Cauliflower turns golden brown and tender as it soaks up a rich, sweet sauce in this classic Chinese take-out favorite- Kung Pao Cauliflower. Add as much spice as you’d like (or none at all).
In the weeks since I discovered (and fell in love with) Whole Roasted Cauliflower, cauliflower has made its way into all sorts of new dishes around here. There’s a reason the humble cauliflower seems to be having a moment. Using cauliflower in place of meat (like chicken, in the case of this Kung Pao) makes perfect sense. Cauliflower holds up well to any cooking method and soaks up even the most flavorful sauces – like the sweet, savory sauce in this recipe.
There are a couple of steps in this recipe that make it a bit more time-consuming than our other weeknight favorites, but don’t worry – it’s not a complicated dish. Here’s how it works.
Kung Pao Ingredients
- Cauliflower – Of course cauliflower. It’s the star here! Look for cauliflower florets that are similarly sized. This is a great place to use those pre-chopped bags of cauliflower florets. If using a whole head of cauliflower, slice or chop the stems and stalk and add them to the dish.
- Roasted Unsalted Peanuts – To give these extra flavor, they get added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking. It gives them an extra toasted flavor and great crunch!
- Hoisin Sauce – This thick, fragrant, sweet sauce is common in Chinese cooking and gives the Kung Pao sauce most of its flavor. It is widely available in the Asian section of most grocery stores and keeps for a long time in the fridge.
- Peanut Oil – This oil gives a dish like Kung Pao Cauliflower the authentic flavor of Chinese take-out. I mention a few other oils that work for high heat cooking in this post.
- Soy Sauce – We keep low-sodium soy sauce on-hand, and that’s what I used to test this recipe. Regular soy sauce is fine, though you should taste the sauce and consider adding some extra honey to give it that savory-sweet balance.
- Red Pepper Flakes – The amount listed for these spicy flakes will give the dish a moderate amount of spice. Increase it or leave it out entirely. The dish is great either way.
How to Make Kung Pao Cauliflower
- Steam cauliflower – To get the cauliflower started cooking, steam it in the microwave for just one minute. It will still be firm after this short time, but will better absorb the marinade and cook more evenly.
- Marinate cauliflower – Toss cauliflower with rice vinegar, soy sauce, cornstarch, and salt. The cornstarch will give the cauliflower just a bit of light coating that will help it to get extra golden and crisp when cooked. The other ingredients will help to build flavor.
- Make sauce – Whisk together the sauce ingredients. You can do this up to a week ahead of time and store the sauce in the fridge. It’s great on just about any type of stir-fry!
- Fry peanuts – Fill a wok over medium heat with a thin layer of oil. Fry peanuts for just a couple minutes until they start to turn golden brown. Set them aside.
- Fry cauliflower – Fry the cauliflower until golden brown. (It will pop and spit a bit when it hits the oil. I use this splatter screen to keep the oil splatter to a minimum.)
- Drain oil – Working carefully, drain of the hot oil, leaving the cauliflower in the pan.
- Add sauce and peanuts – Pour sauce over cauliflower and simmer for a couple minutes. Stir in peanuts and green onions.
- Serve the cauliflower over rice!
Don’t worry about the fairly large amount of oil listed in this recipe. A good layer of oil helps the cauliflower to cook more evenly, but most of the oil is discarded after the dish is made.
- Change out the cauliflower – Sub out the cauliflower for the classic chopped chicken or try cubed tofu (press out as much moisture as possible first). Chickpeas or broccoli would be great too!
- Add veggies – Want to increase the vegetables in this dish? Diced onions, peppers, or carrots would be great.
- Carbon Steel Wok – This is the wok I’ve had for years. It’s pretty inexpensive and has held up to heavy use. I cook everything in it (including Italian things like meaty red sauces!).
- OXO Good Grips 6-Inch Fine Mesh Strainer for Frying – This little tool is great for scooping vegetables and meat out of hot oil. I also use it to dust brownies with powdered sugar!
- Splatter Screen– I just got one of these and use it all the time with my wok or skillet. It’s great at keeping hot oil from splattering all over the stovetop.
- 12 oz Cauliflower Florets (see note)
- 1 Tbsp Rice Vinegar
- 1 Tbsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Cornstarch
- ½ tsp Salt
- ⅓ cup Peanut Oil
- ¼ cup Unsalted Peanuts
- 2 Tbsp chopped Green Onions / Scallions
- 2 tsp chopped Fresh Ginger
- 2 cloves Garlic, chopped
- ⅓ cup Water
- 2 Tbsp Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
- 2 Tbsp Hoisin sauce
- 1 Tbsp Honey
- 2 tsp Toasted Sesame Oil
- ½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
- Place cauliflower florets in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp paper towel and microwave for 1 minute. (This will get the florets started cooking, but they should still hold their shape.)
- Whisk together rice vinegar, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, cornstarch, and salt. Pour over cauliflower florets and toss to coat. Set aside.
- Make sauce by whisking together ginger, garlic, water, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, hoisin sauce, honey, toasted sesame oil, and red pepper flakes.
- Heat peanut oil in a wok or skillet over medium heat. Add peanuts and fry in oil until they start to turn golden, Use a slotted spoon to transfer peanuts to a paper-towel lined plate. (Leave the wok with oil over heat.)
- Use a spoon to toss cauliflower florets in cornstarch mixture once more to fully coat them.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer cauliflower to the hot oil. (Note: Test this with one small cauliflower floret. If the oil pops / spits, turn the heat down a bit and wait a minute to add the remaining cauliflower.)
- Gently fry the cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Drain off oil, leaving cauliflower in the wok.
- Pour sauce over cauliflower. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in peanuts and green onions.
- Serve over rice.
Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes to fit your spice preference.
This recipe was tested with low-sodium soy sauce. Regular soy sauce is fine, though you should taste the sauce and consider adding some extra honey to give it that savory-sweet balance.
For a gluten-free version, use Tamari instead of soy sauce and be sure to grab a gluten-free Hoisin sauce.
Molly made matching crowns at school for her and June. They actually fit them both perfectly!
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