I grew up in Canada, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the United States. For a number of years I worked with U.S. based companies and spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to cities like New York, Dallas and Atlanta. And of course, I’ve vacationed across America for almost my entire life.
What I always loved about traveling stateside was the exposure to restaurant chains we didn’t have up here (but always saw advertised on TV thanks to US cable feeds). It was a huge treat to go to places like IHOP, TGI Fridays, or Applebees, or my absolute favorite: P.F. Chang’s. A client based in Dallas introduced me to PF Chang’s many years ago and it became a tradition that whenever I came to town, we went there for dinner.
I don’t travel stateside as often as I’d like anymore, and I haven’t been inside a P.F. Chang’s in well over a decade, but I still have fond memories of many of their dishes. Particularly the ones I enjoyed in my pre-vegan days. So I’m embarking on a mission to recreate vegan versions of some of their classic dishes. I’ve started with a staple: Mongolian Beef.
Truthfully, this dish (like many on the menu), are all about the sauce. So I focused on nailing a sweet, sticky, soy glaze with just a trace of heat to tickle the taste buds, and then set about focusing on a protein. I wanted something that was easily available and familiar, and that didn’t require hours of prep. Truthfully, to imitate beef, seitan often works best, but I find that pan-fried seitan can have a soft, chewy texture, and I was going for something a little more dense. And seitan takes time to make. Tempeh and jackfruit didn’t make much sense either, based on their consistencies or their ability to stir fry well, so I chose old reliable: tofu.
I like cooking with extra firm tofu, as it has the least amount of water content in it, and it can stand up to almost any type of heat. What I didn’t want though, was the uniform look of tofu cubes. For this dish, I drained and pressed as much water as I could out of a block of tofu, then gently pulled it apart in random pieces and shapes. The ripped surface edges give the tofu a more realistic look, and crisp up better in a pan. Plus they allow for much more sauce to get in – which is key.
Once the tofu was torn, I pressed it again to get any additional water out, since I was going to dredge them in cornstarch before cooking to get that crispy exterior.
The traditional PF Chang’s version is simply flank steak and garlic green onions, but knowing how my kids feel about anything green, I added red peppers to my version, and used the green onion as a garnish.
The tricks to this dish are high heat and short cooking time. I don’t have a wok, so I used a deep non-stick skillet, which worked just as well. I served this dish with steamed rice, but truthfully it would be amazing with a vegan fried rice or even coconut rice too.
Copycat Vegan Mongolian Beef
2 teaspoons + 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
4 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup tamari or gluten free soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
¼ – ½ tsp sriracha
½ large white onion, diced
1 red or green pepper, chopped
1 350g block of extra firm tofu, ripped into small chunks
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 green onions chopped
- Heat 2 tsp oil in a small pan over medium low. Add ginger and garlic and stir just until warm and fragrant, 1 – 2 min. Add soy sauce, water and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Let boil 3-5 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Set aside.
- Add torn tofu pieces to a large Ziploc or resealable bag and add cornstarch. Shake to coat. Remove tofu from bag and set aside.
- Place 1 tablespoon of oil in a pan or wok and heat over medium high heat. Add white and green onions, and red or green pepper and cook until peppers are slightly soft and onion is translucent.
- Add remaining oil and tofu pieces. Do not overcrowd the pan – work in 2 batches if your pan isn’t very wide.
- Cook tofu, tossing frequently until all sides are browned. Add sauce to pan and cook on medium high heat until hot and bubbly – about 5 minutes.