Sweet and Sour Cauliflower that tastes much better than takeout! Crispy batter-fried cauliflower is tossed in a deliciously sticky sweet and sour sauce. Can be made in an Air Fryer as well!
Take-out style Chinese is one of my biggest guilty pleasures, and here in Switzerland, I miss having takeout options that live up to the really good ones I used to have several years back. So I simply make my favorite Asian-style fake-out meals at home! Makes me feel less guilty about all those excess calories that come with takeout too. Some of my favorites - easy fried rice, Asian noodle bowls, chicken satay and General Tso's chicken - can be made easily at home, and tastes so much better than takeout.
Now lets talk about this sweet and sour cauliflower - I like to think of this dish as a vastly improved version of classic sweet and sour cauliflower – there’s crispy fried cauliflower, sautéed bell peppers and onions, and a delicious sauce that coats the crispy cauliflower.
Tip - Double the amount of sauce, so that there’s enough to spoon over rice and enjoy as a main course. And believe me, this sauce is so rich and full of flavor that you WILL want to have spoonfuls of it!
Why this recipe works
- Crispy cauliflower can be made in the Air Fryer for a healthy version of sweet and sour cauliflower
- Better than take-out style cauliflower
- Easy to customize - add more or fewer veggies in the sauce, and increase or reduce the spice as per your preference
List of Ingredients
To make this sweet and sour cauliflower you will need:
For the crispy-fried cauliflower:
- 1 small cauliflower, cut into florets
- For the batter: Cornstarch (also known as cornflour), rice flour, all-purpose flour, pepper, salt
- Buttermilk - Use buttermilk for the batter, as it aerates the batter and keeps the batter-fried cauliflower crispy.
For the sweet and sour sauce:
- Sesame oil - I like using sesame oil for most of my Asian Recipes, it adds an authentic taste to the dish. Use olive oil or any neutral vegetable oil as a replacement.
- Veggies: This sauce is made with stir-fried ginger, garlic, onion, and bell peppers
- Vinegar – use rice vinegar if you have it, otherwise use apple cider vinegar
- Soy sauce – Use either dark soy sauce or light soy sauce, I prefer to use dark soy sauce for this recipe - it has extra umami and a deeper, darker color.
- Hot sauce or any chili sauce of your choice (I like to use sriracha)
Step-by-Step Recipe Instructions
To make this dish, we first make the crispy fried cauliflower florets, then the sauce, and then toss the cauliflower in the sauce before serving. I have shared both deep-frying and Air Fryer instructions here.
Deep Frying Instructions for Crispy Cauliflower
For the crispy cauliflower, I prefer to deep fry the batter-coated cauliflower in vegetable oil – the cauliflower can be baked as well, but the deep-fried version is closest to that authentic take-out experience! The cauliflower needs to be par-boiled (50% cooked) before it is deep-fried. This way, the insides remain tender and soft, while the outside crisps up.
Cook the cauliflower florets in water for 3-4 minutes, then drain using a colander and rinse in cold water to stop the cauliflower from cooking further. Toss the par-boiled cauliflower in a little all-purpose flour and keep aside.
In a mixing bowl, make the batter – add the cornstarch, rice flour, all-purpose flour, and enough buttermilk (add buttermilk a little at a time). Whisk well and make a thick, lump-free batter – the consistency should be such that the batter coats the cauliflower well and stays on, without dripping too much.
Heat a heavy-bottomed wok with vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add a drop of the batter to the oil, if it bubbles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot enough to start deep-frying the cauliflower. Deep fry the cauliflower in batches, flipping them over midway, so that they are evenly fried.
Once the cauliflower is golden-brown, transfer to a kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Keep aside for later.
Air Fryer Instructions for Crispy Cauliflower
To make Air-fried crispy cauliflower, start by cutting the cauliflower into florets. Rinse and keep aside.
In a bowl, prepare the batter. I like to add buttermilk instead of water to the batter. I find that it keeps the cauliflower crispy, and aerates the batter nicely, giving the air-fried cauliflower more volume. Add the cauliflower florets and mix them in the batter until they are well coated in the batter. Shake off the excess batter.
Preheat the Air Fryer at 350 F, spray the air fryer basket with cooking oil spray, then add the batter-coated cauliflower florets. Air Fry for 15 minutes at 350 F, turning it around once so that the cauliflower is evenly air fried.
Sweet and Sour Cauliflower Sauce
Now prepare the sauce for the sweet and sour cauliflower. Add all the ingredients for the sauce into an empty bottle and shake to mix well – this is just like how I like to make salad dressings as well! Keep this sauce aside, we will add it to the wok once the veggies are stir-fried.
To a wok on the stovetop, add sesame oil, and heat. Once hot, add finely chopped ginger and garlic, stir and sauté until aromatic. Then add the bell peppers and the white portion of the spring onions.
