This saucy and delicious vegan orange “chicken” is made with crispy baked cauliflower, fresh orange juice, and caramely dates. It’s clean, super saucy, crispy, tasty, filling, and easy-to-make. If you’re a fan of Panda Express’ original orange chicken, you’re going to love this vegan-friendly version even more. The very first time I made it it became one of my favorite dishes!
Panda Express Vegan Options Are Growing
I must admit, I didn’t realize Panda Express now has so many plant-based options. When I was a kid, I don’t think there were any beyond steamed vegetables and tofu. But the world has changed so much since I became vegan! Panda Express vegan options have grown with the chain. They now serve their most iconic dish Orange Chicken made with Beyond Meat, a dish called Super Greens, vegan vegetable spring rolls, vegan chow mein, eggplant tofu, and even vegan fortune cookies. I love that you can find delicious vegan options at fast-food chains all around the world; especially filling entrees.
However, I think fast food is best reserved for special occasions and travel (when there’s nothing else around). Keep in mind that fast food chains are now touting plant-based menus, but they are doing little to prevent cross contamination even for vegan guests. A visit to the Chipotle counter makes that abundantly clear. Even without animal products in their menu items, vegan fast food is still laden with obscene amounts of sodium, fat, and heavily processed ingredients. More reason to make your favorite Panda Express vegan dish at home!
Better-Than-Panda Express Vegan Orange Cauliflower Is
- Saucy & Hot
- Sweetened with Dates
- Nutritious & Wholesome
- Low in Fat
- Air-fryer friendly
- Healthy comfort food
- A classic favorite
The Star Ingredients
Cauliflower: As a chicken replacement cauliflower works because of its shape and the fact that it becomes tender and juicy when cooked. For this recipe I needed crispy cauliflower, so I tossed it in a simple batter and air fried until golden and crispy on the outside, and hot and tender inside. In the recipe below you’ll find instructions for cooking it in the air fryer and the oven.
Orange Juice: It wouldn’t be orange “chicken” without the delicious taste of fresh orange! For the best flavor, use freshly squeezed orange juice. Since we are not using any refined sugar in the sauce, the orange juice adds sweetness, along with dates.
Dates: Sweet and sour sauce is good when made with cane sugar, but it’s incredible when made with dates. I use medjool dates which have a rich caramel flavor. It’s akin to making orange chicken with brown sugar, but even better. Don’t worry about having chunks of date in your sauce, you’ll blend it before adding it to the crispy cauliflower.
How to make Panda Express Vegan Orange Cauliflower
- Step one: Make the tangy orange sauce on the stove. Sauté fresh ginger and garlic, before adding freshly squeezed orange juice, dates, soy sauce (or tamari), rice vinegar, and corn starch.
- Step two: After simmering the sauce and softening the dates, blend the sauce until creamy and thick.
- Step three: Make a batter for the cauliflower with flour, garlic powder, salt, and soy milk. Toss cauliflower pieces in the wet batter. Optional: Transfer the coated cauliflower to a cooling rack to let the excess batter drip off. Otherwise, shake the excess batter off.
- Step four: Air fry or bake the cauliflower. Air frying is faster and makes a crispier crust. However you may need to cook the cauliflower in batches because it may not all fit at once.
- Step 5: Toss the crispy cauliflower with the orange sauce and serve over brown rice or white rice. Serve alongside steamed or sautéed broccoli, onions, and red bell peppers. Garnish with shaved red cabbage, green onions, sesame seeds, and cilantro.
Tips for Making Vegan Orange Cauliflower
- Make the orange sauce first and if necessary, reheat it on the stove before tossing with the cauliflower.
- Grease the bottom of the air fryer with a spray oil to prevent sticking.
- Coat the tops of the cauliflower with a spray oil before air frying or baking to make it crispier.
- Be mindful not to overcrowd your cauliflower as it air fries or bakes. Keep at least 1 inch between pieces to allow it the crisp evenly.
Cauliflower swaps: The sauce is really the star of this show! As much as I love making this recipe with cauliflower, I also love it with crispy tofu, battered oyster mushrooms, and even chickpeas. If you’re in a hurry, make the sauce and pour it over a quick veggie stir fry with cooked chickpeas.
Orange juice: If you don’t have fresh oranges, look for the freshest orange juice at the store. Avoid pasteurized OJ because it doesn’t have the bright and fresh taste that fresh orange juice does.
Cornstarch: Use arrowroot powder in place of cornstarch. Works the same!
Soy sauce: If you are allergic to soy, try this orange sauce with coconut aminos.
Dates: Use 1/4 cup coconut sugar in place of dates. If you don’t have coconut sugar use a mix of brown and white sugars.
How to reheat
As with all things crispy, it is best to reheat this Panda Express Vegan Orange Cauliflower in a toaster oven, not a microwave. Reheat in the oven at 350° for 10 minutes. If your concerned about the sauce drying out in the oven, stir in just a dash of water or low sodium soy sauce before it goes in.
Can I freeze?
Freeze the orange sauce for up to 3 months. For best results, make the crispy cauliflower fresh before serving.
Also Try These Related Recipes
Better-Than-Panda Express Vegan Orange Cauliflower
- 1 blender
- 1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil or neutral oil
- 2 tbsp fresh ginger minced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice 2- 3 oranges
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 3 large pitted Medjool dates
- 1/4 cup water + 1 1/2 tablespoon cornstarch dissolve and stir the cornstarch in the water before adding to recipe
- 1 small head of cauliflower cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup soy milk, unsweetened & plain or other plain unsweetened vegan milk
- 3/4 cup unbleached white flour or gluten-free version
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- Warm 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan on medium heat, then add the ginger and garlic, and cook for about 1 minute until fragrant and lightly golden.
- Add the orange juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and dates.
- Bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove it from the heat, and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Stir for about 1 minute until it begins to thicken.
- Allow the sauce to cool for a bit, then transfer it to a blender and blend until smooth.
- In a mixing bowl combine the flour, garlic powder, salt, and soy milk. Stir well, then add the cauliflower pieces to the mixture and stir to thoroughly coat.
- AIR FRYER INSTRUCTIONS: Grease the bottom of the air fryer with a spray oil. Remove the cauliflower from the batter and shake off any excess before placing the cauliflower into the air fryer in an even layer. Keep at least 1/2" space between the cauliflower. Spray the tops of the cauliflower with oil. Air fry for 15-20 minutes at 350°, or until crispy and golden.
- OVEN INSTRUCTIONS: Preheat the oven to 375º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the cauliflower from the batter and shake off any excess before placing the cauliflower on the parchment paper in an even layer. Keep at least 1/2" space between the cauliflower. Spray the tops of the cauliflower with oil. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until crispy and golden.
- On a serving plate toss the crispy cauliflower in the orange sauce. If necessary, reheat the sauce on the stove before tossing the cauliflower.
- Serve over fluffy rice and garnish with shaved red cabbage, cilantro, sesame seeds, or your favorite toppings.