Photos by Lindsey Johnson
A fellow vegetarian friend introduced me to a fantastic breed of restaurant: vegetarian Chinese. If you live near a major city, there’s probably at least one nearby. Basically, you walk into what appears to be any old Chinese restaurant, and order from a menu that looks just like any ordinary Chinese restaurant menu. The twist is that dishes include no indication of whether or not they are suitable for vegetarians, because everything is vegetarian. It can be a little freaky at first, ordering something you’d never order at a conventional Chinese restaurant, but you get used to it pretty quickly.
One of those staples of American Chinese cuisine not normally suitable for vegetarians is General Tso’s Chicken. This simple dish consists of crunchy stir-fried broccoli alongside battered chicken, doused in a sweet-meets-salty soy-garlic-vinegar sauce. The vegetarian version I had at this restaurant, which is so good it made the friend who suggested it to me cry, is one I always suggest it for vegetarian-Chinese newbies–even omnivorous ones–and they love it every time. It features battered and deep-fried seitan in place of the chicken, and the whole thing is smothered in candy-sweet sauce.
Couldn’t be too tough to create something just as delicious as this veggie Chinese-restaurant favorite, I thought. (Fried + loaded with sugar usually results in some good-tasting food.) I wouldn’t go so far as to call this version healthy, but it’s definitely better for you than most restaurant versions. My General Tso’s Veggie Bowl uses pan-fried seitan and a sweet—but not over-the-top sweet—sauce. You won’t even miss the deep-frying or the extra sugar. This stuff is rich, scrumptious and will win over anyone you serve it to, vegetarian or not. Sorry in advance if it makes you cry.
This vegetarian take on General Tso's Chicken uses pan-fried seitan and crunchy broccoli, covered in a sweet (but not too sweet) sauce.
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons honey or agave
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 large broccoli crown, cut into florets
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 (8-ounce) packages seitan, cubed
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (or any neutral-flavored cooking oil)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- 15 dried red chili peppers
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Pour 1 inch of water into a large saucepan or wok and bring to a boil. Add the broccoli, cover, and steam until it's bright green and tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove the broccoli from the pan, drain and set aside.
- Place the cornstarch and seitan in a large plastic bag and toss well to coat.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the seitan cubes in a single layer. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown on the bottoms. Gently flip and cook another 3-5 minutes on the other side. Remove the seitan from the skillet and transfer to a plate.
- Add the garlic, ginger and chili peppers to the skillet. Sauté about 1 minute, until the garlic and ginger become fragrant and the chili peppers start to blacken.
- Add the sauce, seitan and broccoli to skillet. Flip a few times to coat seitan pieces. Cook for about a minute, just until the sauce thickens.
- Divide among bowls. Serve with rice and top with sesame seeds and scallions.
Believe it or not, this is a mild version of the dish. Increase the heat by doubling or even tripling the number of dried chilies, or adding a bit of Asian chili paste.