Recipe: Kung Pao Cauliflower

updated May 1, 2019
Kung Pao Cauliflower
Kung pao with cauliflower instead of chicken in this easy, spicy, weeknight vegetarian stir-fry.


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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

A staple of Chinese Sichuan cooking, kung pao chicken is a spicy stir-fry of diced chicken, vegetables, peanuts, and chiles. It’s a delicious, satisfying dish to serve over rice. To make this weeknight- and vegetarian-friendly, we’ve swapped in a whole head of cauliflower for the chicken and employed a few easy-to-find condiments to form the sauce. The result is crisp-tender cauliflower, sweet bell peppers, and crunchy peanuts all tossed in a garlicky sauce. No need to order takeout anymore when the kung pao craving strikes!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Steam & Stir-Fry Method

To get tasty browned edges on the cauliflower but also make sure it cooks through, this recipe uses a two-step method. Start with browning the cauliflower in a hot pan or wok, then add some water, cover, and steam until crisp-tender. It’s an easy way to get flavor and some good texture from the cauliflower.

You also cook onion, sweet bell peppers, and ginger together before returning the cauliflower to the pan and adding the stir-fry sauce. This flavorful sauce is made from easy-to-find Asian condiments: tamari or soy sauce, vinegar, chile-garlic paste, and toasted sesame oil. It’s thickened with cornstarch and cooks up to be glossy and beautiful, coating the vegetables with garlicky, spicy flavor. A handful of crunchy peanuts and fresh scallions rounds out the stir-fry, and kung pao for dinner is served.

Kung Pao Cauliflower

Kung pao with cauliflower instead of chicken in this easy, spicy, weeknight vegetarian stir-fry.

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup


  • 3 tablespoons

    tamari or soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    Chinese black vinegar or distilled white vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    sambal oelek or Asian chile-garlic paste

  • 1 teaspoon


  • 1 teaspoon

    Asian sesame oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

For the stir-fry:

  • 2 tablespoons

    vegetable oil, divided

  • 1

    medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cut into 1-inch florets

  • Kosher salt

  • 1/4 cup


  • 2

    medium bell peppers, cut into thin strips

  • 1/2

    medium yellow onion, thinly sliced

  • 2 teaspoons

    minced peeled fresh ginger

  • 1/2 cup

    roasted peanuts

  • 2

    medium scallions, thinly sliced

  • Steamed rice, for serving (optional)


Make the sauce:

  1. Place all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved; set aside.

Make the stir-fry:

  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the cauliflower, season with salt, and spread into an even layer. Cook undisturbed for 1 minute. Stir, spread out the cauliflower again, and cook until starting to brown around the edges, about 1 minute. Add the water, cover, and cook, stirring every minute or so, until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower to a large plate.

  2. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the pan until shimmering. Add the bell peppers, onion, and ginger, season with salt, and stir-fry until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes.

  3. Return the cauliflower to the pan. Whisk the reserved sauce to recombine and add to the pan. Cook, tossing constantly, until the sauce thickens and coats the vegetables, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the peanuts and scallions and serve.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.