I swap cauliflower for chicken in a twist on this famed Sichuan dish.
This vegetable-based Sichuan entrée features crispy diced potatoes with tender florets of cauliflower, bell pepper, onion and celery with peanuts, chilies and mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns. Better yet, this Kung Pao cauliflower recipe comes together in under 30 minutes for an easy weeknight meal. The dish is traditionally prepared with chicken thighs though I opt to keep it vegetable-heavy and use cauliflower instead. The swap lends itself well to the salty and slightly spicy sauce and contrasting texture the potato and peanuts provide. Serve with rice or on it’s own.
Stir fry dishes move quickly (a blessing and a curse). For that reason, it’s important to have all your ingredients prepped ahead of time and set out in your mise en place so you can add the ingredients to the pan as needed. I recommend using a wok or a large cast iron pan so that it gets hot and cooks evenly.
What is Kung Pao?
Kung Pao chicken is a favorite on both American-Chinese and Chinese menus alike. The classic Sichuan dish typically features stir-fried marinated pieces of chicken thighs with peanuts in a tangy, slightly spicy, sticky sauce seasoned with a combination of chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. There are plenty of variations on this dish – some dredge the chicken in egg and cornstarch and flour, some use a more sugary, sticky sauce and others add additional vegetables. I take the liberty of swapping cauliflower for the standard chicken.
Key Ingredients in This Recipe
Fish sauce – I love the funky salty flavor fish sauce adds to any dish. It gets its savory, umami flavor from fermenting fish like anchovies over a few months.
Cauliflower – I recommend buying a whole head of cauliflower and cutting it into florets. It’s often cheaper than buying pre-cut bagged pieces. Because the cauliflower is stir-fried I recommend cutting it into smaller pieces so it can cook quickly.
Sichuan peppercorn – Sichuan (or Szechuan) peppercorns are common in Chinese cuisines and can be found in the spice section of most grocery stores. It’s a misnomer, they aren’t actually a part of the pepper or peppercorn family but are actually considered citrus. The aromatic spice numbs the mouth, creating a unique tingling feeling.
Tianjin chilies – These small, bright red peppers (also called Tien Tsin or Chinese red peppers) have a medium heat level, at 10,000-60,000 Scoville. If you cannot find Tianjin peppers at your grocery store or Asian market, I recommend substituting with chiles de arbol. They are another type of dried chilis with a similar spice range. Cooking these chilies in the stir fry adds a subtle heat that complements the other ingredients without overpowering them.
Bell pepper – Though they don’t have any heat, bell peppers add a sweet flavor, especially when sautéed. Red bell peppers are fully ripe, mature peppers. They can be substituted with another color of bell pepper in this recipe as the difference is subtle though I like the pop of color.
Peanuts – I use roasted, unsalted peanuts in this recipe. I prefer unsalted so that the salt can be adjusted to taste within the dish.
Instructions for Kung Pao Cauliflower
Step 1: Mix the sauce.
In a small bowl whisk together the soy sauce, chili paste, fish sauce, and sugar. Set aside until ready to use.
Step 2: Fry potatoes.
Heat a large cast iron pan or wok over medium heat, add oil and heat through.
Add the potatoes and fry until browned all over, about 6 minutes. Remove to a large bowl or baking sheet and set aside.
Step 3: Cook cauliflower.
Return the pan to medium heat, add the cauliflower and cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 6 minutes. Remove to the bowl with the potatoes and set aside.
Step 4: Cook vegetables.
Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the onion, bell pepper and celery, cooking until the onion is soft, about 4 minutes.
Step 5: Add aromatics.
Next, add the garlic, ginger, peppercorns and chiles, cooking until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
Step 6: Toss ingredients in the sauce.
Return the cauliflower and potatoes to the pan. Add the sauce and half the peanuts to the pan and toss to coat. Continue to cook until it reduces and forms a sticky glaze, about 3 minutes.
Step 7: Garnish and serve.
Remove from heat and serve the Kung Pao cauliflower immediately topped with the remaining peanuts, jalapeños and green onions.
Tips and Tricks for This Recipe
How to Make this Recipe Vegan
The addition of fish sauce keeps this recipe from being vegan. To make this recipe vegan, swap the fish sauce in the Kung Pao sauce with lime juice. It won’t be exactly the same since fish sauce has a distinct, funky flavor, but it will help add that sharper note.
How to Make this Recipe Gluten Free
The Kung Pao sauce is not gluten free because of the soy sauce. Simply swap the soy sauce with tamari or liquid aminos to make this recipe gluten free.
Halved cashews can be substituted for the peanuts in this recipe.
Feel free to add additional veggies to your stir fry like green beans.
Many recipes call for hoisin sauce, if you like a more bold, sticky sauce, feel free to add 2 teaspoons to the Kung Pao sauce.
I use canola or vegetable oil for this recipe though another neutral oil, or oil with a high smoke point like sesame oil, can be used instead.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this kung pao cauliflower recipe, I recommend checking out these: