General Tso's Cauliflower

Introduction: General Tso's Cauliflower

About: I love to spend time in the kitchen to relax and feed those I love with great eats and treats.

As inauthentic as General Tso's Chicken is, it's still one of my favorite Chinese takeout eats, though living in small town Ohio, I'm often served a greasy dish that doesn't make me feel very good after eating it. As I try to eat more of a plant-based diet, I often see cauliflower as a stand-in for chicken, Kung Pao Cauliflower, Buffalo Cauliflower, and recently, this General Tso's cauliflower. Looking through various recipes, I found this Food52 version, slightly adapted the recipe to use ingredients I had on hand, and got to cooking!

My family loves our meat and potato Midwestern eats, and I wasn't sure how this recipe would be received, but we all enjoyed it so much I've made it several times. Cauliflower makes a wonderful stand in for chicken, it's meaty, full of flavor, and can hold up to frying. While most takeout General Tso's batter can be heavy and thick, this batter is light, almost like tempura. The batter recipe comes from Serious Eats' J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, who learned vodka and cornstarch do a great job of keeping batter light, and crisp, in a fairly short amount of frying time. Garlic powder, ground ginger, sesame seeds, and crushed red pepper, added to the batter help build another layer of flavor, and the cauliflower is delicious on its own even without sauce. (As I discovered while "testing" cauliflower from each batch, you know, to make sure they were cooked through.)

The sauce, classic General Tso flavor, comes together and cooks quickly, and the spiciness can be adjusted to your preference. The ingredient list is fairly long, but a few ingredients are used in both the sauce and batter, and if you stir fry often, you'll probably have the ingredients on hand.

Most people associate vegan food with health food, and that's not always the case, sometimes fried food just hits the spot! General Tso's Cauliflower makes a fantastic snack, great gameday eats as a hot wing stand-in, and, if you serve it with rice, a filling meal. I hope you'll enjoy it soon!

Serves 4 to 6

Recipe slightly adapted from Food52 Sarah Jampel's General Tso's Cauliflower recipe

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Step 1: Gather Ingredients

For the sauce and the frying:

2 quarts vegetable or peanut oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 scallions, white and light green parts only, minced

1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger

5 small dried chiles (I didn't use these, instead I added an extra 1/4-1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, eliminate if you don't want a spicy sauce)

1/2 cup hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon mirin

1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce (I use Bragg's Liquid Aminos)

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (can adjust depending on how spicy you like your food)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups water, divided

For the cauliflower:

1/2 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup all ­purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Kosher salt

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon ground ginger

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (can adjust depending on how spicy you like your food)

1/2 cup cold water, plus more as needed

1/2 cup vodka, chilled

1 large head cauliflower, cut into 1­-inch florets

1 scallion, cut thinly on the bias, for serving

Additional sesame seeds, for serving

Cooked rice, optional, for serving

Step 2: Make Sauce

In a large wok, Dutch oven, or deep fryer, preheat the oil to 350° F.

Prepare the sauce: Mix hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, tamari, sugar, and crushed red pepper in a small bowl until combined. In a medium saucepan, set to medium heat, add sesame oil, garlic, scallions, ginger, and dried chiles, if using. Saute for a couple minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and garlic and ginger are very light brown, add hoisin mixture, raise heat to medium high, and let come to a slow boil.

In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/2 cup water. Mix it completely, then add the remaining water to the cornstarch (this prevents lumps). Pour cornstarch/water mixture into bubbling sauce mixture. Keep it bubbling on low, whisking often, it will thicken slightly. If the cauliflower aren't ready to fry and the sauce is thickened, turn off heat and cover, it's easier to rewarm a couple minutes, if necessary, than risk over-reducing the sauce.

Step 3: Prepare Cauliflower and Batter

Cut cauliflower into bite-sized florets, rinse, and drain well. As oil and water don't mix, I like to prep my cauliflower a couple hours ahead and let it air dry, if short on time, dry on a clean dish towel, or a couple layers of paper towels.

In a large bowl, combine cornstarch, flour, baking powder, 2 teaspoons Kosher salt, garlic powder,
ground ginger, sesame seeds, and crushed red pepper, and whisk until homogeneous.

Add water and vodka and whisk until a smooth batter is formed, adding up to 2 tablespoons additional water if batter is too thick. It should have the consistency of thin paint and fall off of the whisk in thin ribbons that instantly disappear as they hit the surface of the batter in the bowl.

Add a handful of cauliflower to batter.

Step 4: Fry Cauliflower and Serve

Working with one piece at a time, lift cauliflower and allow excess batter to drip off. Carefully lower into hot oil. Repeat with remaining cauliflower until there is a layer of cauliflower in the pan, do not crowd pan, and gently stir to keep the cauliflower pieces separate. (I use a 3-quart saucepan and it takes four or five batches to cook all the cauliflower.)

Fry, using a metal spider, or slotted spatula, to rotate and poke the pieces as they cook until evenly golden brown and crisp all over, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-­lined plate and keep warm while you batter and fry the remaining cauliflower. Your oil may need a minute or two to recover after each batch, adjust heat as necessary, and make sure it's not getting too hot.

Once you've got all your cauliflower fried, add to a large bowl, pour the simmering sauce all over the pieces, and toss them to coat them evenly. Add in sliced scallion and sesame seeds. Serve over rice, if desired. The sauce is so thick and flavorful, I usually don't mix the cauliflower into the sauce, rather drizzle the sauce over the cauliflower, and sprinkle with scallions and sesame seeds, serve however you wish. For a snack, or gameday eats, I'd probably serve the cauliflower with a dipping bowl of sauce on the side so you can eat it with your fingers, wild, I know.

Since I've never tossed the cauliflower directly into the sauce, I've been successful reheating leftover cauliflower in my toaster oven, and reheating the sauce in the microwave. If you think you'll have leftovers, I'd probably sauce only the portion you want to eat, and keep the leftover cauliflower dry. Keep the leftover cauliflower refrigerated, in a covered container, up to two days. I think the sauce will stay fresh at least a week in the refrigerator.

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