As much as I love Genera Tso's Chicken, I love this Cauliflower version even more. Here's what we've got going on here...
Golden, fried cauliflower that's light and extra crispy tossed in 3-step homemade sweet, sour, and spicy General Tso's Sauce. Serve the whole saucy mess over a bowl of Sriracha Rice just because you can.
Oh yeah. This recipe for General Tso's Cauliflower also happens to be both vegan and gluten free.
Crispy Cauliflower in Sweet, Sour, and Spicy General Tso's Sauce over Sriracha Rice
General Tso's Chicken is a popular American Chinese recipe that involves little pieces of fried chicken coated in a sweet, sour, and spicy sauce. I was curious about how it got its name so I did a little research and came across an NPR article explaining the origins.
Apparently, General Tso's Chicken is the most famous Hunanese dish in the world. This is kind of funny, because most people actually living in Hunan have never eaten it.
The dish is named for a real person - Tso Tsung-t'ang - a nineteenth-century general who is said to have enjoyed eating it. Good story, just not a true one.
The real story is that General Tso's Chicken was created by Peng Chang-kuei, a Hunanese chef who fled to Taiwan after WWII. He created the dish in the 1950's using traditional Hunanese flavors and characteristics - heavy, sour, hot and salty.
Peng moved to New York City in the 70's and opened a restaurant. Rather than stick to traditional Hunanese flavors, Peng adapted the dishes to American tastes. Translation: he added sugar.
Peng had a huge influence on American Chinese cuisine, creating much of what is served to this day in "traditional" Chinese American restaurants. In the 90's he took the recipe for General Tso's Chicken back to his hometown in Hunan and... the Hunanese people weren't crazy about it.
Still, a handful of Chinese chefs, traveling abroad and giving Chinese cooking lessons, added to their repertoire because even though the Hunanese people weren't crazy about General Tso's Chicken, the rest of the world loved it. This solidified it as a Hunanese dish even though the vast majority of people in Hunan have never heard of it.
I love General Tso's Chicken and love knowing the strange story of how it came to be.
But, I love this General Tso's Cauliflower recipe even more.
It's still fried and covered in sweet, sour, and spicy General Tso's Sauce. But, it's a bit lighter, super crispy, and served over a bed of sriracha rice.
It's as spicy as you like and more flavorful than cauliflower florets have the right to be. The recipe is entirely plant based, but will please carnivores as much as vegans. Trust me on this.
The Secret to Super Crispy General Tso's Cauliflower
The trick to super crispy cauliflower involves just two ingredients: egg whites and cornstarch.
I tried a LOT of variations of breaded fried cauliflower while working on this recipe. I first tried dipping the cauliflower in batter. I tested batter with various amounts of eggs, with equal amounts of flour and cornstarch, with more cornstarch than flour, and with more flour than cornstarch.
In all these experiments, the batter felt heavy, wasn't terribly crispy, and masked the flavor and texture of the cauliflower.
Next, I tried dipping the cauliflower in eggs, then in a mixture of flour and cornstarch. This was better, but still heavy and still not as crispy as I wanted.
Finally, I tried tossing the cauliflower in egg whites and dipping them in plain cornstarch. The result was tender cauliflower coated in a thin, super crispy shell that wasn't heavy and didn't cover up the flavor of the cauliflower.
The process couldn't be easier.
- Egg whites help the cornstarch stick to the cauliflower florets without weighing them down.
- Cornstarch gives the cauliflower a super crispy shell.
#1: Beat a few egg whites with some salt and pepper, then toss in the cauliflower to coat.
#2. Toss the egg white coated cauliflower in cornstarch...
#3. Fry until crispy and DELICIOUS.
Hey there Gluten Free Peeps... This recipe is gluten free
Incidentally, coating the cauliflower with cornstarch makes this recipe gluten free. The sauce calls for either soy sauce or Tamari. Opt for Tamari and the whole thing - crispy cauliflower and General Tso's sauce - is gluten free.
Even better, it's not gluten free because I was insistent on creating a gluten free version of General Tso's Cauliflower. It's gluten free because it tastes better that way.
Three basic steps to make the BEST General Tso's Sauce:
I am kind of addicted to this sauce. It's a delicious combination of sweet, sour, and spicy and so easy to make that I'm tempted to cover everything in it. Here's how to make it...
#1. Cook some scallions, ginger, and orange zest in a bit of oil to release their flavors.
#2. Add some chili garlic sauce - as much or as little as you like! - along with soy sauce or Tamari, sugar, rice vinegar, and vegetable broth or plain ol' water. Let it simmer for a few minutes until your kitchen smells positively dreamy.
#3. Stir some cornstarch into a bit of water or broth and and whisk it into the sauce until it's all thick and glossy and gorgeous.
How to make Sriracha Rice
So, you could serve General Tso's Cauliflower over plain white rice. But, why would you when you could serve it over Sriracha rice????
Just last night I was making BBQ pork for dinner, noticed a container of leftover Sriracha rice in the refrigerator, and thought... why not? I reheated the rice, scooped it into bowls and topped it with pork swimming in southern style BBQ sauce. It was DELICIOUS.
This leads me to the conclusion that Sriracha Rice has many, many other uses then as a base for General Tso's Cauliflower. But, it does go deliciously well with crispy cauliflower coated in General Tso's sauce.
