Last summer I started teaching a Vegan Chinese Cooking class at Brooklyn Brainery.
Ever since I began working on Red Hot Kitchen in 2017, I had eating mostly plant-based food outside of the classes I teach (for both health and ethical reasons). At the same time, I was receiving more emails from people around New York asking for vegetarian and vegan Chinese cooking classes. We worked out a date, I sent in a description, and a class was born. What started as just a one-off class last July has become so popular that we now offer it almost every month.
While China is known for being a meat-eating country, it wasn’t until the last generation that it was common to have meat everyday. Traditionally, meat was a scarce, expensive resource. Many families would eat meat infrequently, and even then, meat was used primarily as a flavoring, mostly cut into small pieces and mixed with vegetables and tofu or cooked down in a soup. (In recent decades, there has been a huge spike in meat consumption because of a growing economy, but nowadays in a wealthier China there is simultaneously a growing interest in vegetarianism.)
Because there’s very little dairy in Chinese cooking, it’s super easy to turn many dishes vegan. All you need is a little know-how on how to get umami flavors into plant-based dishes. (See my versions for Vegan Mapo Tofu, Vegetarian Dan Dan Noodles, Kung Pao Sweet Potatoes, Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts, and Kung Pao Tofu.)
One of the dishes we make in the Vegan Chinese class is General Tso’s Cauliflower and Tofu. This is a take on my version of General Tso’s Chicken (still the most popular recipe on this site!) But it’s far easier, and far healthier, since it requires roasting rather than deep-frying.
Two important things to remember:
Use baked or smoked tofu, NOT pressed tofu. Baked and smoked tofu has a much better texture than pressed tofu, which falls apart too easily. Wildwood Foods and Soyboy are both brands I buy regularly, but you can also check out what’s available at your local supermarket or Chinese market.
Roast your cauliflower until golden or golden brown. Some ovens require a longer amount of time to do this than 20 to 25 minutes. If you don’t have a reliable oven thermometer, just keep checking and occasionally turning the cauliflower florets with a big metal spoon or spatula.
Try out this recipe and let me know what you think!
General Tso’s Cauliflower and Tofu
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a multi-course meal
1 head cauliflower (about 2 ½ lbs)
¼ cup grapeseed oil (or another high-heat cooking oil), plus 1 tablespoon
3 tablespoons tomato paste (or substitute ketchup for a slightly sweeter sauce)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 to 3 tablespoons chili sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sugar
8 ounces baked or smoked tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces
8 dried whole red chilis, or substitute 1/4 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger,
1 scallion, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Cut the cauliflower into florets. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with ¼ cup of the oil and spread the florets on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle the salt on top. Roast for about 25 minutes, until golden on top.
Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the tomato paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, and sugar.
In a large skillet or wok, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the dried chilis, garlic, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 30 or 40 seconds. Pour in the sauce and stir until thickened, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the cauliflower and tofu and carefully toss to coat with the sauce. Transfer everything to a large serving dish. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and scallions greens on top and serve with rice on the side.