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Kung Pao Cauliflower turns a takeout classic into a vegetarian feast. With a fusion of garlic, ginger, and Sichuan peppercorns, this dish combines the spice of Asian cuisine with the the subtle, smoky notes of roasted cauliflower. Perfect for weekday dinners or a laid-back weekend meal, this recipe brings restaurant-quality taste to your table without the hassle.

Kung Pao Cauliflower served in a white bowl.

In less than an hour, you’ll elevate basic pantry staples into a feast for the senses. Imagine cauliflower florets, perfectly roasted until tender, mingling with crunchy peanuts in a sticky sauce that offers just the right amount of fiery kick. It’s a dish that sets a new standard for what quick and delicious should be.

Ingredients You Need to Make Kung Pao Cauliflower

Kung Pao Cauliflower Ingredients on a white marble board.

For the Base and Stir Fry

  • Rice: Opt for jasmine or basmati for a fragrant touch.
  • Cauliflower: Choose a fresh head of cauliflower with tightly packed florets and no brown spots.
  • Peanut Oil: A good quality oil ensures better roasting and sautéing.
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper: For a fresher, more robust flavor.
  • Red Bell Pepper: Look for bright, firm peppers with smooth skin.
  • Green Onions: Fresh and crisp stalks are best.
  • Garlic: Choose bulbs that are shiny and plump.
  • Fresh Ginger: Choose a large knob that is firm with tight, smooth skin.

To Make the Sauce

  • Soy Sauce or Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce: Depending on your sodium preference.
  • Hot Chili Paste: Sambal oelek is a great choice for authentic spice.
  • Honey: Raw varieties offer a more complex sweetness.
  • Rice Vinegar: Unseasoned is best to control salt content.
  • Sichuan Peppercorns: Available in Asian markets or spice stores (also called Szechuan peppercorns).
  • Cornstarch: Essential for thickening the sauce.

For Garnish and Additional Flavor

  • Unsalted Peanuts: Ideally roasted peanuts for crunch and unsalted to avoid an overly salty dish.
  • Red Pepper Flakes: Optional, for added heat.

Recipe Tips

  • Cauliflower Preparation: Cut the cauliflower into even-sized florets for even roasting.
  • Sauce Consistency: For a thicker sauce, you can increase the amount of cornstarch slightly. Be sure to mix it with water first to prevent lumps.
  • Heat Level: Adjust the amount of hot chili paste and Sichuan peppercorns to suit your heat tolerance. You can always add more later, but it’s tough to tone down an overly spicy dish.
  • Serving Time: Try to time the rice and cauliflower so they finish cooking around the same time. This way, the flavors meld better and you can enjoy the dish at its best.
  • Garnishing: Don’t skimp on the garnish of peanuts and red pepper flakes. They provide both crunch and a final layer of flavor to the dish.
Kung Pao Cauliflower with rice served in a white bowl photographed from overhead.

Mistakes to Avoid

  • Overcrowding the Pan: When roasting the cauliflower, avoid crowding too many florets onto a single baking sheet. This prevents proper air circulation and the cauliflower will steam rather than roast.
  • Ignoring Sauce Texture: Be mindful when adding the cornstarch mixture to the sauce. Adding it too quickly can create lumps, and failing to simmer the sauce enough may leave it too thin.
  • Skipping Fresh Aromatics: Don’t substitute garlic powder for fresh garlic or ground ginger for fresh ginger. The authentic taste of this dish comes from the fresh aromatics.
  • Overcooking Vegetables: Keep an eye on the bell peppers and green onions when sautéing. They should soften but not become mushy, maintaining some texture in the final dish.
  • Uneven Heat Distribution: Don’t rush the step where you heat the oil in the skillet. Unevenly heated oil can lead to uneven cooking of your vegetables and aromatics.

