China-based foodie and restaurateur Lindsey Fine (aka Veggie Mama) has been creating all sorts of delicious vegan recipes since moving to China nine years ago. You can read all about the perks of eating a plant-based diet via her blog Veggie Mama and sample recipes on this series, Cooking with Veggie Mama. In this edition, Lindsey shares her recipe for Quick and Healthy Vegan Asian Orange 'Chicken.'
For Americans, orange chicken is synonymous with the fast food chain Panda Express. Like so many of my friends, memories of my high school and college days are filled with going to the mall food court and filling up on those sweet and savory bites.
Many Americans don't realize that orange chicken actually originated in Hunan (those folks know how to cook, check out my Spicy Hunan Tofu Skins for more proof), which is known for its bounty of locally grown produce and their affinity for fusing spicy with sweet. The addition of sweet ingredients to this dish makes for a flavor explosion in your mouth, which is why people have come to love it so much.
This vegan recipe substitutes chicken with tofu!
The original dish was typically made with dried orange or tangerine skins, which are easily found at Chinese medicine shops. But in the West, these shops aren’t common, so the recipe morphed to include orange juice and fresh orange peel in addition to sugar. Because that just wasn't enough to satisfy the discerning American palate, cooks began to deep fry the chicken before coating it in the sticky sweet sauce.
My husband was one of these people who used to love Panda Express's orange chicken before turning veg. So I’ve had to make many versions of this dish to find the one that passed his test. To keep it healthy, I wanted to make sure it wasn't deep fried but still had a great texture. Luckily small, super firm tofu squares – which can be found in local Chinese supermarkets and wet markets – are perfect for this recipe. If you don't have this option, you can use pressed extra firm tofu or even seitan or tempeh.
Quick and Healthy Asian Orange 'Chicken'
450g super firm tofu squares, or other protein you are using cut into medium chunks
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp corn starch
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground white pepper
1 red bell pepper, cut into medium chunks
2 dried red chili peppers, sliced thin (add more if you like it spicy)
2 star anise
1/4 freshly juiced orange
Zest of one orange
1/4 C water mixed with 1/4 vegetable bouillon cube or 1/4 vegetable stock
2 tbs rice wine vinegar
1 tbs soy sauce (I used dark soy sauce, but you can use light soy sauce as well)
2 tbs coconut sugar or white sugar or 1 tbs maple syrup
2 scallions, sliced into large pieces
1 tbs corn starch mixed with 2 tbs water
Additional scallions and sesame seeds for garnish, if desired
1. In a medium bowl, combine tofu, corn starch, garlic powder, salt and white pepper. Mix well, evenly coating each piece of tofu. Set aside.
2. In another medium bowl, add in the orange juice, orange zest, water and bouillon, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce and sugar. In a small bowl, mix together corn starch and water. Set bowls aside, close to the wok.
3. Heat a bit of cooking oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When the wok is heated, add tofu and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the pieces begin to brown slightly at the edges. Add red pepper, stir occasionally and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes, until peppers are a bit tender but not overcooked. Add to an empty bowl and set aside. Return the wok to heat.
2. To start the sauce, heat a bit of cooking oil in the wok. Add the dried chili peppers and star anise, heat for about 20 seconds until slightly fragrant.
3. Add in the sauce mixture and heat to a boil. Slowly add the corn starch mixture and stir for an additional minute or so until mixture thickens. Add the tofu and peppers back into the wok and stir, coating everything evenly. Remove from heat and stir in scallions. Serve immediately and watch everyone devour these juicy morsels of goodness!
Feel free to serve with a side of sauteed veggies and steamed rice.
Read more Cooking with Veggie Mama
[Images courtesy of Veggie Mama/Lindsey Fine]