This vegan takeout inspired dish is tangy, spicy, and slightly sweet! A delicious, simple and gluten free weeknight meal that only requires 30 minutes of prep!
I’ll admit, being vegan does limit the amount of good takeout options you have. But good news is you can recreate all your favorites at home in a healthier, more delicious way!
Skip the excess oil and cholesterol and try this healthier spin on a classic favorite.
Why This Recipe Works
- Cauliflower makes for an excellent chicken substitute in vegan cooking! If you’re not convinced, check out this Cauliflower Buffalo Wings with Tahini Ranch recipe.
- The flax egg mixture helps get the cauliflower nice and crispy in the oven to hold that crunch when tossing in the sauce!
- The homemade vegan kung pao sauce is made with fresh ginger, chili flakes, and sriracha to give this dish a little heat!
What You’ll Need
The Base Ingredients
- Cauliflower – Our preferred substitution for chicken in this inspired version! If you don’t have cauliflower on hand, I’d recommend trying soy curls!
- Bell Pepper – You can use any vegetable you’d like here, but the bell peppers pair so nicely here.
- Cashews – Gives this dish the best crunch! So delicious when roasted and tossed in the sauce!
- Flax eggs and cornstarch – Our vegan egg substitute for coating the cauliflower before baking. Makes the florets so nice and crispy – don’t skip!
The best combination of sweet, savory and spicy! A few key notes:
- Fresh ginger – Gives this dish a perfect level of heat and freshness!
- Brown Sugar and Maple Syrup – I like to use a combination of both here as the maple syrup provides deep notes of a caramel-like flavor and the brown sugar provides a good molasses flavor.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Gives this sauce the perfect tang and a hint of sweetness! I don’t recommend substituting with traditional white vinegar.
- Sriracha and Chili Flakes – Bringing the heat here! I gave my recommendations for how much to use in the recipe card below, but feel free to adjust based on your own spice preferences.
Step By Step Instructions
First, we will prepare the cauliflower florets for baking!
- Add the cauliflower florets to a large bowl. You want them to be relatively the same size so they will cook and crisp up evenly!
- Add in the flax egg mixture.
- Toss florets in the flax egg mixture until evenly coated.
- Add in the cornstarch.
- Toss florets in the cornstarch mixture until evenly coated.
- Place florets on parchment lined baking sheet. I like to use two baking sheets to be sure the cauliflower florets have enough room. If you crowd them on the baking sheet, they won’t get as crispy!
Note: You may have some excess batter pooled at the bottom of your mixing bowl! This is fine and can be discarded!
As simple as that!
Next, while the florets bake, dry roast the cashews and diced bell pepper until nice and fragrant.
No oil is necessary here – the cashews and bell pepper won’t stick and the dry skillet helps give them excellent flavor and color!
Once the cashews and bell pepper have roasted, add in the sauce and simmer until thickened.
I like to add a tablespoon of additional corn starch here to help thicken the sauce, but this is not necessary! If you prefer a thinner sauce, you can leave it out completely.
Once the cauliflower has roasted, remove it from the oven and immediately add it to the sauce.
Toss to coat until well incorporated and serve immediately! This dish really is best served fresh!
FAQs and Expert Tips
Yes. You need sweetness to balance out the savory and spicy in a good kung pao sauce and I do not recommend trying to leave it out. This dish uses two sweetness – maple syrup and brown sugar. You can test using other sweeteners but I cannot confirm they will work successfully.
The perfect combination of sweet, savory and spicy! There’s really nothing like it! It’s also got a hint of sourness to it from the vinegar!
Yes! Although I prefer cashews, you can use peanuts here!
- Make sure to bake the cauliflower at a high heat and space the florets out between multiple baking sheets if needed. In order for the cauliflower to crisp up properly, it needs high heat and space! If the florets are crowded, they likely will steam and remain soft instead.
- Don’t use tinfoil! Baking the cauliflower florets on tin foil will result in sticking. Use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat only.
- Taste the sauce before adding it in to the skillet! Although I love this sauce as written, you may want to make slight adjustments to the spices or sweetness based on your personal preference. Taste it before adding to the skillet to simmer to make sure it’s just right!
More Vegan Takeout Inspired Recipes
- Spicy Creamy Instant Pot Ramen
- 30 Minute Crispy Peanut Tofu
- Sticky Vegan Orange Chicken
- 30 Minute Vegan Peanut Noodles
Vegan Kung Pao Cauliflower
- 8 cups cauliflower florets
- 1 bell pepper - chopped
- ½ cup cashews - raw and unsalted
Kung Pao Sauce
- ⅓ cup water
- ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce - I used tamari
- 2 tablespoons fresh ginger - freshly grated
- 4 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons sriracha
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
- 7 cloves garlic - minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt - to taste
- squeeze of lime juice - to taste
- white rice
- green onion
- sesame seeds
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Mix together the water, ground flaxseed, sesame oil, and garlic powder for the cauliflower batter and set aside for 10 minutes to thicken.
- In a large bowl, toss together the cauliflower florets and ground flaxseed batter mixture with a spatula until cauliflower is coated.
- Next, sprinkle the cornstarch over the cauliflower florets and toss again with a spatula until all florets are coated.
- One by one, remove each floret and place on the parchment lined baking sheets. Bake the florets for 25-30 minutes or until crisp.
- While the cauliflower bakes, whisk together all of the kung pao sauce ingredients and set aside.
- Once there is 10-12 minutes left until cauliflower is finished baking, begin simmering the sauce. Start by roasting the cashews in a dry skillet over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
- Next, add the chopped bell pepper and dry sauté for another 3-4 minutes.
- Then, add the kung pao sauce and allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. If desired, you can stir in 1 tablespoon of corn starch to help thicken the sauce (I usually do this).
- Once cauliflower is crispy, immediately add it to the skillet and toss to coat the cauliflower in the sauce. There should not be much sauce left pooling in the bottom of the skillet.
- Serve immediately over rice and top with sesame seeds and green onion, if desired.
- Storage: Best served immediately but can refrigerate for up to3 days. I have not tried freezing this recipe.
- I do not recommend using tin foil for this recipe as the cauliflower batter will stick.
- I've found that the sweetness and flavors between different brands of sriracha vary widely and can greatly change the flavor profile of this sauce. I use this sriracha if you'd like to use the same one!
General note about salt
Please pay attention to the type of salt called for in the recipe (if applicable). Not all salts are made equal and cannot be substituted 1 for 1. If you are substituting table salt for kosher salt, you will need to cut the amount called for in the recipe by at least half.
Disclaimer: The Nutritional Information provided for this recipe is only an estimate. The accuracy of the facts listed is not and cannot be guaranteed.
Update Notes: This post was originally published on April 29, 2020 and has been republished on March 2, 2021 to include step by step process shots, new photos, tips, FAQs and an improved recipe.