Continue to stir on high heat for a minute, and then add the sauces from the bottle. Mix together.
Make a cornstarch slurry by adding 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to 1/3 cup of water. Stir, until lump-free. Add the slurry to the wok and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. The cornstarch will thicken the sauce a little.
Finally, add the deep-fried cauliflower and toss it in the sauce. Turn off the heat, check for seasoning and add salt if need be.
Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and the green portion of the spring onions.
I like to serve this dish with some jasmine rice – you can increase the amount of sauce in this dish and, and serve it alongside Jasmine rice or noodles. Enjoy!
For a gluten-free version of sweet and sour cauliflower, you can replace soy sauce (which contains gluten) with tamari!
Make a lighter version of this dish by baking the cauliflower instead of deep-frying it. For this, you will need to skip the steps for par-boiling and making the batter. Just follow these simple steps to bake the cauliflower florets:
Pre-heat the oven to 400 F or 200 C
Simply transfer the cauliflower florets to a large mixing bowl, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon olive oil over it. Toss the cauliflower with your hands until oil is distributed well. Add 1/3 cup of cornstarch and lightly toss again, until the cornstarch is well distributed.
Grease a baking sheet with oil or baking spray. Spread the cauliflower evenly on the baking sheet, and bake for around 15 minutes it starts to turn light brown.
Switch oven to grill (broil) and grill on high for 3 minutes untill lightly brown on top.
More Asian Recipes
Sweet and Sour Cauliflower
- 1 small cauliflower cut into florets (5-6 cups of cauliflower florets)
For the batter:
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ tbsp cornstarch aka, corn flour
- 2 tbsp rice flour
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- ⅓ cup buttermilk (add more if needed)
- ½ inch Ginger minced or finely chopped
- 3 Garlic cloves minced or finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon Sesame oil see notes for substitution
- 1 Onion finely chopped
- ½ Green bell pepper chopped
- ½ Red bell pepper chopped
- 3-4 Spring onions chopped (reserve green part for garnish)
For the sweet and sour sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar see notes for substitution
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce see notes for substitution
- 1 tablespoon Ketchup
- 1 teaspoon chili sauce
- 1 teaspoon corn starch or corn flour
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- pinch Salt to season
For the Cornstrach slurry
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/3 cup water
- Vegetable oil (only if deep-frying)
- Wash and cut the cauliflower into florets
- In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients listed under batter., and whisk to form a semi-thick lump-free batter.
- Heat 3 cups of water in a pot on the stovetop. Once it comes to a boil, add the cauliflower florets to the water.
- Cook the cauliflower florets in boiling water for 3 minutes, then immediately drain them into a colander or use a slotted spoon to take out the cauliflower. Rinse the cauliflower in cold water to stop them from cooking further. The cauliflower should be around 50% cooked.
- Toss the par-boiled cauliflower in a little all-purpose flour and keep aside.
- Add the cauliflower to the batter and mix such that the cauliflower is well coated in the batter (batter should not drip off the cauliflower too much).
- Heat a heavy-bottomed wok with vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add a drop of the batter to the oil, if it bubbles and rises to the surface, the oil is hot enough to start deep-frying the cauliflower.
- Deep fry the cauliflower in batches, flipping them over midway, so that they are evenly fried. Once the cauliflower is golden-brown, use a slotted spoon transfer to a kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil. Keep aside for later.
Air Fryer Instructions
- Add the raw cauliflower florets to the batter and mix, such that cauliflower is well coated in the batter.
- Spray cooking oil spray in the basket of the air fryer and preheat the air fryer to 350 F.
- Add the batter-coated cauliflower florets in a single layer on the Air Fryer basket. Shake off excess batter before adding. You might need to air fry in two batches depending on the size of your Air Fryer.
- Air Fry at 350 F for 15 minutes, flipping the florets once, to fry them evenly.
- Ance the air frying cycle is complete, take out the crispy caulflower.
Make the Sweet and Sour sauce
- Add all the ingredients for the sauce into an empty bottle and shake to mix well. Keep bottle aside.
- Heat a wok on the stovetop and add sesame oil. Once hot, add finely chopped ginger and garlic, stir and sauté until aromatic. Add bell peppers and white portion of the spring onions.
- Continue to stir on high heat for a minute, and then add the sauces from the bottle. Mix together.
- Make a cornstarch slurry by adding 1 teaspoon of cornstarch to 1/3 cup of water. Stir, until lump-free. Add the slurry to the wok and mix it with the rest of the ingredients. Let the sauce thicken slightly. Check the taste and add sugar and salt to season.
- Finally, add the crispy cauliflower and toss it in the sauce. Turn off the heat, check for seasoning and add salt if need be.
- Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and the green portion of the spring onions. Serve with Jasmine rice or noodles.