out the flavour. Oh, and you have to use a slighly tangy tomato sauce for best effect – none of that nasty sickly-sweet ketchup stuff 😡

Here’s how to knock up a sweet & sour tofu that’ll have your guests begging for more… 😉

Flavour: Sweet & sour, duh!

Serves: 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main meal

Ingredients:

  • quarter cup of good quality tomato sauce
  • 6 tablespoons soy sauce
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (I prefer to use coconut sugar or rapadura)
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • a few drops of sesame oil (go easy, as the flavour is strong)
  • 250g firm tofu
  • 3 tablespoons cornflour or rice flour
  • 1 small onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped – this is just to add a little pep, not to make the dish spicy
  • half cup/whole cup of the following veggies – you choose your ideal combo:
    • carrots – finely & diagonally sliced
    • cauliflower – small florets
    • Asian green vegetable of your choosing
    • cucumber – cut into large chunks (gotta try this – cucumber is sublime in sweet & sour)
  • 2 spring onions – cut white/light green parts into 3-4cm lengths, and finely chop the soft green end parts; keep ’em separated
  • 1 cup of water (you may well need less, so go easy)
  • sprinkle of white pepper

Optional extra veggies:

  • Capsicum – red, green, yellow, or a combo
  • Tomato – cut into large chunks
  • Zucchini – cut into large chunks
  • Pineapple chunks (please use fresh pineapple!)

Directions:

  1. Prepare your veggies how you like, and keep them separate as you prepare the rest because you’ll be adding them at different stages
  2. Cut your tofu into chunks – I like 1-inch cubes, or 1-inch by half-inch squares – up to you how you do it
  3. Dust the tofu with half the cornflour/rice flour, making sure each piece is coated – set aside on a plate ready for frying
  4. In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and the rest of the cornflour/rice flour in the soy sauce, vinegar and lime juice, add the tomato sauce, and set aside
  5. Heat both sunflower and sesame oil in a wok over high heat
  6. Toss in your tofu when the oil is hot so you get a quick-n-crispy fry going – this is how to get a deep-fried finish on a shallow-fried morsel 😉
    • Amateur tip: make sure you keep the tofu chunks separate to they don’t stick together, and toss them in the wok to turn them, rather than trying to flip them with a spatula
  7. Once your tofu is golden and crispy, toss in your onion, garlic, ginger and chilli – stir-fry for one minute
  8. Toss in your carrots and cauliflower, and stir-fry for 2 more minutes
  9. Add the green veg and the white/light parts of the spring onion, and stir-fry for one more minute
  10. Stir in your sweet & sour sauce mixture, and add the water gradually as the sauce thickens – you should see it turn thick and glossy very quickly – only add extra water if it thickens to the point of looking too dry, as you want it nice and saucy but not runny
  11. Stir in the cucumber chunks, and cook for one more minute
  12. Take off the heat, transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with the green parts of the spring onion – serve immediately with piping hot jasmine rice

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