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Vegan Szechuan Tofu and Peppers

Szechuan tofu and peppers is a delicious and spicy Chinese style stir fry that’s healthier and quicker to make than takeout. I’m sharing my easy recipe that can be made with fried or baked tofu, and uses a simple homemade Szechuan sauce made with easy to find ingredients.

Spicy Chinese style tofu and peppers in easy homemade Szechuan sauce

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In my family we’ve always been huge fans of Chinese recipes with tofu. Nothing beats a combination of tofu and veggies cooked in a flavorful sauce and served over rice.

I don’t usually mind chopping 5-6 types of vegetables to make a stir-fry, but every now and then it’s nice to simplify things and use just one or two.

This is how I got an idea for today’s Szechuan tofu recipe.

In short, I used a method I’d described in my recipe for tofu tacos with fajita vegetables (not Asian, I know, but bear with me): cook the tofu and vegetables separately, then add both of them back to the skillet, and toss in a flavorful sauce until it thickens.

I’m also using this method in my sweet chili tofu and vegetables recipe.

For this recipe, I decided to go with just bell peppers and onions, and chopped them in fairly large 1/2-inch pieces. I cooked them quickly in a hot skillet to get some of the pieces slightly charred around the edges while retaining their crunch.

To cook tofu, I sliced it into thick rectangles and fried them in the same skillet I used for the vegetables – see my method here. If you don’t want to fry the tofu (or try to limit oil in your diet), I’ve also included instructions for baking it in the oven oil-free.

See the instructions for both cooking methods over here and in the recipe card below.

Szechuan style Chinese tofu dish with peppers and onions

To finish my tofu and peppers stir-fry, I used a homemade Szechuan-style sauce made with just a few simple ingredients. If you aren’t familiar with Szechuan sauce (or want to know how I simplified it), read on.

What is Szechuan Sauce?

Szechuan sauce (also spelled Sichuan, Szechwan, and Schezwan) is a thick, spicy sauce originating from the Szechuan province in China. Its flavor can vary from recipe to recipe, but what most versions have in common is its bold, spicy flavor achieved by using lots of garlic and chili peppers.

Szechuan-style dishes are famous for two kinds of chili peppers traditionally used in them.

Tien Tsin pepper is a small red chili pepper usually used whole to enhance the food with its hot, spicy flavor. You’ve probably seen them in some Chinese takeout dishes. Well-stocked Asian stores often sell them dried. These chilies are too hot to eat by themselves, so they are usually taken out of the food before eating.

Szechuan peppercorns (also known as sichuan peppercorns) are another traditional ingredient used in Sichuan cuisine. They resemble black peppercorns but usually have a pink or red color with a citrusy aroma and a bold, spicy flavor.

As I was researching Szechuan peppercorns, I found out two interesting facts:

1. Their spiciness is different from other spicy peppers. The active component, hydroxy-alpha-sanshool molecule, numbs nerve receptors in your mouth for a few minutes, and makes your lips vibrate with a frequency of 50 hertz. (Don’t believe me? See the source here.)

It is believed that this numbness helps people enjoy the flavor depth of other spicy peppers in the dish they’re eating without feeling like their mouth is about to burst in flames.

2. In 1968 the US Department of Agriculture banned Szechuan peppercorns from being imported from China. The concern was that they could be contaminated with a citrus tree disease (interestingly, the trees that grow these peppercorns belong in the citrus family genus rather than the pepper family).

Numerous contraband attempts were intercepted in the years that followed, but it’s easy to assume that the peppercorns still found their way in.

The ban was finally dropped in 2005 on the condition that the peppercorns get heated for at least 10 minutes before import to kill the citrus disease bacteria. Today you don’t have to risk jail time to indulge in their numbing spiciness, and get them on Amazon instead.

How to make Szechuan tofu - a spicy vegan stir fry recipe

How I Simplified My Szechuan Sauce

Since I don’t believe it’s worth it to bring in contraband for any dish ever (coupled with the fact that I’m not super picky), I decided to simplify the sauce I made for my Szechuan tofu and peppers stir-fry.

To infuse the sauce with its signature spicy flavor, I used chili garlic sauce (this one is my favorite). I’m pretty sure sriracha will work just as well.

Instead of omitting the peppercorn aspect of this sauce completely, I added some ground black pepper. Freshly ground black pepper would work best because its aroma is more pronounced, but regular pre-ground pepper will work too.

Other sauce ingredients in my Szechuan-style sauce:

Soy sauce, rice vinegar, brown or coconut sugar, granulated garlic, ground ginger (fresh garlic and ginger can be used instead), cornstarch, and some water.

Do I use Fried or Baked Tofu in this recipe?

Either fried or baked tofu can be used to make my Szechuan tofu and peppers.

Fried tofu is my family’s favorite for stir-fry dishes, but if you’re watching your oil intake, feel free to bake it instead.

How to Cut The Tofu

Most recipes that include bite-sized tofu pieces tell us to cut raw tofu into small pieces first, and then cook them together in a skillet, flipping often to ensure that they get browned on all sides.

But from my personal experience, flipping 80 small pieces of tofu during cooking can feel like a major pain in the rear. That’s why I suggest slicing the whole tofu block crosswise into thick rectangles, then cooking those rectangles together in a skillet, flipping them only once.

After the cooked tofu cools off slightly, slice each rectangle into whatever size pieces you want. Voila – the same result, but with much less effort.

The same method works for baking the tofu (see below). You can either cook the large tofu rectangles and slice them afterwards, or use this basic tofu baking method.