Just like everything else in this recipe, making Sriracha Rice is super-duper simple:
#1. Cook some rice, preferably Jasmine rice. Pssst! This recipe uses less water to cook Jasmine rice than what is common. Trust me on this. Using less water will result in fluffy, tender rice that's not sticky and primed to absorb all the flavor from the sriracha vinaigrette.
#2. Add all the ingredients for Sriracha vinaigrette to a bowl - sriracha, rice vinegar, soy or Tamari, sesame oil, salt and pepper - and whisk.
#3. Pour the vinaigrette over the rice, toss it around with a fork to coat all the granules in the sauce, and you're done. Taste and add more sriracha if you like it hot.
For the Sriracha Rice:
- 1 ¼ cups (231g) jasmine rice (*See note)
- 1 ¼ + ⅓ cups (375ml) water
- ¼ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce or Tamari
- 1-2 tbsp sriracha sauce (to taste)
For the General Tso's Sauce:
- 1 tbsp chili garlic sauce (more to taste)
- ⅓ cup (79ml) soy sauce or Tamari
- ½ cup (100g) sugar
- 3 tbsp unseasoned rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- ½ cup (118ml) vegetable broth or water, divided
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil
- ⅓ cup (60g) thinly sliced scallions (white and light green parts only)
- 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 tbsp orange zest
For the Cauliflower:
- 4 heaping cups cauliflower florets (from a 1 ½ - 2 lb head of cauliflower)
- Vegetable or peanut oil for frying (enough to fill a large saucepan with about 2 inches of oil)
- 3 large egg whites
- Salt and pepper
- ¾ cup (90g) cornstarch
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
Make the Sriracha Rice:
- Add the rice and water to a saucepan and set over high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer gently until all the water has been absorbed by the rice and the rice is tender; about 15 minutes.
- While the rice cooks, make the sriracha vinagrette: add all the remaining sriracha rice ingredients to a bowl and whisk to combine. Start with 1 tbsp sriracha, taste, and add more if you want more heat.
- Pour the sriracha vinaigrette over the rice as soon as it’s finished cooking. Toss gently with a fork to distribute the sauce over the rice. Cover and set aside.
Make the General Tso's Sauce:
- Add 1 tbsp chili garlic sauce, soy sauce (or Tamari) , sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, and ¼ cup vegetable broth or water to a small bowl. Stir, and set near the stovetop.
- Stir the cornstarch into the remaining ¼ cup vegetable broth or water. Set near the stovetop.
- Add the peanut or vegetable oil, scallions, ginger, and orange zest to a skillet and set it over medium heat. Stir and cook until the oil starts to simmer, than cook for 1 minute longer.
- Add the chili garlic sauce mixture to the skillet. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves and the sauce smells very fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Pour the cornstarch mixture into the skillet, stiring with a whisk to incorporate. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from the heat. Taste and add more chili garlic sauce if you want it spicier. Set aside.
Make the Crispy Cauliflower:
- Fill a large saucepan with enough vegetable oil to come 2 inches up the side of the pan. Set it over high heat. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).
- While the oil heats, add the egg whites and ½ tsp salt and pepper to a medium size bowl and beat vigorously with a fork or small whisk. Add the cauliflower florets and toss around in the egg whites to coat.
- Add the cornstarch to another bowl. When the oil has reached 350 degrees F (176 degrees C), toss half of the cauliflower in the cornstarch to coat, then use metal tongs to add the florets to the hot oil.
- Cook the cauliflower until light golden brown and crispy, about 8 minutes. Lay the florets on paper towels and repeat with the remaining cauliflower.
- When all the cauliflower has been cooked, add it to the skillet with the General Tso's Sauce. Set the skillet over medium low heat. Stir the cauliflower in the sauce to coat. Cook just long enough to heat through.
- Serve General Tso's Cauliflower over bowls of rice, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
If you want this recipe to be gluten free, be sure to use Tamari instead of Soy Sauce.
Can you use another kind of rice instead of Jasmine Rice?
Absolutely. Feel free to use any kind of long grain rice in this dish, but you might need to increase the amount of water needed to cook the rice.
Over the years I've found that cooking Jasmine Rice in less water than is commonly called for results in fluffy grains of rice that are tender that don't stick together. If you choose another variety, like Basmati, use the amount of water recomended on the package.
For perfectly cooked cauliflower, use a deep fry thermometer.
The temperature of the oil is one of the most important factors when frying anything. If the oil temperature is too low, the cauliflower will absorb too much of it and end up greasy and soggy. If the temperature is too high, the outside of the cauliflower will burn before the inside has time to cook. The only way to ensure that the temperature of your oil is a perfect 350 degrees F (176 degrees C) is to use a deep fry thermometer.
Deep fry thermometers can be found in most home goods and kitchen stores, or ordered online (see the link below).
Mild to super spicy - the heat of this dish is up to you!
General Tso's sauce should be a bit spicy no matter what, but how spicy is 100% up to you. Start with 1 tbsp of chili garlic sauce and adjust up from there. Do the same thing with the rice - start with 1 tbsp of sriracha sauce and add more if you like it spicy.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 410Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 16gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1536mgCarbohydrates: 54gFiber: 4gSugar: 33gProtein: 9g