I've been making this vegan Kung Pao Chicken on repeat, ever since I discovered how easy and flavourful it is to make! The combination of chilli, juicy pieces of chicken made from soy curls, peanuts and that glorious marinade is utterly addictive!
Apart from a bit of mixing and chopping, this recipe is SO quick to make, making it perfect for mid-week meals.
The inspiration for this vegan and vegetarian version of this classic dish actually came from a gorgeous recipe in a book by Fuschia Dunlop, who has created probably the best recipe book on Szechuan/Sichuan cooking, de-mystifying it for those of use not lucky to travel to Szechuan province and taste it for ourselves. I've veganised her Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts recipe, with a few amends to ensure that it works just as well as the original (I hope!) Anway, if you want to explore her book, you can buy it here.
Serve this delicious recipe with plain rice and a side of greens. For a special occasion, why not start the meal with my favourite Vegan Sesame Tofu 'Prawn' Toast.
Although this looks like quite the list of ingredients, most are just whisked up for the marinade and sauce!
- Soy Curls: Soy curls are made with dehydrated soybeans. They're the larger version of that dried soya mince you can buy. They're healthy, easy to use and work perfectly in this dish. I used these ones from Organico-who call them Fajita Strips you can buy them at Abel and Cole or you can find them on Amazon here. You can substitute your favourite tofu, tempeh or vegan chicken pieces instead.
- Peanuts or Cashews: roasted peanuts or cashews are delicious and really make this recipe perfect.
- Dried Red Chilli: Don't be scared by the chilli! You can leave them whole and remove the seeds, they lend a mild heat, and you don't have to actually eat them.
- Green Onions/scallions: For freshness and flavour.
- Sichuan/Szechuan Peppercorns: Mildy spicy and numbing on the tongue. Add more for a more impactful dish, or less if you're not so used to spice.
- Garlic: Freshly mince garlic is essential.
- Ginger: Ginger brings a zing and background heat and fragrance. Absolutely essential.
For the Kung Pao Sauce and Marinade
- Soy Sauce: I always have Kikkoman soy sauce in my house. Choose a low-sodium or wheat-free version as needed. *NB: be sure not to choose a sweet soy sauce!
- Shaoxing Wine: This is rice wine. You can use mirin or white wine instead. Alternatively, mix a spoonful of white vinegar and sugar into the dish.
- Chinkiang Vinegar: I adore this vinegar for making dipping sauces. It's fragrant and slightly addictive. You can substitute in Balsamic if you need to. I get mine at a local Asian supermarket, but you can also find it on Amazon. It's well worth having in the house!
- Sesame Oil: Essential for finishing the dish.
- Potato Starch: This helps thicken the sauce.
See recipe card for quantities.
Follow along with these how-to images so you can see how easy it is to make this vegan kung pao recipe.
1) Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and toss the soy curls in it. Leave to soak, ensuring all the soy curls are soft and soaked in marinade.
2) Meanwhile, mince the garlic and ginger. Chop the green onions/scallions. Remove the seeds from the whole dried chillies by halving them and shaking the seeds out, and set aside.
3) Mix up the kung pao sauce, ready to use when you're cooking the dish.
4) Get a wok nice and hot, add a little oil swirling it around the wok. Add the marinated soy curls/vegan chicken and stir. They will start to colour. After 1 minute, add the ginger, peppercorns and garlic and toss.
5) After a minute, add the chilies and nuts and stir or toss. Now add the sauce, the green onions and finish off with the sesame oil.
6) Serve immediately over rice. You can sprinkle extra green onions over to serve if you like.
Hint: This recipe relies on prep work. Have everything chopped, marinated and measured out, as the cooking process is very quick!
🥡Substitutions & Variations
There are a few ways you can make this simple kung pow recipe your own.
- Tofu-Marinade cubes of tofu in Kung Pao Marinade instead of the soy curls.
- Vegan Chicken substitutes - marinate your favourite vegan chicken chunks in place of the soy curls.
- Cashew Nuts- Cashew nuts make a very delicious alternative to peanuts in this dish.
- Wine- choose a light white wine to replace the Shaoxing wine.
- No alcohol- use a tablespoon of white or cider vinegar and a teaspoon of sugar to re-create the sweet tangy effect of the wine in the marinade.
