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.
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!
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.