A lot of folks are proclaiming each of the last few years to be The Year of the Cauliflower. Hmmm. Whether that’s a natural outcome of the paleo craze, a surge in the number of seasonal greenmarket goers, or a fluke, we can’t say for certain. If we had to guess, though, we’d say it has something to do with the complex, almost caramelized taste of this slightly sweet, slightly sour, entirely savory Vietnamese-inspired recipe.–David Leite

What else can I do with this recipe?

Cook the cauliflower until it’s tender but still in possession of a little crunch. You could add a splash of sesame oil just before that last toss for a delicious variation. Or try cooking broccoli florets the same way. This is usually served hot, but we also like it at room temperature or, if you have any left over, cold.

Two grey plates topped with stir-fried cauliflower, and garnished with fresh cilantro on a wooden board.

Stir-Fried Cauliflower | Bong Cai Xao

5 / 2 votes
This stir-fried cauliflower, or bong cai xao, is proof that a handful of ingredients—cauliflower, fish sauce, pepper, garlic, and cilantro—and a few minutes of your time can make for a stellar side dish.
David Leite
Servings4 servings
Calories109 kcal
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time5 minutes
Total Time15 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
  • 1 smallish head cauliflower, broken into florets (4 to 5 cups florets)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, cut into 1-inch (25-mm) lengths
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro or mint leaves


  • Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. To test if the pan is ready, add a pinch of garlic; if it sizzles at once, the oil is ready.
  • Add the remaining garlic to the pan and toss to coat with the oil. Add the cauliflower and stir-fry for 1 minute, being certain to expose all sides of the bumpy florets to the hot skillet. Carefully and quickly add the fish sauce, water, sugar, pepper, and scallions and cook, tossing often, until the cauliflower is tender but still pleasantly crunchy, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cilantro or mint, toss one last time, and remove from the heat.
  • Arrange the cauliflower on a platter or shallow serving bowl and serve hot, warm, room temperature, or cold.
Quick & Easy Vietnamese

Adapted From

Quick & Easy Vietnamese

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 109 kcalCarbohydrates: 10 gProtein: 4 gFat: 7 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 2 gTrans Fat: 0.04 gSodium: 779 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 4 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2011 Nancie McDermott. Photo © 2011 Caren Alpert. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Nancie’s stir-fried cauliflower recipe is the answer to the cauliflower rut I’ve been in for years. It’s fast to come together and full of flavor from the fish sauce, scallions, and herbs (I had mint on hand).

I cut the florets into small pieces, which aids in getting them crisp-tender in a short amount of cooking time. I’m serving it with whole grilled chicken, leeks, and scallions off the grill tonight.

Poor, neglected cauliflower. All it needs is a chance to shine! This stir-fried cauliflower recipe is really a fabulous way to give it the spotlight it deserves. I really liked how the cauliflower became almost caramelized with the garlic, fish sauce, water, and sugar. It held its shape very well and remained crunchy.

Instead of just breaking off florets, though, next time I’ll slice it into fairly thin pieces so each piece has more contact with the heat and can caramelize even more. The mint really added a lively, fresh note at the very end. At first I thought perhaps the fish sauce would overwhelm the other flavors, but it didn’t.

The author suggests adding a splash of sesame oil, which I did. In fact, toasted sesame seeds sprinkled over this dish at the very end would be lovely. The recipe says it serves 4; well, I polished off at least 2 servings quite happily in one sitting.

This was a real hit with my family. Everyone loved the depth of flavor and texture of this dish. I loved that it was so simple and quick to prepare. The fish sauce and pepper provide great flavor with a touch of heat and just enough salt. The cauliflower has great crunch but isn’t raw. This would be great served with chicken or rice or even on its own. A great weeknight dish.

I’m always looking for healthy, delicious recipes and this one is tops due to its ease! Simple to assemble, quick to cook, knockout flavor. The only changes I made were to add a little more water and cook it a few extra minutes, as I don’t like really crunchy cauliflower. I also finely chopped the scallions instead of leaving them in 1-inch pieces.

I’m so excited about this stir-fried cauliflower recipe! This turned boring cauliflower into something I could eat every day. Wow. It’s incredible how flavorful and easy this was. I ate it both hot and cold and recommend it both ways.