- Balsamic Vinegar- the closest replacement for sweet black Chinkiang vinegar is balsamic. Do try to find the Chinkiang vinegar though, it's a different flavour and so delicious.
- Less spicy- halve the amount of chilli
- More spicy - add extra chilli and don't remove the seeds
- Vegetarian- this kung pao recipe is already vegetarian and vegan!
A wok is key to this vegan kung pao recipe's success as it gets hot and is big enough to toss around the ingredients to ensure that the flavours are all combined.
Amazingly, despite this dish being a wok-fried dish, it tastes pretty good for up to 3 days. Just keep it in an air tight container and re-heat in a searing hot pan.
I do not recommend you freeze this recipe, it won't ruin it, but it won't taste as good frozen then thawed then re-heated.
Make sure that all the soy curls are really soaked in the marinade and not hard. They only take a few minutes to absorb the flavours, but it's an important step.
Soy curls are made from dehydrated soy beans.This is a protein-rich product that is also high in fibre and low in fat. They're really useful for keeping on hand in the cupboard for easily adding protein to vegan meals. Soy curls /Soy strips can come in different shapes and also in a 'mince' form. I used these ones from Organico- you can buy them at Abel and Cole or you can find them on Amazon here
Absolutely, use firm tofu and pat it dry. Chop into 2 - 3 cm cubes and Marinate it for up to 2 hours before cooking.
Yes, it will be delicious. Chop into smaller pieces (2-3 cms) and reduce the water content of the marinade.
It is a little bit spicy, with the heat of the chilli and the numbing feeling of the Szechaun peppercorns. You can make this recipe less spicy by using less chilli and making sure to remove all the seeds. The heat and numbing sensation of the Szechuan peppercorns can be made milder by using half the amount.
Vegan Kung Pao Chicken with Soy Curls
For accuracy, I measure all ingredients in metric as standard, then convert and test the recipe for American cup measurements etc.
(Heads up Aussie and UK readers- your measurements in cups are sometimes different, so please use metric or check you have the correct cup and spoon type!!)
For the main stir fry
- 110 g (½ cups) soy curls (or tofu pieces)
- 5 green onions (scallions/spring onions)
- 15 whole dried chillies (or as many as you like. )
- ½ teaspoon Szechuan Peppercorns (or more, up to 2 teaspoon if you like hotter!)
- 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
- 75 g (½ cups) roasted peanuts (or cashews)
For the Soy Curl marinade
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon potato starch
- 2 tablespoon water
For the Kung Pao Sauce
- 2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 tablespoon Chinkiang Vinegar
- 2 tablespoon caster sugar
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon potato starch
- Mix together the marinade ingredients and add the soy curls. Mix thoroughly and leave until soft (about 5 minutes)1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon potato starch, 2 tablespoon water, 110 g soy curls
- Finely chop the garlic and grate the ginger.1 tablespoon fresh ginger, 4 cloves garlic
- Chop the green onions into small pieces.5 green onions
- De-seed the dried chilies by halving the chilies and shaking out the seeds.15 whole dried chillies
- Mix together all the ingredients for the Kung Pao Sauce. Measure out the nuts.2 tablespoon water, 3 tablespoon Chinkiang Vinegar, 2 tablespoon caster sugar, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon potato starch, 2 tablespoon soy sauce
- Get everything to hand, as the next part of the recipe is fast!
- Put your wok onto a high heat and pour in the oil, slicking it around the edges of the wok.2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- Add the marinated soy curls and cook for a minute or so until they start to brown.110 g soy curls
- Add the ginger, garlic, peppercorns and nuts and cook for a minute.4 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, 75 g roasted peanuts, ½ teaspoon Szechuan Peppercorns
- Add the sauce and green onions and toss for a minute5 green onions
- Serve immediately over rice.
- Hint: This recipe relies on prep work. Have everything chopped, marinated and measured out, as the cooking process is very quick!
- Be sure to marinate the soy curls in the marinade and do not soak them first. You want them full of flavour, not water!
- Make sure that all the soy curls are really soaked in the marinade and not hard. They only take a few minutes to absorb the flavours, but it's an important step.