Recipe Options

  • Replace peanut oil with sesame oil for a slightly different aromatic profile. Just remember that sesame oil has a stronger flavor.
  • For a nut-free version, use sunflower seeds instead of peanuts. The taste will be different, but you’ll still get that desired crunch.
  • If Sambal Oelek isn’t available, you can substitute it with Sriracha, although the flavor will be less complex.
  • If you’re not a fan of Sichuan peppercorns, use a pinch of regular black pepper and a dash of Chinese Five-Spice powder for a different but still interesting flavor.
  • Add tofu or tempeh to amp up the protein without meat.
  • Toss in a handful of snap peas or baby corn for extra crunch and color.

How to Store and Reheat

Store any leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Leftover rice should be stored separately in an airtight container and eaten within 1-2 days. To reheat, warm in a skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

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How to Make Kung Pao Cauliflower

Have cooked rice hot and ready to serve (recipe, including prep time is ~50 minutes). Toss cauliflower with 2 tablespoons peanut oil, place on on a parchment lined baking sheet; season with black pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes at 425°F in a preheated oven until edges are caramelized.

Whisk soy sauce, water, chili paste, honey, rice vinegar, and crushed Sichuan peppercorns in a bowl; set aside. Mix cornstarch with a teaspoon of water in a separate small bowl when the cauliflower has 10 minutes left to roast.

Heat 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet. Sauté bell pepper for 2 minutes, then add green onions, garlic, and ginger; cook until fragrant. Add the soy sauce mixture, bring to a boil, and stir in cornstarch mixture. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly.

Combine roasted cauliflower with skillet ingredients, heat through, and serve garnished with peanuts and optional red pepper flakes, along with the hot rice.

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Kung Pao Cauliflower

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Total: 50 minutes
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Asian
Calories: 482
Servings: 4 people
A vegetarian twist on a takeout favorite, the dish delivers a balanced mix of smoky, spicy, and sweet flavors, complemented by a satisfying crunch.

Ingredients  

  • 1 cup rice
  • 2 pounds cauliflower cut into bite size florets
  • 3 tablespoons peanut oil divided
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 red bell pepper seeds and membrane removed, diced
  • 6 green onions white and green parts, cut diagonally into 2-inch pieces, plus more, sliced for garnish (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili paste such as sambal oelek
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns (also called Szechuan peppercorns) coarsely ground in a spice grinder or well crushed with a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin
  • 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
  • red pepper flakes to taste

Instructions 

  • Cook rice according to package directions. (You'll want it to be cooked and hot at the same time that you're ready to serve the cauliflower.)
  • Preheat oven to 425 °F (218 °C).
  • Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy cleanup.
  • In a large bowl, toss cauliflower florets with 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil and spread in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; season with freshly ground black pepper. Roast 25-30 minutes, or until tender-crisp with caramelized edges.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together soy sauce, water, chili paste, honey, rice vinegar and crushed Sichuan peppercorns until well combined. Set aside.
  • When cauliflower has about 10 minutes left to roast, stir cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water together in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.
  • Heat remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper; cook and stir 2 minutes, or until starting to soften. Add green onions, garlic and ginger; cook and stir until garlic and ginger are fragrant and lightly toasted, about 2 minutes.
  • Add soy sauce mixture and stir; bring to a boil. Stir in cornstarch mixture. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring constantly until sauce has thickened slightly, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
  • When cauliflower is done, transfer to skillet with other vegetables; set over medium heat and toss to combine. When hot, transfer to serving platter or divide among 4 bowls. Sprinkle with peanuts and red pepper flakes (optional); serve with hot cooked rice.

Notes

  1. For a vegan version, skip the honey and use maple syrup, agave nectar or other sweetener instead.

Nutrition

Calories: 482kcal | Carbohydrates: 64g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 5g | Monounsaturated Fat: 10g | Sodium: 964mg | Potassium: 1049mg | Fiber: 8g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 1125IU | Vitamin C: 152mg | Calcium: 103mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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2 Comments

  1. David @ Spiced says:

    5 stars
    What a fun idea to sub cauliflower into this recipe! We eat a fair amount of cauliflower as it helps bulk up our plates without adding a ton of calories. I’ll have to try this recipe and make cauliflower the star of the show rather than a side dish!

    1. Marissa Stevens says:

      Can’t wait for you and your family to taste this, David!