Kung Pao cauliflower meatballs combine cauliflower, quinoa, breadcrumbs, and spices to master the delight of a meatless "meatball". Enjoy as an appetizer or serve over rice for a vegetarian meal. Today, we’re giving the Chinese takeout standard a wholesome upgrade by using nutrient- and fiber-dense quinoa and cauliflower. And I know the concept of meatless meatballs may sound like an oxymoron, however, when done well, they’re downright delicious and a great way to sneak in extra whole-grains and veggies.
These vegetarian balls are tossed in a sticky-sweet and deeply savory Kung Pao sauce that delivers spice and zing. You can serve them as a two-bite appetizer or, alternatively, as a meal served over rice, pasta, or study greens in an easily assembled bowl.
How Do I Make Vegetarian Meatballs?
Typically, plant-based balls contain legumes (chickpeas, lentils, etc.) however, these guys utilize the oh-so-versatile crucifer—cauliflower!—to reach hero status. In addition, dried spices add flavor, eggs serve as a binder, and dried breadcrumbs also help bind while adding heft. Because eggs play such a dominant role in binding the grains, I have not yet had success with vegan alternatives. However, if you have a winning method, please feel free to share in the comments below.
In addition to cauliflower, the other star of this recipe is quinoa—a nutty-flavored pseudo-grain packed with fiber and protein—which contributes to the light, bouncy texture of the balls. You can find beige, red, or tricolor quinoa in most grocery stores (save extra money by purchasing from the bulk bin section!); they all taste the same, so use whichever color you prefer.
What is Kung Pao Sauce?
This classic Chinese sauce showcases complex salty, sweet, sour, and spicy flavors (so, basically igniting every active taste bud on your tongue). Similarly, the version used in this recipe is composed of Asian chili garlic sauce, hoisin, tamari (or soy sauce), and rice vinegar to round it out. In short, it's highly addicting in nature and will certainly become a family favorite.
However, if you're not a fan of Kung Pao Sauce, these balls are also well-suited for other options. For example: BBQ sauce, marinara or pesto on pasta night, or creamy curry sauce for an Indian mashup. On the other hand, you should probably just try every before-mentioned combo. Their flavor profile is highly adaptable, so all the more reason to get creative and switch it up!If you make this recipe, be sure to share on Instagram and tag @dishingouthealth and #dishingouthealth so I can see your beautiful creations! Additionally, I’d love if you could leave a review on the post and share with your friends.
Kung Pao Cauliflower Meatballs
- *Cauliflower Meatballs*
- 4 cups chopped cauliflower florets
- 1 cup cooked and cooled quinoa
- 1 cup plain breadcrumbs
- 3 large eggs
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- ¾ tsp. onion powder
- ¾ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- *Kung Pao Sauce*
- 1 cup lower-sodium vegetable broth
- 2 Tbsp. corn starch
- 2 Tbsp. lower-sodium soy sauce or tamari
- 1 Tbsp. Asian chili garlic sauce
- 1 ½ Tbsp. hoisin
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. neutral cooking oil such as vegetable or canola
- 1 red bell pepper roughly chopped
- ⅓ cup thinly sliced green onion plus more for garnish (if desired)
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Meanwhile, steam cauliflower florets for 12 to 15 minutes, until fork-tender. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a bowl, and add remaining meatball ingredients (quinoa, breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper); mix until combined. Gently mold into golfball-sized balls (about 1 ½ Tbsp. each), and arrange on a greased baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, until golden.
- Meanwhile, prepare sauce by whisking broth and corn starch in a bowl until combined. Stir in soy sauce, hoisin, chili garlic sauce, and vinegar; set aside.
- Heat oil in a large high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper; cook 5 minutes, until tender; stir in green onions.
- Add Kung Pao sauce to pan; cook 2 minutes, until thickened. Add meatballs; gently toss to coat with sauce. Garnish with additional green onion, if desired.