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!
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