Growing up in an almost unnervingly progressive and accepting home meant that coming out as a gay was, well, underwhelming. My “yep, I’m gay” moment unfurled in our barely used kitchen over a weekend treat of Chinese takeout. That night, my vegan mother was picking at her steamed tofu and brown rice and she asked, “Do you remember Lisa?” Of course I remembered Lisa. She had directed me in shows starting when I was just 7 years old. “She’s leaving Children’s Theater of Maine and is interested in developing theater for gay and lesbian kids.” As a professional therapist, my mother sure knew how to bait a hook—and that night I called her out on her fishing expedition: “If you are going to ask if I’m gay, the answer is yes. Now, can you pass the chopsticks?” Any disappointment my mother might have felt that evening was about the nutritional value of the General Tso’s chicken, pan-fried pork dumplings, and quart of hot-and-sour soup I wolfed down. In memory of that night, and to make my mom proud, here’s a veggie-centric version of my takeout favorite, made with cauliflower instead of chicken. Serve it with rice, noodles, or all by itself.
Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, mirin, brown sugar and sesame oil. Add the cornstarch and whisk to dissolve any lumps.
Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, and chiles and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, until boiling, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat.
Make the cauliflower: In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, heat the peanut oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees F.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, the baking powder and salt and set aside.
Add the egg whites to a large bowl and whisk briskly until lightened, about 1 minutes, then add the vodka, soy sauce, and remaining tablespoon of cornstarch and whisk until incorporated.
Toss about half of the cauliflower florets in the egg white mixture and stir to generously coat. Using one hand (which is now your “wet” hand), transfer the cauliflower a few pieces at a time to the flour mixture. Using your other hand, fully coat the cauliflower in the flour mixture, pressing lightly to adhere.
Carefully add about half of the cauliflower at a time to the hot oil. Fry until light golden brown and the cauliflower is al dente, 3 to 5 minutes, depending on the size of the florets. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer the cauliflower to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Return the oil to 350 degrees F before frying the remaining cauliflower.
Before serving, return the skillet with the sauce to medium heat and cook until warmed through. If the sauce has thickened too much, thin it by adding a bit of water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency. Toss the fried cauliflower in the sauce until well coated, then serve immediately.