Even though Kung Pao Chicken originated in China’s Sichuan Province, it has become an iconic Chinese-American dish. The popular stir-fry typically includes chicken, vegetables and peanuts tossed in a dark, salty, sweet and spicy sauce, but in this vegan take, cauliflower steps in for the chicken.
Dark soy sauce is more caramel-flavored and less salty than regular soy sauce, and it adds color and richness to the dish. If you don’t have dark soy, substitute with regular soy sauce or hoisin sauce.
Make sure you have a lid for your skillet or wok on hand before you start cooking, as covering the cauliflower allows it to cook quicker and more evenly. And as with any stir-fry, always prep each ingredient ahead of cooking because you won’t have time in between.
Now, The Hubs inadvertently made more sauce than called for. He was using the “ounce” side of the small measuring cup instead of the “tablespoon” side. So he ended up doubling the soy sauces, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch. The vegetable stock remained at 1/4 cup. It ended up being a good mistake, as we tend to prefer our stir-fries on the saucier side anyway.
1 head cauliflower (about 2 lbs.), cut into small 2-inch-long florets
1 green or red bell pepper, core, seeds and membrane removed, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorns, lightly ground in a mortar and pestle, spice grinder or crushed with a rolling pin
8 whole dried chiles, such as er jing tiao or chiles de árbol
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 piece ginger, (1-inch) peeled and finely sliced
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
2 scallions, white and green parts, finely sliced
Steamed rice, to serve
In a small bowl, whisk together the dark soy sauce, soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar, vegetable stock or water, and cornstarch. Set aside.
Heat wok or large (12-inch) skillet on medium-high until very hot. Add 2 tablespoons of oil, the cauliflower florets and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and toss for 1 minute. Cover and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing the cauliflower every 1 1/2 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is crisp-tender and charred in some parts. Remove from the pan and set aside.
In the same wok or skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of neutral oil, along with the bell pepper. Toss for 1 minute, then add the Sichuan peppercorns and whole dried chiles, and stir for 1 minute until fragrant.
Add the garlic and ginger, and stir for 30 seconds, then add the cauliflower back to the pan. Stir the sauce in the bowl to make sure the cornstarch is well incorporated, then pour it over the cauliflower and toss until the cauliflower is well coated.
Toss in the peanuts and scallions, stir to combine, then turn off heat. Serve with rice.
Stir-frying is the name of the game when you want something quick and healthy. And making it yourself ensures you know exactly what’s in it, as compared to many Asian take-out places loaded with unwanted fat and calories. Cook’s Illustrated found that marinating pork tenderloin in a simple soy-sherry mixture and cooking it quickly (about two minutes) in batches over high heat kept the meat tender and beautifully seasoned. In place of the sherry, we substituted Shaoxing wine which is fermented from rice.
Because different vegetables cook at different rates, batch-cook the vegetables and add aromatics (like ginger and garlic) at the end so they are cooked long enough to develop their flavors but not long enough to burn. Chicken broth gives the sauce some backbone, and cornstarch slightly thickens it so that it lightly cloaks the meat and veggies.
We increased the amount of pork tenderloin from the original 12 ounces to one pound. And because of that, we doubled the soy sauce and sherry that gets mixed with the pork strips (which is all noted below). Keep in mind that pork tenderloin is easier to slice if it is partially frozen. *Freeze the tenderloin until firm but not frozen solid, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then cut the tenderloin crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Cut the slices into 1/4-inch strips.
Stir-frying isn’t rocket science, and that’s what’s so great about it. It doesn’t require lots of fancy equipment. Instructions indicate to cook in a skillet, however we feel most stir-fries benefit from being cooked in a flat-bottomed wok. It helps to have a stir-fry spatula which fits the contour of the wok and has a long handle (to keep distance from the intense heat).
Stir frying is advantageous over other methods of cooking as it requires very little oil, which is healthier than deep frying or pan frying, and it also retains the nutrients present in the food being stir fried. As the name indicates, the food is constantly stirred while you cook it. Make sure to use an oil with a high smoke point such as peanut, canola, safflower, soybean, etc.
Stir-Fried Pork, Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper with Gingery Oyster Sauce
2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated (about 2 tablespoons)
3 Tbsp. peanut oil or vegetable oil
12 oz. green beans, cut on bias into 2-inch lengths
1 large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces), cut into 3/4-inch squares
3 medium scallions, sliced thin on bias
Jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions (or brown rice if you prefer)
Combine pork, soy sauce, and 1 Tbsp. + 1 teaspoon sherry in small bowl. Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon sherry, chicken broth, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, white pepper, and cornstarch in measuring cup.
Combine garlic, ginger and 1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil in small bowl.
Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking; add half of pork to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up clumps, until well-browned, about 2 minutes.
Transfer pork to medium bowl. Repeat with additional 1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil and remaining pork.
Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to now-empty skillet; add green beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty brown and tender-crisp, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl with pork.
Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to skillet; add bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until spotty brown, about 2 minutes.
Clear center of skillet, then add garlic/ginger mixture to clearing; cook, mashing mixture with spoon, until fragrant, about 45 seconds, then stir mixture into peppers.
Add pork and green beans; toss to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and evenly distributed, about 30 seconds.
Transfer to serving platter; sprinkle with scallions and serve over hot jasmine rice.