What’s really appealing to me about this recipe is that I’m often looking for a side dish to serve with an Asian meal. This one is perfect, as it comes together quickly and I usually have all of the ingredients on hand. I can’t wait to try this substituting either broccoli or green beans for the cauliflower. An incredible dish. Quick and easy is right on!

Quick and easy recipe that packs big flavor. Great way to bring flavor to cauliflower with the most simple of pantry ingredients. I cooked it for about 4 minutes and it was just delicious. I’d serve this with a simple seafood stir-fry and rice noodles.

You can make a stir-fry pretty labor-intensive by including too many vegetables. This is a quick stir-fry in the truest sense, with minimal chopping and just a few essential ingredients. Nothing is compromised though. You end up with sweet and crisp yet tender cauliflower with garlic, scallions, and cilantro adding flavor and fragrance.

Who knew 2 tablespoons of fish sauce was enough to season a meal for 4 people? Cook this once, and you’ll be able to make it without looking at the recipe the second time.

This stir-fried cauliflower recipe presented cauliflower in a whole new light. It was quick and tasty and produced a dish that I wouldn’t have imagined. My favorite part of the recipe was the garlic; coating it in the oil and adding the cauliflower for a brief sauté before adding the liquids prevented the garlic from browning and becoming bitter.

The fish sauce provided saltiness, and I liked the pungent note injected by the black pepper, which was a nice change from the heat of chile peppers so often seen in this genre of recipe. I used mint because I had it on hand and enjoyed the echo of coolness at the back of my mouth. The cooking time specified produced a vegetable with a little crunch, and a smallish head yielded the indicated measure of cauliflower. I’d like to try this using cilantro next time.

Loved this simple yet filled-with-flavor stir-fried cauliflower recipe and can totally see being able to adapt it to other vegetables such as broccoli or even carrots.

I must admit though that I was worried about it when I first added all of the ingredients, as the smell wasn’t the most pleasant (most likely due to the fish sauce), but it dissipated quite rapidly and the final taste was fantastic. I can see this as a side dish or even the main one over some rice. I do believe rice is its best friend, as the sauce goes well with it.

Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables. I was delighted to try preparing it in a way that was new to me. Once the cauliflower is broken up into little pieces, it’s very quick to cook and delicious! In fact, two of us devoured the whole thing when served with grilled fish, rice, and a salad. I’ll certainly be making this often.

I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of cauliflower. That said, I really liked this stir-fried cauliflower. The longest part of this recipe is prepping the cauliflower before cooking. I used 2 small heads of cauliflower and had closer to 6 cups of florets when done. I kept the other ingredients as written. I did wonder what size to make the florets as some were quite large. I ended up cutting them all to be about bite-size. The end result was tasty, crunchy, and slightly salty.

I loved the fresh cilantro added at the end. It was a refreshing addition to a stellar dish. One taster wasn’t so happy with the addition, but with cilantro you either love it or hate it. I’d like to try it with the sesame oil next time. With recipes like this one, I could really learn to like cauliflower.

This is a delicious diversion for plain ol’ cauliflower. You really want to make sure that you turn the florets over enough to coat them with the sauce and make sure that one side isn’t getting more browned that the other, as the sugar, fish sauce, oil, and garlic can all brown—that is, burn—very quickly if you aren’t paying close attention.

My slight variation would be to add garlic and pepper to suit your personal tastes. I’ll admit that I use a LOT of garlic when I cook, but it seemed to me that the two supporting ingredients in this recipe—garlic and pepper—were the two least prominent ingredients.

I was really pleasantly surprised by this dish. The fish sauce gives it an interesting twist and it was relatively easy to make.

Next time I’ll double this recipe. Do make the florets small and do just barely cook them—the crunch is important. I used mint as the herb—it was so good. We preferred it warm, as it lost something when it was cold.

This was some tasty cauliflower. I followed the recipe almost exactly until it came to the cooking time for the cauliflower. Even though my florets were on the small side, it still took more than 3 minutes of cooking time until it was tender while still a bit crunchy. Next time I’ll be blanching the cauliflower before I throw it in the skillet. I served this dish alongside peanut sesame noodles.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. Another great cauliflower recipe! I think cauliflower has become so popular because it lends itself to so many variations.

    I’m a cilantro hater and not too fond of mint in savory applications. Do you think some Thai basil, or even regular basil, might be a possibility? With the fish sauce in there, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch, but I’m wondering…