Vegan Gong Bao Chicken (宫保素丁)

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Yields: 2 Servings Difficulty: Easy Prep Time: 10 Mins Cook Time: 20 Mins Total Time: 30 Mins

Vegan gong bao cauliflower not-chicken is one of my go-to rice bowl toppings. Sweet and savoury, backed with spicy heat, this dish is sticky and so moreish!

Now, I am pretty sure this is not authentic to the Chinese recipe, but when we have this dish in Singapore, there is always jicama. Jicama is a stout and juicy white root vegetable also known as the Mexican turnip. In Singapore, my mother calls it mang guang (芒光) which is the Teochew name for jicama. Here in the Philippines, it is called singkamas. Find out more about singkamas here.

So if it’s not authentic to have singkamas in the gong bao, then why are we doing it?! Because it tastes damn good! And the juicy crunchy vegetable adds a delightful dimension to the dish. You could say it’s the Singaporean upgrade. If you can’t get jicama where you are, then you can replace it with celery, but skip the blanching step.

This recipe is for cauliflower, but you can also do it with tofu just by pan-frying the tofu until golden on all sides. Check out the gallery images above ↑↑↑ to see the tofu version.

Gong bao is one of the Chinese dishes most adopted by the West. On the bad side, this is probably why it is often (somewhat annoyingly) spelled with Wade-Giles phonics as kung pao, but on the good side, it means we can do horrible things to the dish without being denounced. One of my favourite things to do with gong bao is to have it tossed with noodles. If you would like to do the same, just make an additional portion of the sauce for the noodles and you have vegan gong bao chicken noodles!

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Ingredients

0/16 Ingredients
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  • Sauce

Instructions

0/13 Instructions
  • Cut a small head of cauliflower into florets. Dice the jicama. Soak the dried chilli in warm water.
  • Mix 0.25 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 tbsp of tapioca starch and a little less than 0.5 cup of water, until the batter resembles a thin yoghurt. Throw the cauliflower bits in and mix to coat them all well.
  • Heat about 800ml or four fingers depth of oil in a large and deep sauce pan. Drip a small amount of batter into the oil, if the batter cooks and rises immediately, the oil is hot enough. Dip your cauliflowers in the batter and carefully drop them into the pan. When they are floating and not too brown, you can remove and drain them.
  • Boil about two fingers depth of water and boil the jicama for about ten minutes or until it's fully cooked. Remove and drain.
  • Finely dice all the aromatics, separating the spring onion whites and greens.
  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil over medium-low heat in a non-stick pan and add 3/4 of the chilli and Sichuan pepper. Slowly fry it until they darken and the oil turns red. Remove the chilli and Sichuan pepper carefully, leaving the oil. This is to avoid too many extraneous spices in the final dish.
  • Add the remaining 1/4 of the chilli and Sichuan pepper back into the oil and cook until darkened.
  • Add the ginger, garlic, and spring onion whites until fragrant.
  • Add the deep-fried cauliflower and jicama and toss to mix.
  • In a separate bowl, mix 2 tbsp sugar, 1.5 tbsp vinegar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 0.5 tbsp dark soy sauce, and 1 tbsp corn starch. If you use a dark sugar like muscovado, then use normal soy sauce instead of dark soy sauce, or the dish will be too brown. Depending on how sour your vinegar is, you might like to add or reduce the vinegar. I use Yongchun Ageing Vinegar, which is less sour than, say, an apple cider vinegar.
  • Add the sauce and mix well.
  • Add the peanuts and spring onion greens and toss to finish.
  • If you are making noodles, make another batch of the sauce for the noodles! Then just toss the noodles with the sauce over low heat so the sauce reduces.

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