Gluten Free Chinese Restaurant Recipe: Vegetarian Sesame Tofu Recipe

When I first met DH, he told me that his favorite food in the world was Chinese food. He was especially fond of this particular Chinese buffet restaurant in his hometown, and would always take any opportunity to suggest it as an outing for his family. He was enamored with their cream cheese wontons, but what really made his heart beat faster was the traditional Chinese-American dish of sesame chicken. Well, then he met me, a little gluten-intolerant vegetarian that could pretty much only have tea and rice at this favorite restaurant. Needless to say, we didn’t end up going there very often. I felt bad getting between DH and his favorite food, so I resolved to learn how to make it. The first really successful recipes I made came from a cookbook called From the Earth: Chinese Vegetarian Cooking. I learned how to make scallion oil and szechuan peppercorn oil, how to make a sauce and thicken it, adding it to crispy wok vegetables at just the right time, and how to prepare those same vegetables before stir frying by blanching or steaming. It was fun exploring Dh’s favorite cuisine along with him- and at last, I understood why people love Chinese food so much. However, I hadn’t really focused on recreating his all time favorite dish, the sesame chicken, in vegetarian, gluten-free form, until the other evening when I saw the Gluten Free Mommy Natalie’s post about sesame chicken. I read the recipe and had to smile at her comment about the high level of sugar… “don’t faint; I am trying to mimic the take-out sesame chicken, so reduce if you feel you must.” I knew EXACTLY what she meant. I’ve done the same thing to replicate that bad for you thrill of Chinese restaurant cuisine- amping up the oil, salt, or sugar when generally I try to reduce all those things ’cause they’re BAD. But sometimes, all you want is an “authentically evil” restaurant dish. Here is my variation inspired by Natalie’s sesame chicken, done vegetarian and with some additional seasonings. And the DH’s reaction? He was completely thrilled, and said about five times “You can make this any time.” When I mentioned that I was thinking about substituting honey for the sugar next time, he protested, saying “No, no, this is perfect. THIS IS PERFECT.” (So firm, so commanding- too bad I’m still trying honey. haha) My enthusiastic DH gave it a 10/10, absolutely shocking me- I mean, I liked it, but that’s the highest rating he’s ever given. So if your family is hungering for this most traditional mainstay of Chinese-American cuisine, why not give my (or Natalie’s) recipe a try?

Like this recipe? Try
Orange Sauce Tofu
Hot and Sour Vegetarian Soup
Chinese Szechuan Brussel Sprouts
Zucchini Brown Fried Rice
Soy Free Chinese Fried Rice

Sesame Tofu Recipe- Vegetarian Sesame Chicken Recipe
2 14 oz. firm tofu packages
1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon of Braggs OR San-Js Wheat-Free Tamari Sauce
2 1/2 Tablespoons of rice vinegar plus 1 teaspoon
1 cup GF vegetable stock (I use bullion cubes)
1/2 cup sugar (I’d love to experiment with honey but haven’t yet. DH wants me to “keep it as it is, because it’s perfect!” Boys.)
1/4 cup cornstarch plus 1 tablespoon
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2 cup oil (peanut preferred, if allergies don’t forbid)
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoons ginger, minced
1 1/2 serrano chili, minced
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Cooked short grain rice

Slice tofu in thirds horizontally and place between towels to drain for 30 minutes. (Or, you can just pat it dry if you’re in a hurry) Cut into bite sized pieces- you may wish to try pieces half the size of those pictured.

Measure out sugar, 1/4 cup of the tamari sauce, 2 1/2 tbsp. vinegar, and 1 cup vegetable stock into a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine chicken pieces, remaining 1 Tablespoon of wheat free soy sauce, and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. Place your tofu pieces in the bowl in the marinade and marinate for 30 minutes or longer. Drain marinade from tofu and reserve. In another bowl, whisk egg whites and cornstarch together until you have a smooth batter and immerse tofu bites in this batter.

Heat oil to medium-high in your wok. Add tofu bites in batter to oil in batches- make sure your tofu has plenty of room or they will stick together. Turn and fry until both sides are golden brown. Remove tofu to a draining rack fitted with paper towels, or put them directly on a plate with paper towels. Discard most of your oil from the wok and strain out any leftover bits.

Reduce your heat and add your garlic, ginger, and serrano chilies. Let them sizzle and when the garlic is starting to brown, add your reserved marinade (tamari etc.) and cook it for about fifteen minutes.

If you have more than a couple tablespoons of oil left in the wok, discard the remaining oil( leave just a few tablespoons in the wok). Reduce the heat to med. Cook the garlic and pepper pods for about a minute. Then add soy sauce mixture. Increase heat to med-high and cook sauce for about 15 minutes. Then take a little water and whisk in two teaspoons of cornstarch. Slowly whisk into your soy sauce mixture in the pan, let thicken over medium heat, and add in your fried tofu and sesame seeds, combining thoroughly.

Enjoy with some tasty rice and a light vegetable salad or stir fry. Yum!

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5 Responses to “Gluten Free Chinese Restaurant Recipe: Vegetarian Sesame Tofu Recipe”

  1. I am glad you had such a fun time making (and eating) this! Nice vegetarian version!

  2. Valerie:
    I’m confused. It starts out with tofu, and ends with chicken. There’s no chicken, garlic or pepper pods in the ingredients list. Did I miss something? I love Chinese tofu, let me know how to finish this. Thanks

    Note from Sea:
    Oops- when I was approving comments and sorting spam, Valerie’s very useful comment was temporarily misplaced- I’m on a borrowed computer and can’t get into the system to fix it, but as she noticed, the latter part of the recipe had switched to Natalie’s bit about chicken. I was able to find her comment but not get it to post again, so I copied it for this post.

    Thank you for noticing and bringing it to my attention, V!!! What happened is that when I was typing out the recipe, I was following Natalie’s directions but changing it as I did… and I forgot to finish out the recipe. My apologies to anyone who was confused- I never make chicken in my house, I promise! Lol. I fixed the recipe and it should be complete now. Sorry! In early July, I was typing my little fingers to the bone trying to get posts set up for while I’m in Japan and it was tricky to keep track of all of them. :)

    Please enjoy this COMPLETE and VEGETARIAN recipe. :)

    -Sea (typing this in Hirosaki, japan- Tohoku region)

  3. [...] more Book of Yum Tofu Recipes! Vegetarian Sesame Tofu Recipe Ginger Tofu with Agave Peanut Sauce Recipe Peanut Tofu Recipe with Coconut [...]

  4. Thanks. When are you supposed to add the sugar?

  5. Kim, Good point. Sugar got left out of the recipe when it was first written, but I’ve fixed it. You add the sugar to the first sauce.


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