Stir-Fried Cauliflower ~ Bong Cai Xao

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.

Two plates topped with stir-fried cauliflower and garnished with cilantro.

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.–Renee Schettler

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.

Stir-Fried Cauliflower | Bong Cai Xao

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 10 M
  • 15 M
  • Serves 4
5/5 - 1 reviews
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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. Originally published March 04, 2013.

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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 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.



  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…

  2. A delightful surprise with fish sauce and, I have to say, one of the best-tasting cauliflower recipes I’ve ever tried! And so easy, too! Thanks, I’ll be doing this one again!

    1. Exactly the sentiments of our testers, Diane! So glad that you feel the same. Many thanks for letting us know. Look forward to hearing which recipes on the site cause you to swoon next…

  3. Yum. I love cauliflower and all cruciferous vegetables. Crave is a better word than love. Cannot get enough. This recipe looks so inviting, I will be making it for lunch. I never considered using fish sauce with cauliflower. This is hugely interesting. I’ve never been a fan of soy sauce, but use fish sauce every day. Thank you, David.

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