Ditch The Chicken And Swap In Cauliflower For A Meat-Free Kung Pao Dish

Cauliflower is a satisfying alternative to poultry in many recipes like chicken parmigiana, nuggets — and more complex dishes like kung pao chicken. The traditional Chinese dish is typically made with chicken breasts or thighs mixed with peanuts, chili peppers, and green onions in a rich sauce. You might order it from your local takeout spot, but it's not incredibly difficult to make at home. Best of all, you can easily substitute the chicken with cauliflower when making it yourself.

If you've never cooked this delicious dish, refer to our original recipe for homemade kung pao chicken from Tasting Table recipe developer Ting Dalton. Our recipe uses bite-sized chicken thigh pieces, but you could successfully pull off the recipe by swapping in pieces of cauliflower. And in case you're wondering, cauliflower works so well as a vegan alternative because it has a tender meaty texture after it's cooked. It also has a rather bland flavor profile that can soak up infusions like the soy sauce and brown sugar in traditional kung pao sauce. Another perk: The underrated veggie also contains high amounts of fiber and nutrients such as vitamin C.

Tips for making kung pao cauliflower

When you're making kung pao cauliflower, you can marinate the veggie in the sauce, because it will soak up the flavor like meat such as chicken does. You can also save yourself time and keep the sauce separate, cook the cauliflower, then toss it in the sauce after it's cooked. Either way, you can experiment with different variations depending on your spice tolerance or what you already have in the kitchen.

If you appreciate a kick of heat in your food, add crushed chili flakes, a squirt of sriracha, or keep the seeds in the chilis for a more intense spice. Balsamic vinegar will add a mild sweetness to your kung pao sauce while hoisin sauce will add a tangy and meaty flavor profile. A couple of teaspoons of sugar will inject sweetness into the rich ingredients in the sauce or you can add some garlic or onion powder for effortless umami. 

And if you don't have peanuts on hand, or you have a peanut allergy, swap in cashews. Not a fan of cauliflower? Use tofu or chickpeas instead. You can also make kung pao vegetables with broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms, or green beans. For a complete meal, serve the meat-free kung pao dish over a bed of steamed rice.