Super Spicy Tofu And Peppers – Or, OK Fine, Mild If You Prefer – Recipe

Super Spicy Tofu and Peppers
Super Spicy Tofu and Peppers

After last week’s Tofu 101 post, I thought I should share with you an easy way to use your new-found bean curd knowledge. I used to order this dish at a rather non-descript Chinese restaurant on Seattle’s highway 99, and  they would make it so hot that I’d be practically hallucinating after a few bites. Equal measures of pleasure and agony!

Of course, you don’t have to make it so hot – in fact it can be completely mild. The jalapeno is treated like a vegetable, not just a flavoring, so all you have to do is adjust the ratio of jalapeno to red bell pepper. Do it with 100% bell pepper and you have a dish that is friendly to kids and the heat-averse.

You might consider adding some roasted peanuts for an additional layer of flavor and crunch, or a few pinches of ground Szechwan peppercorn if you enjoy its tongue-numbing tingle.

Like any stir-fry, you’ll want to be sure you have your sauce mixed and all of your tofu and vegetables cut before you start cooking, as once the tofu hits the pan, this dish comes together fast!

In step 5 of the recipe, you’ll see I say to cook the peppers until the colors brighten. For many vegetables, this is an excellent way to tell when they are at the crisp-tender point you are looking for in a stir-fry. It is easy to see if you look for it. (For the scientifically inclined, what is happening is that the air and water trapped between the translucent skin and the brightly colored flesh cooks out, allowing the flesh to shine through.)

Super Spicy Tofu and Peppers (with Mild Variation)
Vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and kosher
Serves 2 

  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup tamari (gluten-free if needed) or other soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 pound extra-firm tofu cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 4 jalapeno peppers
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 1″ lengths
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  1. Put the cornstarch in a small bowl.  Drizzle in the tamari while whisking until all lumps are gone. Whisk in the sugar, garlic and sesame oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning of the sauce.
  2. Lay the tofu out in a single layer on a clean, absorbent towel and pat dry. (See Tofu 101 for the finer points.)
  3. Preferably wearing disposable globes, cut the top off of each jalapeno pepper and cut in half lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to remove the seeds and ribs. Cut each half pepper crosswise. Remove the stem, seeds and rib from the bell pepper and cut into pieces about the same size as the quartered jalapeno.
  4. Heat the oil in a large cast iron skillet or wok over high heat. Pat the tofu dry one more time and fry in a single layer, tossing occasionaly until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove the tofu to a plate and leave the skillet on.
  5. Add the jalapeno, bell pepper and scallion and stir fry over high heat until the colors brighten, about 1 minute. Add the tofu back in, then add the sauce. Quickly stir and fry just long enough to reheat the tofu and cook the cornstarch, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and serve immediately.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, June 4th, 2012 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Vegan or Modifiable.

23 Responses to “Super Spicy Tofu And Peppers – Or, OK Fine, Mild If You Prefer – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    Hannah Greendale
    June 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Mike, you’re a tofu magician!

  2. Reply
    Hannah Greendale
    June 5, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    Mike, you’re a tofu magician!

  3. Reply
    June 6, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    Yum! I love tofu, and I love all things spicy. This looks great, thanks so much for the recipe!

  4. Reply
    June 11, 2012 at 1:48 am #

    I made this today and it came out great. I added broccoli and carrots and it turned out good. I will be cooking this again tomorrow but I’ll try to make it sweet and spicy. Can you share some thoughts about sweet and spicy tofu?

    • Reply
      June 12, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      So if you want sweet and spicy, which is very nice, I would just add sugar or more mirin (to taste) to this sauce. If you want more sauce volume, add additional water or clear vegetable broth and more cornstarch to thicken it. If you want sweet & sour & spicy, you’ll want to use more rice wine vinegar or black vinegar. These sauces are all very flexible, you just have to taste them as you build them, and then figure out how much cornstarch you need to find the right glossiness.

  5. Reply
    June 12, 2012 at 8:03 am #

    I love tofu and this is a spicy take you have here! I have a large tub of tofu all the time and reading your recipe now, I may have all the ingredients to make this. Must try this! Thanks for sharing, Michael! Just subscribed to your site & I look forward to so many more recipes. BTW, I’m enjoying your cookbook, too !!!! Thanks for all your hard work to bring us fresh, new ideas all the time!

    • Reply
      June 12, 2012 at 8:16 am #

      Thanks, Betty Ann! It was such a pleasure to meet you and your hubby at #EWR!

