Orange-Flavored Fried Tofu with Water Chestnuts

Orange-Flavored Fried Tofu with Water Chestnuts Recipe

I felt like making my vegetarian sweet and sour pork recipe today, but I didn't have any pineapples on hand. Sweet and sour sauce is very versatile; you can substitute many tart fruits in place of the pineapple, such as oranges, plums or green mangoes. I had a number of sweet oranges on hand, so I used them instead. 

The dish turned out to be a big hit. I think it's important to have at least a few recipes in your repertoire that are easy to modify depending on what you have in your pantry. This particular sauce goes great with chicken as well, so if, like me, you have to cater to both meat eaters and vegetarians, you can make one sauce for two dishes.


Yields: 6

1 (12-ounce) package firm tofu
1 small white onion
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced
2 cups orange juice, freshly squeezed
3/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar, depending on how sweet the oranges are
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon corn syrup
1-1/2 tablespoons ketchup
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
7 tablespoons tapioca starch
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2/3 cup water
5 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
10 ounces fresh water chestnuts, boiled, shelled and sliced
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped


For the water chestnuts:

In a wok, heat about 2 teaspoons of oil. Add the garlic and onion. As the garlic becomes slightly golden, stir-fry the sliced water chestnuts. When the color is translucent and shiny, season with sea salt. Add about 1/2 cup of orange juice and a teaspoon of brown sugar. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. The water chestnuts should be tender, yet still firm. Transfer to a plate.

For the orange-flavored sauce:

Mix the tapioca starch, soy sauce, remaining brown sugar, ketchup, tomato paste, chili garlic sauce, vinegar, 2/3 cup water and chili garlic sauce. Set aside.

In the same wok, drizzle about 1 teaspoon of oil. Add the minced fresh ginger and cook for about 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add the remaining orange juice. Bring to a boil. Add the tapioca mixture and stir constantly to prevent the starch from sticking to the bottom of the wok. Continuously stir the broth as it will thicken very quickly.

Add the water chestnuts. Check the texture of the sauce; it should be thick and syrupy. If you find the sauce to be too thick, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of water.

For the tofu:

Drain any liquid from the tofu. Pat dry with a paper towel. Slice the block of tofu into 1-inch thick pieces. Separate the pieces.

In another pan, heat the remaining oil for about 2 minutes. The key to good fried tofu is to get little bubbles when the tofu is in contact with the oil. Don't overheat the oil; otherwise the tofu will get too browned and chewy. Just stick to the slightly jumping bubbles. Add the tofu one piece at a time, making sure the tofu pieces don't touch each other. Lower the heat to medium. Cook for 2 minutes; the tofu will start to pop and increase in volume. Flip each piece and cook about a minute longer. Pick up each tofu piece with wooden chopsticks with as little oil as possible and immediately dip the tofu into the orange-flavored sauce. The tofu will deflate instantly. Repeat until all the tofu pieces are ready. Finish with lime juice, cilantro and black pepper. Toss well.

Serve on a bed of shredded Chinese cabbage with fried, garlic-flavored steamed brown jasmine rice. Garnish with strips of orange rinds.

Eat with chopsticks!


I used tofu for this recipe but you can also substitute it with seitan for a crispy, chewier texture. I think seitan resemble meat a lot.

The preparation of the sunken tofu is pretty simple to execute. You just need to be very careful on the temperature of the canola oil when you fry the tofu so that it really triples in volume and deflates when it is dipped in the orange-flavored sauce and absorbs all its flavor.

To guarantee good absorption of the orange-flavored sauce by the fried tofu, make sure you don't add too much oil to the mixture.

I used Hometown brand firm tofu for this recipe. The texture is firmer than Thanh Son brand.

Soy sauce brings saltiness to the dish and a nice amber color. My favorite soy sauce is Da Bo De. It has a very nice flavor and is not too salty. You can find this particular sauce in downtown San Jose, at Dai Thanh Asian market on 420 S 2nd St, in San Jose. It's not the fanciest store, but it has all the fresh Vietnamese produce at a very reasonable price. This is one of the best "ethnic" grocery stores in the area.

