This Sticky Orange Tofu (aka Vegan Orange Chicken) tastes as deliciously decadent as Chinese takeout, but it's more flavorful and far healthier since it's both oil-free and sweetened with oranges. Pair with brown rice and steamed broccoli for the perfect takeout-style comfort dish. Air fryer instructions included!
As much as I used to love the taste of Chinese takeout, it always made me feel a little yucky after I ate it. Plus I always found the sauces to be overwhelmingly salty, with little to balance them out. That said, before I went vegan, I had a soft spot for homemade orange chicken. But I followed a rather complicated and time-consuming recipe that made it kind of a pain to cook, and so I rarely made it.
When I went vegan I decided to try and make a veganized and simplified version of that recipe--and voilà! This Sticky Orange Tofu has exceeded my expectations! This sweet and sticky tofu so delicious and decadent, you'll feel like you're eating Chinese takeout but without all of the oil, sugar, msg, and who know what else!
Sweet and sticky, this Vegan Orange Tofu lives up to its name. Not only does it have a fantastic flavor, but this recipe is super easy and the cleanup is a snap. Goodbye complicated and time-consuming, hello simple and quick. As a person who loves flavor and texture, but hates overly complicated recipes, this Sticky Orange Tofu wins for me on all counts!
You'll love this Sticky Orange Tofu because it's:
- Flavorful and Fun
- Quick and Easy
- Healthy and Oil-Free
- Refined Sugar-Free
- A Snap to Clean Up
- Absolutely Decadent & Delicious!
Why Not Just Cube the Tofu?
I've tried a few different methods for making the tofu, including the classic cubed tofu (both baked and sautéed), but it never quite hit the mark. What I really wanted was to recreate a vegan version of the orange chicken I used to make--but without all the hassle. Thankfully I already have an amazingly delicious and versatile tofu nugget recipe that I was easily able to modify for this recipe!
Can I make this in the air fryer?
Yes! We recently tried this out, and it worked perfectly. Just follow the instructions for prepping the tofu as below. Instead of baking in the oven, cook the tofu in the air fryer for 12 to 15 minutes on 400F (200C). For more detailed instructions, check out this post for air fryer tofu.
In order to get a really great “chicken”-like texture, I recommend using a freezing/thawing method. To do this, simply freeze your tofu overnight (or keep frozen blocks of tofu in your freezer as a staple), and then on the morning you want to make this recipe, place the tofu in the refrigerator to defrost. (For at least six hours). Some people even refreeze the tofu and thaw it AGAIN.
You can skip the freezing/thawing method if you forget or don’t have time. The tofu will still taste great, but the texture will be slightly different. I've done it both ways, and I hardly noticed the difference for this recipe.
When it’s time to prepare the tofu, start by mixing the paste ingredients together. The paste should be thick enough to stick to the tofu but not so thick that it doesn’t coat evenly. (Slightly thinner than a pesto.) If you’ve never used nutritional yeast, be sure to check out my post: 6 Essential Vegan Pantry Staples. Find in the organic or health-food section of your local store or order Nutritional Yeast online.
Next, break the tofu blocks into bite-sized chunks. Try not to crumble the tofu but also don’t worry about making the chunks perfectly uniform. You’re going for a kind chunky shape that’s a bit rounded and has nice nooks and crannies for your paste to cling to.
Pop the tofu in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes (or until crispy) on 425°F or 220°C. While the tofu is baking, you can prep the sauce, rice, and vegetables.
How to make the sauce
Making this sauce is relatively simple. If you decide to use fresh orange juice (which I definitely recommend over store-bought, if possible) then start by squeezing the orange juice. You don't need any fancy equipment for this--I just use my hands--but you could use a citrus press if you have one.
Alternatively, for a whole-food sauce, peel 1.5 to 2 oranges, removing the seeds and as much pith as possible, and blend everything in a high-speed blender. It will look a tad frothy at first, but that will go away when you simmer the sauce. (For info about the health benefits of whole fruit over juice, check out this article by Consumer Reports.)
Add everything except the garlic, orange zest, and cornstarch to a skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
Once the sauce is going, use a Microplane to grate the orange zest and garlic directly into the sauce. Continue to simmer until the sauce begins to reduce. In a small bowl, add the cornstarch along with a few tablespoons of the warm sauce. Mix together to create a slurry before adding back to the sauce on the stove. This will keep the cornstarch from clumping in the sauce.
After you add the cornstarch slurry continue to stir with a wooden spoon until the sauce becomes thick and sticky. If you think your sauce isn't thickened up enough, you can try making a second slurry and adding a little at a time until your sauce reaches your desired consistency.