  6. Reply
    June 18, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    Tofu & spice, just what I was looking for.. awesome, thank you!

  7. Reply
    July 2, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    Hi Michael,
    Would it be possible to do this as a shish ka-bob form for the fourth of July? What I’m wondering is if the sauce will remain “powdery” from uncooked cornstarch, or if the grilling will thicken it in time?
    Thank you~ BTW, just found you and am a lifelong veg, as is my 4 year old. Great to see all the different ethnic cultures you cook from, it’s the only way to be a vegetarian:)

    • Reply
      July 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

      Hey Kelly – what you would want to do in a situation like that is make the sauce on the stovetop separately, just bringing it to a simmer to thicken the cornstarch. Then you can brush it on the shiskabob later w/o worrying if it will taste uncooked. You’ll probably want to at least double the amount of sauce. Totally agree with you about cooking from many cultures. I always say that American comfort food is just about the worst place to look when you want to create vegetarian meals.

  8. Reply
    July 2, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    OH!!! Of course, that’s perfect, thank you so much for the quick reply. Can’t wait to try more of your goodies!

  9. Reply
    July 23, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    That is such a good recipe. I keep trying to combine tofu with different things to get the right combination. Can’t wait to try this one!

  10. Reply
    July 31, 2012 at 4:09 am #

    This is excellent stuff. My version was a little surprising, because the Jalapenos I got turned out to be surprisingly mild, so my daughter and I kept expecting that bite with the blow-your-head-off heat and never got it. On the other hand, the mild version made it easy to taste and enjoy the rest of the ingredients, which make a very nice miix. I was skeptical about the “1 min” of cooking (esp for the scallions — mine were quite thick), but when this was combined with the cooking time for the sauce as well, the scallions ended up with none of that “raw onion” flavor, so the timing was good.

    • Reply
      July 31, 2012 at 10:20 am #

      Isn’t that odd, how some jalapenos can be mild as a bell pepper, and others can be halfway to habanero? I’m not sure if it is genetics or growing conditions, but you really do have to taste them and gauge how much to use.

  11. Reply
    September 23, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    Wow. Jalapeno in stif-fry never would have occurred to me. This dish was fierce! Absolutely loved it. I toasted some peanuts and threw them in, as suggested — which added some heft. The deep greens and ruby-red made this visually appealing, too.

    This was the first tofu dish I’ve ever made at home — the first of many!

    • Reply
      September 23, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

      Fierce, that’s what I like to hear!

  12. Reply
    Lucy Maddock
    December 10, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    I made this tonight for my husband and three children (17, 9, 8). I used 3 bell peppers and 3 jalapenos because I was afraid of making it too spicy for the littles. I needn’t have worried. In fact, with only 3 jalapenos it had hardly any heat at all. We are Chinese/Jewish/Irish. So next time, I will follow your recipe to the letter. Everyone had 2nds and everyone, even my dubious husband, loved the tofu. By the by, my pal John Hughes recommended your site. So far he has set me up with a husband and an awesome recipe website. What more could a girl ask for? Ordered your book yesterday. Many, many thanks!!!

    • Reply
      December 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      John is a pretty amazing guy! I’m delighted to hear that recipe was such a big hit, and apparently your kids have a pretty nice heat tolerance, which is awesome. Of coures jalapenos can vary a lot from batch to batch so be sure to taste a bit before committing.

  13. Reply
    August 1, 2013 at 1:52 am #

    Will be perfect for me this weekend. I looking forward to it, thanks Mike 🙂

  14. Reply
    October 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    Making this for my family for dinner tonight to prove to them that tofu isn’t gross.

    It smells great already! I added a bit of fresh ginger and it’s great!

    I’m excited to share this with them. And keeping this recipe for later! Thanks!!

  15. Reply
    February 11, 2014 at 5:00 am #


    Instead of Tofu, I have used Seitan which I cut into thin strips and marinated in oil, soy sauce, fresh ginger and sesame oil. I served this to my boyfriend and he almost didn’t realize it wasn’t made with Chicken. 🙂

  16. Reply
    October 5, 2014 at 3:46 am #

    You are sooo spot on with this delish recipe Michael! I discovered a few years ago how great tofu is with sweet bell peppers, and your tutorial on how to crisp up the tofu using a hot brine and
    then stir-frying has made the texture heavenly. Thanks so much for your wonderful recipes and advice.

    • Reply
      October 5, 2014 at 6:44 am #

      Thanks Nichole!

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