Per David Lebovitz's advice, for a smoother more spreadable sauce, add a tablespoon of light corn syrup. I make the same application to my homemade caramel sauce and my marshmallow banana frosting.

You can add any other seasonal vegetable that you like such as broccoli, carrot or baby corn. I used water chestnuts for a crisp, crunchy contrast with the soft tofu. You can find fresh water chestnuts in most Asian stores.

If you want to add more crunch to the dish, add about 1/2 cup of cashew nuts at the end. I didn't because of one of my sister-in-laws' nut allergy.

I like the addition of ketchup and tomato paste; they brighten the color of the orange-flavored sauce. When I have time, I like to make my own ketchup. I'll post that recipe soon.

If you want to try this recipe with other fresh fruit juices such as plums, I recommend that you use a juicer.

For a non-vegetarian version, you can cook 1 pound of skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into strips, with this orange-flavored sauce. It's delicious.

To decorate with orange rind, just slice fine strips and curl them, using a chopstick.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on September 12, 2009.


[-] Beautiful Picture - Guest-Leslie
It just looks delicious. I'm not big on tofu, but I keep wanting to stick my hand in the monitor and grab a piece. I think I'll make this with some pan fried chicken.
[ Posted at 12:40 PM on 9/12/09 | Reply ]
Jackie, would you believe I just started liking Tofu a few months ago? I don't think I even made an attempt to try it before then! Your dish looks scrummy, I love a sweet and sour take on many proteins and veggies, so I must try tofu!

BTW, I have a little present for you over at my blog. You can grab it here..

Lisa Website Link
[ Posted at 1:11 PM on 9/12/09 | Reply ]
This recipe sounds great. And I love your tip that you can substitute other fruit for the traditional pineapple in sweet and sour sauce...

Andrea@WellnessNotes Website Link
[ Posted at 2:36 PM on 9/12/09 | Reply ]
[-] Happy treat ! - Guest-foodcreate
Awesome ! I love tofu your so delicious can't wait to try this recipes ...:)

Have a great weekend ~

foodcreate Website Link
[ Posted at 7:15 PM on 9/12/09 | Reply ]
Hi Jackie, I've been on break for awhile (life is so busy at the beginning of the school year), but here I was on foodgawker and clicked on this recipe, and of course, it's yours! I'm always attracted to your site. Looks great.

Ninette Website Link
[ Posted at 7:24 AM on 9/13/09 | Reply ]
I would really like to try this tonite - I have all of the ingredients, but I dont know what type of vinegar or how much you used as it is not in the ingredients list.
Let us know, PLEASE
[ Posted at 11:59 AM on 11/20/09 | Reply ]
Hi Julie,

I just added it to the ingredient list. It's 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar. You can add less depending on how sweet your oranges are.
[ Posted at 3:02 PM on 11/20/09 | Reply ]
I made it last night and it turned out delicious. I substituted corn starch for the tapioca and left out the more spicy ingredients. My kids (ages 5 and 9) loved it. Thank you so much!I intuited that it was rice vinegar, but only added 1 T. Next time I'll add the whole 3 - it WAS a little bland.
[ Posted at 12:46 PM on 11/21/09 | Reply ]

I'm so glad your family liked it. Are you children vegetarian?

[ Posted at 1:10 PM on 11/21/09 | Reply ]
[-] Unforunately did not like - Guest-Veronique
I tried this recipe and followed it exactly except I added some hot chili peppers. It was extremely vinegar-y tasting and the tapioca starch as it cooks makes it gooey or slimy(unlike cornstarch, maybe cornstarch might work better). Also the orange taste does not come through, maybe because the other ingredients are masking it. I think it needs a few tweaks but don't know what really.
[ Posted at 7:03 AM on 11/15/14 | Reply ]

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