Gochujang Cauliflower Tacos

Our staff chef shows us how to make one of her favorite dishes.

by Maddy Fraioli

As a resident of the Richmond district in San Francisco, I’d be an idiot not to embrace the Asian flavors around me. My neighborhood faves include Dim Sum, Sundubu-jjigae (soft tofu soup), Tea Leaf Salad, and banh mi. In spite of San Francisco’s vast vegetarian and plant-based population, it can be difficult to eat adventurously, meat-free. I dodge pork soup dumplings and peking ducks, whose inverted stares taunt me through store-front windows.

I’ve been a vegetarian for the last fifteen years and try to eat vegan as often as possible. I’m also a passionate home cook with a slight food obsession. I drool over food porn on Instagram and take photos of everything I eat. Yeah, I’m that girl. Nothing can stop me from channeling my creative energy into homemade recipes. One of my biggest inspirations is taking meat-based dishes I’d never otherwise be able to try, and making them vegan in my own kitchen. Korean cuisine, which focuses on spice, texture, and deeply developed flavor, is a perfect vehicle for that, and has become a staple in my diet. Many Korean dishes feature veggies and tofu, and offer unique flavors that do not rely on animal protein. Here is where my love affair with gochujang begins.

Gochujang, Korean red pepper paste, has managed to creep its way into tons of my meals lately. It’s spicy, but not too spicy, making it an excellent base for a thick, sticky sauce. You may have tried it in your bibimbap, or recognize its sister spice, Gochugaru, from Sundubu-jjigae (one of my favorite heart-warming winter dishes that’s easy to make vegan). You can find gochujang in most Asian markets, as well as many specialty stores. I have even seen Safeway carry it. If you live in the Richmond, you’ll find it on Clement St. as easily as you’ll find weed in the Haight. Keep your eye out for a square red container with red peppers pictured on the label. I buy mine at New May Wahif you head there, grab some red miso and fresh ramen noodles while you’re at it.

I improvised this recipe over the summer, inspired by a tofu recipe my friend made that sparked my love for gochujang. These tacos are proof that vegan staples don’t have to be tofu and buddha bowls (no shade—I love them both).

The star of this dish is the cauliflower, which—in my humble yet totally validated opinion—is one of the most versatile vegetables in the plant kingdom, despite its apparent blandness. Its ability to maintain a soft bite while browning on the outside makes it a perfect stand-in for animal-based proteins. You can substitute tofu, soy beef, or any other vegan protein in here if you want, but after making it with cauliflower once, you won’t want to.

The components that round out this dish are slaw, tortillas, and toppings. A basic slaw is cabbage, vinegar, and sugar. For an Asian slaw rice vinegar is best, but in a pinch, apple cider vinegar or white vinegar work well too. For the tortillas, I highly recommend flour. Flour tortillas are more pliable and tend to hold in and soak up the sauce better. I rarely choose flour over corn, but for this recipe, it just works. If you are a psychopath and don’t like avocado, you can skip over that, but try to substitute something creamy to cool down the heat, like a crema. I like to add jalapeños and homemade pickled veggies too, but you can customize these toppings to your preference. Cooking is all about your own tastes and preferences, so have fun with this recipe, and enjoy experimenting with new flavors!

Preparation

Makes 6-8 tacos
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes

Tacos
1 large head cauliflower, chopped into small florets
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
Salt and pepper
6 flour tortillas 6″
1 avocado
2 green onions, sliced thin

Sauce
1/4 c gochujang
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp Chinese black vinegar or rice wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 tsp ginger, grated or minced

Slaw
1/2 head white cabbage, shredded thin
1/4 small head red cabbage, shredded thin
1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 lime
Black pepper, to taste

Process

1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Start by baking the cauliflower. Toss the florets with the sesame oil, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake on sheet lined with parchment paper. Make sure there is space between each floret to ensure it gets brown and crispy—if they are too close together, they will steam and come out mushy. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned.

3. Next, focus on your slaw. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl with your hands, lightly massaging to break down the fibers in the cabbage.

4. To make the gochujang sauce, mix all the ingredients together in a small bowl. You want this to be fairly thick, as the steam from the cauliflower will loosen the sauce a bit, and you don’t want it to be watery.

5. Warm the tortillas in a pan over medium-high heat, flipping them to let them cook on each side. You can also do this in one batch by stacking them, wrapping in a damp cloth or paper towel, and zapping them in the microwave for about a minute.

6. Allow the cauliflower to cool slightly, then pour over the gochujang sauce and gently fold in a large bowl until coated.

7. Assemble by topping each tortilla with sauced cauliflower, slaw, sliced avocado, and green onion. Serve hot, and dig in! ♦

Maddy Fraioli is a staff writer and the staff chef. She is the founder of the recipe blog My Casual Kitchen. When she’s not hungover or sleeping, you can find her at Dolores Park with someone else’s dog. (She dog-sits a lot.)