There are many theories as to why Jews flock to Chinese restaurants on Christmas Day.
Some say this affinity, which dates back to the early 19th century, started because Jews and Chinese immigrants shared the commonality of being outliers in a new land.
Others say it’s because these were the only establishments open on the holiday, as Chinese restaurants famously never shut their doors.
I think it’s because who wouldn’t want to celebrate with family and friends around a big round table laden with winter melon soup, steamed dumplings, roast duck, a heap of chow mein and the like?
Whatever the reason, Chinese food definitely deserves a place at the holiday table. “Kung Pao Cauliflower” makes it super easy to inject a little Asian spice, no matter what else you’re serving.
The recipe is from the new “The Staub Cookbook: Modern Recipes for Classic Cast Iron” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy. It was written with Nashville-based Amanda Frederickson, a former recipe developer for the Williams-Sonoma test kitchen.
Staub, which started in France, has specialized in ceramic and cast-iron cookware for nearly 50 years. In its first cookbook, the company offers pointers on using and caring for the heavy-duty cookware, as well as a bevy of recipes, including “Chocolate Babka Morning Buns,” “Sweet Potato Enchiladas with Roasted Tomatillo Sauce,” and “Pecan Butterscotch Bread Pudding.”
This zesty cauliflower dish has all the flavors of your favorite take-out dish of Kung Pao chicken but in vegetarian form.
When you cook the cauliflower in a hot cast-iron frying pan, the florets get a beautiful char, leaving their edges crisp.
When you remove the cauliflower and add the chiles to the pan, just exercise care, as the intense heat may make them sizzle and pop out of the pan. Use a splatter screen, if you have one.
Along with chiles, the cauliflower gets tossed with hoisin sauce, soy sauce, fresh ginger, green onions, garlic, roasted peanuts and cilantro. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and a whole lot addictive.
The recipe originally stated it serves 6 to 8. I think it’s more like 4 to 6. If that.
However you celebrate, make it a Kung Pao kind of holiday.
Kung Pao Cauliflower
(Makes 4 to 6 servings)
5 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons sugar
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 head cauliflower, stem removed and cut into small florets
2 dried red chiles or more to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
Fresh cilantro, for garnish
In a medium bowl, combine 3 tablespoons of the soy sauce with 2 tablespoons of the rice wine. Whisk in the cornstarch to dissolve and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine, the hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and sugar. Set aside.
In a large cast-iron fry pan or wok, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the cauliflower to the wok and cook until it begins to soften and brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the cauliflower to the bowl with the cornstarch mixture. Stir well to coat the cauliflower.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the pan, add the chiles, and fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove the chiles from the pan to a small bowl and set aside. Return the cauliflower to the pan, draining any excess marinade. Cook the cauliflower until it is browned and fork-tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, green onions, ginger, and peanuts and cook for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat, drizzle in the remaining soy sauce mixture, and toss well. Serve immediately, garnished with cilantro.
Adapted from “The Staub Cookbook”
More Cauliflower Recipes to Try: Cauliflower Salad with Eggs and Anchovies