How to Cook the Tofu (With or Without Oil)

To fry tofu for this recipe (with oil), preheat a large heavy-bottomed or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tsp of high-heat oil like avocado oil (or spray with cooking spray).

Arrange tofu rectangles in a single layer, and cook 3-4 minutes until the bottom turns golden brown. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes, then set aside.

To bake the tofu (oil-free method), preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Arrange tofu rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes until the top surface starts turning golden, then flip and cook 5-7 minutes more.

Once the tofu has been cooked, let it cool slightly, then slice each rectangle into bite-sized pieces. Set aside until needed.

Vegan Chinese recipes with tofu and vegetables

Other Ways to Use Szechuan Sauce

While it’s fantastic in veggie stir-fry, Szechuan sauce can be used in a variety of ways. It can be added to fried rice or noodles, used as a condiment for non-traditional things like scrambled tofu or eggs (if you’re not vegan).

Alternatively, this spicy Asian-style sauce can be used for dipping gyoza dumplings, egg rolls, etc. McDonalds famously offered their version of Szechuan dipping sauce back in the 90s to celebrate the release of Disney’s Mulan movie – it was intended for dipping nuggets.

More Tofu Dishes From the Blog

Yield: 4 servings

Easy Szechuan Tofu and Peppers

Easy Szechuan Tofu and Peppers

Chinese style easy Szechuan tofu and peppers is a delicious, spicy stir fry dish that tastes better than takeout. The key is using my simple Szechuan sauce made with easy to find ingredients. Tofu can be either fried or baked to reduce oil. Serve with brown rice and additional Asian-style hot sauce if desired.

Time to Drain Tofu 20 minutes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes


  • 1 block (16 oz) firm or extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces*
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces*
  • 1 medium onion, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces*
  • Avocado or grapeseed oil OR cooking spray, as needed for frying
  • 2-3 scallions, chopped diagonally, to serve

For the Szechuan sauce:

  • 5 Tbsp **low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1-2 tsp chili garlic sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp brown or coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper (freshly ground if available)
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup water (room temperature)


To Make the Crispy Tofu:

  1. Slice a drained and pressed block of tofu crosswise into 8-10 rectangles of about 1/2" thickness. (A tofu press like this one is very helpful for pressing tofu).
  2. FOR FRIED TOFU (with oil): Preheat a large heavy-bottomed skillet (I use the larger one from this set) over medium high heat. Add 1 tsp of oil (or spray with cooking spray). Arrange tofu rectangles in a single layer (see picture below). Cook 3-4 minutes until the bottom turns golden brown. Flip and cook another 3-4 minutes. Set aside. Frying tofu in a skillet
  3. FOR BAKED TOFU (oil-free): Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C). Arrange tofu rectangles on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes until the top surface starts turning golden, then flip and cook 5-7 minutes more.
  4. Slice each cooked tofu rectangle into bite-sized pieces, set aside.

To Make the Vegetables:

  1. While the tofu is cooking, chop peppers and onions into 1/2-inch cubes. (This is also a good time to make Szechuan sauce - see below.)
  2. Once the tofu is done frying (or while it's baking in the oven), preheat the same skillet on medium-high. Add 1 tsp oil (or spray with cooking spray). Add cubed peppers and onions, toss well, and cook quickly to get some of the pieces slightly charred around the edges, about 2-3 minutes. The vegetables don't need to get cooked through - it's best if they retain some crunch. Take the vegetables out and set aside. They'll look something like this: Peppers and onions for Sichuan tofu recipe

To Make the Szechuan Sauce:

  1. In a small bowl or a measuring cup, whisk cornstarch and soy sauce until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add the rest of the ingredients, chili garlic sauce through water, and whisk to combine. Set aside.

To Finish:

  1. Reheat the same skillet you cooked tofu and peppers in (or just peppers if you baked the tofu) over medium heat. Add 1 tsp of oil or spray with cooking spray. Add tofu cubes, and immediately pour in the Szechuan sauce (be careful as it may start splattering).
  2. Reduce the heat to medium, and cook, stirring often, until the sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Once the sauce has reduced by half, add peppers and onions. Toss well, and cook another 2-3 minutes, or until most of the liquid evaporates, and each piece of tofu and vegetables is covered with sticky golden-brown glaze.
  3. Serve topped with chopped scallions with a side of steamed rice. Enjoy!


*Other vegetables that work well in this stir-fry: shiitake mushrooms, woodear mushrooms, canned straw mushrooms, Bok Choy, water chestnuts, spring onions, etc.

**Use tamari instead of soy sauce to make this recipe gluten free.

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Nutrition Information:


4 servings

Serving Size:

1/4 of the recipe

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 226Total Fat: 13gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 9mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 5gSugar: 7gProtein: 13g

Please note that the provided nutritional information data is approximate.

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Hope you liked my Szechuan tofu recipe! If you use my Szechuan sauce to make other Chinese recipes with tofu, I’d love to hear how they come out!

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Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats
Alina first made a switch to a vegan diet in 2013 to optimize her athletic performance as a marathon runner. Eventually she embraced veganism as a way to be kinder to fellow living beings and the environment. Alina hopes that this blog helps its readers on their path to becoming vegan and making this world a better place.


Thursday 17th of February 2022

I love the clear and simplified instructions for this recipe and I'd love to try it, but I don't think my family would like so much bell pepper so I'd like to reduce to one and add other veggies. What other veggies would work well with these flavors and cook at the same rate as the bell pepper? Thank you.

Alina Zavatsky - Vegan Runner Eats

Friday 18th of February 2022

Hi Arj! Other veggies that can work well here: celery, mushrooms, bok choy, canned bamboo shoots. Hope this helps!

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