Kung Pao cauliflower

Fifteen years ago China was a net exporter of grain. Now it is the second largest importer of grain in the world. It was once also the world’s leading producer of soya beans, but now it imports soya too.

Kung Pao cauliflower


  1. 1 head of cauliflower, broken into florets, each about 1½-2 cm
  2. 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  3. 2 red chillies, seeds in, finely chopped
  4. 2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  5. 4 spring onions, sliced, including green parts
  6. 50 g unsalted peanuts, dry fried and roughly chopped
  7. 2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
  8. 50 g organic cornflour

for the ma-la cooking oil

  1. 125 ml roasted peanut oil (use groundnut oil if not available)
  2. 2 star anise
  3. 1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  4. 1 tsp dried chillies
  5. 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

for the marinade

  1. 100 ml organic soy sauce
  2. 50 ml Chinese rice wine (use sake or dry sherry if not available)
  3. 1 tbsp maple syrup


  • First, make the ma-la cooking oil. Place a wok over a high heat. Add the oil and once it is hot enough to start shimmering add the star anise, the Szechuan peppercorns and the chilli flakes and stir to combine. Keep on a high heat for thirty seconds then remove from the heat. Sir in the sesame oil and leave to cool for a few minutes before straining the oil through a muslin cloth placed over a fine sieve.
  • Next make the marinade. Mix together the soy sauce, rice wine and maple syrup. Add the cauliflower florets, mix to coat them in the marinade and set to one side for at least 30 minutes. Put the cornflour in a separate bowl next to the cauliflower.
  • Place a wok over a high heat and pour in half of the ma-la oil. When the oil is hot, lift out the cauliflower florets individually from the marinade and roll them in in the cornflour until they are coated. Keep the remaining marinade to one side.
  • Fry the florets in the ma-la oil , stirring continuously, until they are evenly browned and crisp. This will take about 3-4 minutes and you may need to do it in 2 or 3 batches to prevent overcrowding the pan which would also reduce the oil temperature. Add a little more ma-la oil between batches if necessary, but be sure to keep back 2 tablespoons for the next step. Drain the cauliflower on kitchen paper and set to one side.