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Slow Cooker Kung Pao Cauliflower is ridiculously easy to make in your crock pot and the best alternative to Chinese takeout. My homemade Sichuan-style kung pao sauce is brimming with spicy, sweet, and salty flavors, slow-cooked with veggies for a satisfying meal that’s gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan.
Easy, Vegan Slow Cooker Kung Pao Cauliflower
Who’s ready to dig into some sticky, sweet and spicy, tongue-tingling Kung Pao cauliflower? Not only is this recipe so easy and SO tasty, it’s also gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan.
Yes, it’s totally possible to make Chinese stir fry in your slow cooker. And it’s AWESOME. Crock pot kung pao cauliflower is the best plant-based alternative to kung pao chicken. It’s packing all sorts of zesty Sichuan flavor, with very little effort. That’s my kind of dinner!
What Does Kung Pao Taste Like?
Kung pao is a spicy Chinese dish you may recognize from your local takeout menus. It usually comes stir-fried, with kung pao chicken being the most common variation made with cubed chicken, veggies, and classic, tongue-tingling kung pao sauce.
The Sichuan-style sauce has a strong, sweet, and complex flavor that comes from ingredients like soy sauce, honey, garlic, ginger, and chilies. It’s mouthwatering in a stir-fry and even more delicious when it’s slow-cooked!
What You’ll Need
Let’s have a quick run-through of the ingredients needed to make this spicy kung pao cauliflower. Make sure to check out the recipe card with the full amounts and details!
For the Kung Pao Sauce
- Tamari: Tamari is a gluten-free alternative to soy sauce. Another alternative is coconut aminos, or you can use soy sauce if you’re not making this recipe gluten-free.
- Agave Nectar or Honey: I use agave as a natural sweetener. If you’re not making a vegan kung pao cauliflower, you can sub in honey instead.
- Rice Wine Vinegar: Make sure to use the unseasoned kind. If you don’t have rice wine vinegar, white or red wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar will also work.
- Garlic and Ginger: Fresh garlic cloves are best, pressed through a garlic press so that they’re finely minced. You’ll also need freshly minced ginger for a nice kick.
- Korean Red Pepper Flakes: Also called gochugaru. These are sweet-spicy red chili flakes common in Korean and Asian cuisine. I highly recommend gochugaru as a first choice, though Sichuan pepper or crushed red pepper will also work to give the kung pao sauce some of its signature heat.
For the Cauliflower
- Cauliflower: You’ll need one decent-sized head of cauliflower, trimmed into florets. Look for cauliflower heads that are firm and pale, without any softness or dark spots.
- Veggies: I chop up zucchini, red bell pepper, and green onions to bulk up my kung pao cauliflower. You can use any other veggies you’d like!
- Dried Chili Peppers: I toss about 6 whole red dried chilies into the slow cooker with the rest of the kung pao ingredients to impart a nice, subtle kick to the sauce as it cooks. Feel free to use more or less, and different varieties depending on the level of heat you’re after.
- Cornstarch: My favorite gluten-free thickener.
- Peanuts: Finish off the kung pao with crushed peanuts or cashews for an irresistible crunch. You can skip these if you’re making the recipe nut-free.
How to Make Kung Pao Cauliflower in Your Slow Cooker
Don’t you just love a flavor-loaded meal that cooks itself? Here’s how to make easy Sichuan-style cauliflower in your crock pot or slow cooker:
- Make the Kung Pao Sauce: Begin by whisking together the ingredients for the kung pao sauce.
- Assemble in the Slow Cooker: Add the cauliflower to your slow cooker along with the chopped zucchini, bell pepper, and green onions. Toss in the dried chili peppers. Lastly, pour in the kung pao sauce.
- Cook: Cook the contents on low, covered, for 5 to 6 hours. If needed, you can speed things up and cook the kung pao cauliflower on high for 2 to 3 hours instead. When there are about 30 minutes left in the cooking time, make a slurry from cornstarch and water. Stir this into the slow cooker, then leave the kung pao to thicken and finish cooking.
- Serve: Spoon your kung pao cauliflower over rice, or noodles, or dig in as is! Whatever you do, don’t forget to sprinkle over those crunchy crushed cashews or peanuts. See below for easy ways to turn your kung pao cauliflower into a meal!
Make It a Meal
It’s easy to turn your slow cooker kung pao cauliflower into a full Asian-inspired vegetarian dinner! Serve your cauliflower over basic white rice or brown rice. Or add even more flavor with Cilantro Lime Rice or Spicy Sesame Noodles. If you need some extra protein, try Crispy Baked Tofu or hard boiled eggs. Feel free to finish it off with a drizzle of peanut sauce.
You can also serve it as a side dish. Just pair it with one of these easy dinner ideas:
Tips for Success
Here are some bonus tips for the best homemade kung pao:
- If you’re unsure as to how spicy you want your sauce, err on the side of caution. You can start with half the amount of added chilies (dried and flaked) and adjust as you go.
- For a more protein-rich version, make kung pao tofu using extra-firm tofu.
- Make a double batch. This kung pao cauliflower is easy to store and even freeze (more on this below), so I’ll often double the recipe to keep for quick and easy lunches throughout the week.
Is Kung Pao spicy?
Traditionally, kung pao sauce is a mix of sweet, spicy, salty, and sour flavors. You can really make your sauce as mild or as hot as you’d like by adjusting the amount of chili added to the recipe.
What’s the difference between Szechuan and Kung Pao?
It’s not so much a difference, rather kung pao is part of Szechuan cuisine. This style of cooking originates from the Sichuan Province of China.
What can I use in place of cauliflower?
If cauliflower isn’t your thing, other good options that are still gluten-free are tempeh, chickpeas, or potatoes, or make kung pao tofu instead.
Storing and Reheating Kung Pao Cauliflower
Store any leftover kung pao cauliflower refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat the cauliflower on the stovetop or in the microwave with a bit of water until warmed through, then serve!
Does Cauliflower Freeze Well?
Once cooked, you can definitely store your slow cooker kung pao cauliflower in the freezer! Cooked cauliflower will keep fresh when frozen for up to 2-3 months. Store it airtight in a freezer bag or freezer-safe container, and thaw the cauliflower in the fridge before reheating.
More Easy Slow-Cooker Recipes
For this recipe, I like to use my Hamilton Beach Slow Cooker. It’s nice and big, so all of the veggies fit, even before they begin to cook down. Make sure you have one to prepare all of these Asian-inspired crockpot recipes.
Slow Cooker Kung Pao Cauliflower
For the Kung Pao Sauce:
- ½ cup tamari or gluten free soy sauce
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup agave nectar or honey
- 3 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- ½ tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon Korean red pepper flakes
For the Cauliflower:
- 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 16 ounces) 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1” pieces
- 4 green onions, cut into 1" pieces
- 6 dried red chili peppers
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ cup peanuts or cashews, crushed
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients, set aside.
- Add the cauliflower florets, zucchini, bell pepper, green onions, and dried red chili peppers to the slow cooker.
- Pour in the sauce and stir to combine. Place the lid on the slow cooker and cook on low for 5-6 hours or on high for 2-3.
- With 30 minutes left, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of hot water and whisk into the sauce to thicken.
- To serve, top with crushed peanuts or cashews and serve immediately.