Kung Pao Veggies

Kung Pao Veggies
You can go to almost any Chinese restaurant and order Kung Pao Chicken, but I have never seen a vegetarian version on a restaurant menu. This means that if you stop eating meat, you can never eat Kung Pao again.

Okay, no, not really. You just have to make your own meatless version. That’s easy to do!

I started with a recipe from Epicurious and the first thing I did was take out the chicken. That goes without saying, right? I had planned on replacing the chicken with vegetables, but made a last minute decision to add tempeh when I was at the grocery store. If you’re not familiar with tempeh, I have a primer about it here. It has a slightly nutty flavor and it’s a great source of plant-based protein. It can be found in most grocery stores now, usually in the refrigerated case in the produce section; if you can’t find it near you, add 8 ounces of extra veggies instead.

Kung Pao Veggies
The last time I bought whole dried chili peppers, they sat in our pantry for years, so I decided to eliminate those from the recipe and use red pepper flakes instead, which most of us have on hand; I added a conservative amount of them to keep this recipe comfortably spicy, but feel free to add more red pepper flakes if you prefer more POW in your Kung Pao. I used mirin in place of the Chinese rice wine and omitted the sichuan pepper too. While this makes the recipe a little less authentic, it does make it more doable, which is important too. Sichuan peppercorns were banned in the United States for many years, so many restaurant versions of Kung Pao Chicken are made without it anyway.

Although I made some ingredient swaps, this vegetarian Kung Pao cooks up the same as the original recipe, with just a few extra minutes added to the cooking time to soften the veggies. Serve these Kung Pao Veggies over rice or quinoa and you will never miss carryout again!

Kung Pao Veggies

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Kung Pao Veggies

A meatless version of Kung Pao Chicken made with tempeh and vegetables. Adapted from Diane Kuan's Kung Pao Chicken from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook, via Epicurious.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce, divided
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
  • 1 (8-ounce) package tempeh, cubed
  • 1 small zucchini, cut into thick half moons
  • 1 small eggplant, cubed
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add more or less to adjust the heat level)
  • 3 green onions, white and green parts separated, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • Cooked rice or quinoa for serving

Instructions

  1. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of tamari, mirin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of corn starch in a small bowl. Put the tempeh, zucchini, eggplant, and bell pepper in a large, shallow baking dish and pour the sauce mixture over them. Toss to coat and let the veggies marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.
  2. While the veggies are marinating, whisk together the vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and remaining tamari and cornstarch in a small bowl. Set aside.
  3. Heat a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl to coat with grapeseed oil and add the red pepper flakes to the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly, until the oil is fragrant and the pepper flakes are beginning to darken. Add the tempeh and veggie mixture to the wok and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the eggplant and zucchini is tender.
  4. Add the white parts of the green onion, garlic, and ginger to the wok and cook for 30 seconds. Pour the sauce into the wok and stir to coat, then add the peanuts and cook for another minute. Remove from heat. Serve over rice or quinoa and garnish with the remaining green onions.
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Kiersten Frase

About Kiersten

Kiersten is the founder and editor of Oh My Veggies. She loves cooking, trashy reality shows, and Hello Kitty. Kiersten also blogs about blogging at kierstenfrase.com.   Read more from Kiersten →

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Comments

  1. says

    I make kung pao tofu that is real similar to this. Instead of just regular sesame oil, I use a combo of sesame & chili oil. And I always double my sauce.

  2. says

    If you’re ever in Philadelphia you have to out some of the Chinese vegetarian places in Chinatown. They have entire menus that look just like regular Chinese menus, but everything is vegetarian. You can get Kung Pao tofu, Kung Pao seitan…it’s amazing. Sadly, I don’t live in the city anymore, so that stuff is no longer easily accessible. So I’m glad you posted this recipe. It sounds great and love the addition of tempeh. I will definitely give this one a try :)

    • Kiersten Frase says

      We moved to a city that had one of those restaurants several years ago, so to celebrate our move, we ordered takeout from them the first night we were in our new apartment. Chris went to pick it up and as soon as he got it home, we realized it was ALL REAL MEAT. The restaurant had closed and a new Chinese restaurant opened up in the same spot, using the same phone number. Sigh. Someday… :)