Finally, add the tofu chunks to the skillet and stir to combine, coating each piece with the sauce. Serve over rice with a side of steamed broccoli or whatever veggies you have on hand. Garnish with cilantro, spring onions, sesame seeds, and Sriracha.
How to store
You can store leftover orange tofu in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. I don't recommend freezing.
More recipes you'll love:
- Spicy Korean Tofu
- Asian Ginger Cashew Salad Dressing
- Southwestern Salad with Chili-Lime Tofu Nuggets
- Chick-fil-A Style Tofu Nuggets with “Honey” Mustard Dipping Sauce
- Vegan Palak Paneer with Tofu (Oil-Free!)
Sticky Orange Tofu (Baked or Air Fryer)
For the Tofu
For the Sticky Orange Sauce
- chopped cilantro
- chopped green onion
- sesame seeds
- Sriracha or red pepper flakes
Optional Freezing/Thawing for Tofu
- Place the tofu (still it's packaging) in the freezer and freeze overnight (or up to 6 months). On the morning you will prepare the tofu, place in the refrigerator to defrost. When the tofu is defrosted, drain the water and press for at least 15 minutes to remove excess water.
To Prepare the Tofu
- If not using super-firm tofu or if your brand of tofu has a lot of excess water, you can press the tofu by wrapping the blocks in a clean kitchen towel, placing on a plate, and stacking something heavy on top of it for 15 to 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F or 220°C. (For air fryer instructions, see notes.)
- In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients listed under "For the Tofu" except the tofu to make a paste. This paste should be thick enough to stick to the tofu but not so thick that it doesn’t coat evenly. (Slightly thinner than a pesto.)
- Using your thumb, break off nugget-sized chunks of tofu directly over the bowl with the paste. The chunks should be similar in size but don't need to be uniform in shape. Having lots of nooks and crannies will help the paste adhere to the tofu.
- Gently fold the tofu into the paste (careful not to break the chunks up or create crumbles) until all of the tofu is evenly coated.
- Use tongs or a slotted spoon to place on a lined cooking sheet (avoid getting excess liquid on the baking sheet, as this will cause the chunks to stick.)
- Place the baking sheet in the oven, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tofu is crispy and nicely browned.
- While the tofu is in the oven prepare the rice, steamed veggies, and sauce.
To Prepare the Sauce
- If using fresh orange juice (which I definitely recommend over store-bought, if possible), start by squeezing the orange juice. You can use a citrus press if you have one. I just cut the orange in half and use my hands to squeeze the juice into a measuring cup. Be sure to remove any seeds before adding to the skillet.
- Alternatively, if you want to use the whole fruit and keep the fiber intact, peel two oranges, remove the seeds, and blend in a high-speed blender until smooth. It might be a bit frothy, but the frothiness will diminish during the cooking process.
- Add the orange juice or blended oranges to a large skillet, along with ¼ cup water, agave syrup (or other sweetener), soy sauce, and vinegar. Place the skillet over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
- As the sauce is coming to a simmer, use a microplane (or cheese grater) to grate about 2 tbsp of orange zest and 3 cloves of garlic into the sauce.
- After the sauce begins to reduce, place the cornstarch into a small bowl. Add a few spoonfuls of the sauce to the cornstarch and stir to create a "slurry." Once the slurry is combined and smooth, add back to the sauce and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
- Continue to simmer and stir until the sauce is thickened. Add the baked tofu chunks to the sauce and genlty combine until each tofu chunk is coated.
- Serve immediately over rice with a side of veggies. Garnish with cilantro, green onions, sesame seeds, and Sriracha. Enjoy!
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Baking times for the tofu might vary slightly depending on how firm your tofu is.
- If using firm or medium-firm tofu, you will need to press the tofu to remove excess water. Wrap the tofu in a towel, set on a plate, and place something heavy on top. (A large pot filled with water, a cast-iron skillet, or a stack of heavy plates will work.)
- You can use whatever rice you like or have on hand. If using regular dried rice (that is, not parboiled or minute rice), be sure to rinse the rice in a fine-mesh strainer before cooking. While the rice is cooking, don't stir it. These two tips will help you cook rice that is light and fluffy.
- If you're following a WFPB diet, your best bet is to blend the oranges and use date syrup or date paste. Alternatively, you could add three dried pitted dates to the blender when you blend the orange juice.
- If you find ginger to be an overpowering flavor, start off with ½ tbsp of ginger and taste the sauce. If you want more ginger flavor, add another ½ tbsp.
- Want to use an Air Fryer? Just follow the instructions for prepping the tofu as above. Instead of baking in the oven, cook the tofu in the air fryer for 12 to 15 minutes on 400F (200C). For more detailed instructions, check out this post for air fryer tofu.