We did it! We veganized honey walnut shrimp, that dish that is in Chinese restaurants coast-to-coast and made popular by Panda Express! And we can’t wait to tell you how we did it! There are a few steps to this (pressing and marinating the tofu, preparing the sauce, preparing the sugar syrup which takes the place of the honey) but we promise you that it’s easy, and well worth it!
We don’t about you, but we had always imagined that honey walnut shrimp was a concoction created to cater to western tastes; after all, U.S. restaurants are full of all sorts of supposedly ethnic foods that would never have actually seen the light of day in their purported countries of origin. But it turns out that, as best as anyone can tell, it originated in Hong Kong, and is a classic (for whatever definition of “classic” you want to use) Cantonese dish.
According to Melissa Hung, writing for restaurant technology company Resy.com, “Perhaps because of the seafood-mayo combination, there’s a misperception that honey walnut shrimp is an American Chinese invention. Rumor has it, though, that the dish originated in Hong Kong, then made its way to the United States in the 1980s and ’90s, perhaps as Hong Kong chefs moved stateside before the 1997 handover of the then-British colony to China. ” Hung goes on to say that Chef Lawrence Chu of Chef Chu’s believes that it came from Hong Kong. And if you do a web search for “is honey walnut shrimp really Chinese” you’ll see that lots of others do as well.
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Whether it is originally from Hong Kong, or really Cantonese, or a Chinese American construct, there is one thing that most of us can agree on: it’s delicious. And it’s very much not vegan. Nor gluten-free. First there’s the shrimp. (Ugh) Then there’s the honey. And of course there’s the breading.
This is why we are so excited to share this vegan, gluten-free version with you! So here is our recipe for veganized (and delicious!) honey walnut shrimp.
But first we do have to give credit where credit is due; we were inspired to make this when we came across this honey walnut shrimp recipe from Made with Lau. In the preface to the recipe, Chef Randy Lau, whose family has been in the restaurant business for many years, explains that many Chinese restaurants don’t use honey at all in their honey walnut shrimp, because it is cost prohibitive. Instead they make huge batches of sugar syrup to use in the dish, in lieu of the honey.
LIGHTBULB!💡 Thank you, Chef Lau, for the inspiration! With an approved substitute for the honey, our recipe took shape.
Gluten-Free Vegan Honey Walnut Shrimp (Tofu)
3 Tablespoons vegan sugar
2 Tablespoons water
4 Tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons sweetened condensed coconut milk
1-2 Teaspoons lemon juice (if you use two full teaspoons it gives it a lemony flavor)
1/4 cup liquid aminos (regular or coconut – coconut aminos yield a sweeter finished product)
1 package firm fresh tofu (the kind from the refrigerated section), pressed, cubed, and marinated in the liquid aminos.
3 Tablespoons cornstarch (we only use non-GMO cornstarch)
1/2 cup walnuts
Oil for frying (either coconut or a light, neutral oil)
NOTE: You can do almost everything ahead of time if you want to, although you don’t have to. The only thing you can’t do ahead of time is toss the marinated tofu with the cornstarch, and cook the tofu.
Combine the sugar and water in a small heavy pan. Bring just to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, and then turn down to simmer, and continue to simmer until the syrup has the consistency of thin honey; let cool (it will thicken as it cools).
Or you can do it in the microwave by putting the sugar and water in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwaving for 2 minutes, stopping to stir it every 30 seconds
Heat oil in a pan until hot (but not too hot), add the walnuts, and stir them continually for a few minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oil (but leave the oil heating on the stove) and drain the walnuts on a towel or paper towel. Put the walnuts in a bowl with the sugar syrup and toss them until coated. Return to the hot oil and fry for 1 to 2 more minutes. Remove from the oil and drain.
Combine the sauce ingredients (vegan mayonnaise, sweetened condensed coconut milk, and lemon juice) and whisk until smooth and creamy.
Press your tofu, and then cube it and marinate it in the liquid aminos. We like to do this in a 1-pint Ziploc-type bag because that way you don’t need very much marinade, as it will distribute all around the tofu cubes; plus you can easily flip the bag while your tofu is marinating to make sure that the marinade gets into all of the nooks and crannies.
The longer you can let your tofu marinate the better, but there is no hard and fast time rule.
When you are ready to cook the dish, open the Ziploc bag, dump in the cornstarch, and zip it back up again and gently massage the cornstarch all over the tofu, so that the tofu is evenly coated. (You can also do this in a bowl, gently tossing the tofu in the cornstarch with your fingers, whatever works best for you.)
NOTE: You can also use a mixture of half cornstarch and half gluten-free panko.
At this point all that’s left to do is to cook your tofu and assemble the dish!
Heat more oil in a clean pan (the oil you fried the walnuts in will be full of food flotsam and jetsam) and gently place the tofu cubes into the pan. When the bottom of the cubes is golden brown, flip the cubes and continue frying until done.
Assemble by plating the tofu (we put it on brown rice), then adding the walnuts, then topping it with the sauce.
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