A healthier game or party day appetizer that doesn’t wimp out on flavor, Sweet & Spicy Cauliflower Bites are you-can’t-stop-at-one delish. Enjoy them two ways: sriracha cauliflower bites or BBQ gochujang cauliflower bites, one hot, one mild[er] — both with that irresistible sweet-and-spicy combo. It’s party finger food that’s also a sneaky way to get in an extra serving of vegetables!
SoupAddict is not a vegetarian blog, nor will it ever be. But its founder — me! — does follow a primarily plant-based diet.
Today’s not the day to go into the deets on that one, but the beauty of January is that I can indulge my two favorite kinds of recipes: You’ll find lots of a comfort soups this season, but you’ll also see healthier choices that go easy on the meat.
If you’re on social media at all, you probably saw “Veganuary” pass through your feed, which is a call to go vegan for January. I personally enjoy the challenge of vegan cooking — when you can’t rely on bacon and butter fat shortcuts to add flavor, you have to look for inspiration in other ingredients.
Cashews is one. It was wonderfully surprising to discover that blended cashews make an awesome substitute for just about anything dairy, from buttermilk to veggie dip to “cheese” sauce. It’s neutral, it’s less sweet than almond milk, and buzzes up in the blender so rich and dreamy, there’s just no need to mourn the absence of half-n-half and heavy cream.
And there’s cauliflower. Cauliflower is another ingredient that blends up mysteriously creamy and wonderful, but, it also serves another noble purpose: it’s a very decent substitute for chicken. Not the flavor, per se, but when a recipe douses the chicken in seasonings or marinade, the size, shape, and texture of cauliflower stands in nicely.
And that’s what we’re going for today: buffalo chicken wings aren’t really about the chicken flavor, but rather the sauce and spices. So, if you can get close to the texture of wings with a vegetarian substitute, you’re golden.
Let’s talk about that texture.
The breaded cauliflower bites actually emerge from the oven with a crispy crust. But just like chicken wings, they lose that snap once coated in sauce. So, be sure to set your expectations: the final, spicy cauliflower bites will not be crispy like fried chicken, but rather tender and saucy like buffalo chicken wings.
Be sure to slice your cauliflower florets into two-bite pieces, like those shown in the baking pan above. In addition to giving finger-hold space, it also provides a better balance of sauce and cauliflower. Too-small florets become knobs of breading and sauce.
Why two different sauces in this post? It was quite by accident. I was testing the batter and breading with a boatload of cauliflower, and quickly ran through my batch of sweet & spicy sriracha sauce. I went digging back into the fridge, pushed aside a bottle of delish gochujang sauce and thought, wait a sec, hmmmm.
Sometimes happy improv accidents are the best. The American BBQ sauce-slash-gochujang fusion was amazing: classic BBQ chicken with a little twist that makes you go Hmmm and Mmmmmm.
Not fiery hot like the sriracha, just sweet and smoky and bold. In the photos on this page, the lighter orange spicy cauliflower bites are the sriracha sauce, and the darker bites are the BBQ gochujang.
One final word about the sauce: I’m not a drippy wings lovin’ kind of person, and, this recipe reflects that. The amount of sauce I use here is just to coat the bites, not drown them. But, if you’re a sauce lover, just double the sauce recipe and dunk to your heart’s delight. 🙂
Don’t forget to serve with a creamy ranch dipping sauce. Not only is it perfectly complementary, taste-wise, but the creamy richness is a natural, cooling foil to the spicy heat of the sriracha and gochujang sauces: it damps down that peppery bite without muting the flavor.
Sweet & Spicy Cauliflower Bites - 2 Ways
- 1 pound cauliflower florets*
for the flour dredge:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
for the batter:
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
for the breadcrumbs:
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
for the sriracha sauce version:
- 6 tablespoons sriracha
- 4 tablespoons maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
for the BBQ gochujang sauce version:
- 1/4 cup gochujang sauce
- 1/4 cup American BBQ sauce (use your favorite)
- 1 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
prepare the coatings
- Preheat oven to 425°F, with the the racks arranged on the lower and upper thirds. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat (you can use foil, but do coat it with non-stick spray)
- Flour: Place the 1 cup of flour into a large bowl.
- Batter: In another bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, flour, and seasonings until smooth.
- Breadcrumbs: In a third bowl, toss together the panko breadcrumbs and seasonings.
prepare the cauliflower
- Add cauliflower florets in batches to the bowl with the flour and toss gently until lightly coated.
- Move the florets to the batter bowl, and gently stir to coat (see the Notes section for Tips on minimizing the hands-on mess!)
- Shake of the excess batter from the florets, and add the florets to the breadcrumbs, tossing to coat.
- Transfer the coated florets to the sheet pan in a single layer, leaving a little bit of room in between (so they'll roast rather than steam).
- If you need to use two sheet pans, that's no problem as long as your oven accommodates two sheet pans at once.
- Place the baking sheet on the lower rack and roast for 20 to 25 minutes. The florets should be a medium golden brown with a crispy exterior.
- Remove and let cool down for a few minutes. Switch the oven heat to broil.
prepare the sauce
- While the cauliflower cooks, whisk together all sauce ingredients in a large bowl until combined (see Notes for sauce tips). Carefully pour the florets into the sauce bowl. Use a large spoon to gently fold the florets into the sauce, until all pieces are coated.
- Return to the florets to the lined sheet pan, and place under the broiler on the lower rack (yes, the lower rack). Let the sauce-coated florets reheat for 3 to 4 minutes, watching carefully to make sure they don't singe. Remove from oven and let rest.
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