  3. Carrie says

    This looks amazing! Was thinking though in order to avoid the corn starch what about using tapioca starch? I’ve found it makes a pretty good swap out. Can’t wait to try this! Even though I eat meat I’ve really enjoyed your recipes, and have found them very versatile when adding meat or changing them up to accomidate different taste buds. :)

    • Kiersten Frase says

      I haven’t cooked with tapioca starch myself, but if you’ve used it in place of corn starch in other recipes before, I’m sure it would work in this one too! :) And thanks for the kind words about Oh My Veggies!

  4. Pankti says

    I love Kung Pao …and I was lucky, near my old apartment there was a place that served Kung Pao Tofu. I fell in love with the dish as soon as I tried it first time. But haven’t been able to successfully replicate it at home (now that we dont live nearby that carryout place), because I simply cannot deep fry tofu as much as these carry out places do. My deep fried tofu always turns out chewy from inside, which is okay, not that bad, but still not as good as the Kung Pao Tofu I fell in love with.
    Anyway, I definitely wanna give it a try with tempeh and the vegetables although I have never tried tempeh, but heard a lot of good things about it.

    Your blog really is beautiful, and the recipes are very unique and creative. Plus the meal plans do help. :)

    Thanks,
    Pankti

    • Kiersten Frase says

      I’ve been able to successfully replicate the way Thai restaurants cook their tofu, but I can’t figure out how to get it like Chinese restaurants either. I can get it close, but not quite the same. I usually cook mine in a few tablespoons of oil rather than deep-frying because I’m certain I will burn down my kitchen if I attempt it. :)

  5. says

    Oh, I can just imagine how delectable this is! I appreciate you considering how to make the recipe more doable/accessible. One of the reasons I haven’t tried much Asian-inspired cooking is because of the specialty ingredients. But I love Kung Pao! Must make this soon :)

  6. says

    Love the rich colors. This dish must be very delicious.

    I don’t see a lot of grocery stores selling tempeh here in my location. I’ll just replace tempeh with tofu.

  7. says

    I made the mistake of buying a large bag of dried peppers at a Hispanic grocery store and then didn’t know what to do with them. I decided one day, (after them sitting in the cabinet for months) to chop them in my good grinder. DO NOT EVER DO THIS unless you are wearing a mask of some kind. A hankie over your nose and mouth, anything!!! I couldn’t hardly breathe for days!! The powder formed from the dried peppers like to have roasted my airway. So yes, now I only buy the flakes!! It’s kind of funny now, but not then.

  8. says

    So coincidental – just this week my lab went out for Chinese food and had a whole discussion about kung pao chicken! And it is sad that there is no veg counterpart. Until now. Love this!

  9. says

    This looks so wonderful! I had kung pal calamari the other day, so good! I love getting lots of vegetables in to fuel my hard training for my running, but sometimes they can get boring, this is a recipe I can make, that I know will be nutritious and delicious! Thank you!

  10. says

    This looks fantastic. There are all kinds of Chinese dishes that always seems to only come with meat and so making veggie versions at home is a great choice! Thank you for the recipe!

  11. says

    I tried making my own kung pao dish once following a recipe I had seen, but it was soo spicy that I couldn’t even eat it! This version sounds much more manageable, and I like the choice of veggies (I still prefer tofu for Asian style dishes though)!

    • Kiersten Frase says

      Yeah, that’s why I cut down on the heat! I love spicy food, but when the heat overpowers every other flavor, it’s way too much for me. I figured if people wanted it spicier, they could add more red pepper flakes. :) It’s easier to add more than to take it out!

  12. Beth says

    I made this tonight, subbed cauliflower for the eggplant cause that’s what I had in the fridge (can’t wait to try it with the eggplant), and we enjoyed it SO much. It is really great. If you’re thinking about trying this, do it, you will not be disappointed.

    It will remain on my rotation! Thanks so much.

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