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The music inspiration for this recipe is a triple-edged sword. It’s theoretically disco though I believe it’s more pop-funk. It’s a novelty song. It’s possibly racist/bigoted as hell.
The defense against the first two is easy. The third is perhaps not so easy.
I really don’t care about the disco or novelty criticisms. There are a plethora of great disco tunes (“I Will Survive” & “Don’t Leave Me This Way” come immediately to mind) and novelty tunes help us through the dark times (thanks Weird Al and “Baby Shark”).
It’s the racism/bigotry label that poses an issue in this 2019 Woke Era. Mind you, this is a song from 1974. It’s riffing on the U.S, obsession with Chinese kung fu films. Bruce Lee was literally one of the world’s biggest box office draws before his death in 1973. I was a teenager in the midwest and remember watching very badly dubbed kung fu films on Saturday afternoon TV. Add to the mix, Carl Douglas is an African-American (yes – I understand the theory non-whites cannot be “racist” but they can be bigots.) and one has to put this song in context. The ’70s African-American community embraced Kung Fu Culture. Do you doubt my white ass about this? I refer you to the Wu Tang Clan. I’ll argue “Kung Fu Fighting” is a novelty love letter to the power of kitschy foreign cinema that broke down racial differences and created a totally new sub-culture. Honestly, we could use a lot more of that kind of cultural crossover these days.
Regardless of the cultural implications of this recipe’s name, Kung Pao Chicken has long been a default delivery order for me. I still remember my first encounter with the dish in college – trying to impress my girlfriend & her family by eating the chilis and immediately regretting my choice – but subsequently being disappointed by take-out versions not as spicy as my first. Strangely, over the years of home cooking – even making vaguely Asian dishes – I have never attempted making Kung Pao Chicken.
And I still haven’t.
Sure, this is easily converted to a chicken dish by marinating and sauteing chicken in place of cauliflower (though for a shorter time), but why would you? This gives all the mouthfeel punch of a traditional Kung Pao with the added benefit of a bit of cauliflower crunch and being vegan Traditionally, Kung Pao is made with dried Szechuan chiles and crushed Szechuan peppercorns. They impart a very specific heat and flavor and if you can find them, use them in place of the Aleppo and Chile De Arbol in this recipe. As I live in Bushwick Brooklyn, I went with a more Latin chile seasoning. In either case, this is wicked freaking hot if you choose to eat a few of the dried chiles.
KUNG PAO FIGHTING
Cauliflower, peppers, scallions, peanuts, and chiles over rice
4 cups of cauliflower florets (half a large head or about two small heads)
2 tablespoon soy sauce + 2 tsp cornstarch, mixed
3 tablespoons oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
1/4 cup peanuts, optional
1/4 teaspoons Aleppo pepper
5 – 10 Dried Chile D’Arbol, optional
Kung Pao Sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch + 2 tablespoons water
Soak the dried chiles in 2 cups of boiling water.
Mix all the sauce ingredients together except the cornstarch and water.
In a bowl, marinate the cauliflower in soy sauce and cornstarch mix for 15 minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon oil in a pan over medium heat. Place the marinated cauliflower and cook for 10 – 12 minutes until tender. Cover while cooking for the cauliflower to cook in the steam. Stir occasionally to keep the cauliflower from burning. Transfer the cooked cauliflower to the marinating bowl and set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan. Once hot, sauté the garlic, scallions, bell peppers, Aleppo pepper, and dried chili (if using) about 5 minutes. Add in the sauce mixture. Once it boils, add in the cornstarch and water mixture. Lower heat and then mix well. Add in the cauliflower and toss to combine and coat.
Cook until the cauliflower absorbs the sauce and is thick. Serve over the rice of your choice.