Sticky and Crispy Sesame Cauliflower

Created by Laura Wright
4.62 from 21 votes

Sticky and crispy sesame cauliflower is baked and delicious wrapped up in lettuce or served with a bowl of fluffy rice. The spicy ginger and sesame sauce makes these bites so flavourful. Vegan and grain-free with cassava flour, but lots of substitutions are listed in the recipe notes.

An overhead shot of sticky and crispy sesame cauliflower bites in lettuce wraps.
An overhead shot of sticky and crispy sesame cauliflower bites in a parchment paper-lined bowl. The bites are shiny with the deep red sauce on top.
A head on shot of cauliflower being cut on a cutting board.
A kitchen counter scene with ingredients for a sesame, ginger, chili sauce.


I am amazed that cauliflower has managed to stay at the top of the heap as far as vegetable popularity is concerned. I also feel like it’s in everything these days–pizza crusts, bread, tortillas, crackers, “rice” etc. My favourite way to cook it is simply roasted with spices for a full 45 minutes. My number two method is lightly battered, baked, and sauced. Buffalo cauliflower is the most popular expression of this cooking approach I think? I personally love it when I’m in the proper mood (as evidenced here and here).

Over time, I’ve discovered that my preferred flour for this batter technique is naturally grain-free too! I like using cassava flour because it’s light, it actually gets kinda crispy in the oven, it doesn’t create a weird pasty quality in the inner parts of the florets (looking at you AP flour), and it doesn’t have a strong flavour either. Cassava is also my flour of choice for homemade tortillas, as seen here. Otto’s cassava flour is my brand of choice and you can find it here. Canadians can find it on Natura Market too!

So yes, cassava flour is your friend for cauliflower “wings” and other battered and baked applications. Once I had this texture and method locked down, my mind naturally went to other possible sauces. I had been dreaming of sticky, slightly sweet, chili-flecked, and sesame oil-slicked nuggets of cauliflower on a pile of rice or tucked into a crisp lettuce leaf. Like a little takeout vibe! It was surprisingly easy to fix up with mostly pantry stuff. I would say that the sauce ingredients are “pantry stuff” if you cook from my site often.

The battering technique itself is slightly more fussy than typical recipes I put up here. For this reason, I’d recommend serving up this crispy sesame cauliflower on the simple side. I’ve shown it in a Boston/bibb lettuce wrap with some extra sauce, chopped green onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. It’s simple and fresh, but also crispy, spicy, sticky, and somewhat indulgent feeling. I think it would also be great as a basic rice bowl with some shaved carrot, cabbage, and sliced green onions. Since you’re spending extra time on the cauliflower itself, and because it really is so flavourful, you can go easy on other serving components.

Before I go, I just wanted to say thank you for all of the great Instant Pot feedback you gave me last week! I guess I’ll be working on more things for you to make in that amazing machine while we’re in the season of cozy foods. Also just want to add that it’s been so nice being back here regularly. I’m slowly starting to feel like I’m in a bit of a flow with it all. Thanks for sticking with me :) Have a great week and enjoy some crispy sesame cauliflower :)

Image shows a bunch of cauliflower florets in a bowl with a beige batter.
Image shows cauliflower florets coated in batter on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Two images show: toasted sesame oil being poured into a pot and also a spicy red sauce being poured on top of cauliflower.
An overhead shot of sticky and crispy sesame cauliflower bites in a parchment paper-lined bowl. The bites are shiny with the deep red sauce on top.
An overhead shot of sticky and crispy sesame cauliflower bites in lettuce wraps.

Sticky and Crispy Sesame Cauliflower

Sticky and crispy sesame cauliflower is baked and delicious wrapped up in lettuce or served with a bowl of fluffy rice. Vegan and grain-free!
4.62 from 21 votes
STICKY & CRISPY SESAME CAULIFLOWER (vegan, grain-free) - The First Mess
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings 4

Ingredients

CAULIFLOWER INGREDIENTS

  • 1 head of cauliflower, about 1 ½ pounds
  • 1 cup cassava flour
  • 1 ½ cups water, plus extra
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

STICKY SESAME SAUCE INGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup tamari soy sauce
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoon chili paste (such as Gochujang), or to taste
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 3- inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Notes

  • Cassava flour makes a nice, crispy coating and is my favourite for cauliflower “wings”. If you don’t want to use cassava flour, you can substitute brown rice, chickpea or regular wheat flour. Lower the amount of water to 1 cup if you’re making this substitution (and add more if necessary)! Note that these other flours will not firm up/crisp up as much as the cassava.
  • It’s important to really keep an eye on these towards the end of the cooking process. They can go from perfect to burnt in what feels like seconds.
  • I use a Microplane to get the garlic and ginger nice and fine for the sauce
  • For chili paste, Gochujang is perfect! I’ve also used Calabrian chillies and blended up chipotles in adobo for this, and they were excellent.

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  • Cut the cauliflower into small florets. In a large bowl, combine the cassava flour, water, garlic powder, and sesame seeds. Whisk to combine. The resulting batter should be fluid but thick–thick enough to coat a piece of cauliflower and pool only slightly once set on the baking sheet. If the batter is too thick/pasty, add water by the tablespoon until you reach the proper consistency.
  • Drop the cauliflower florets into the batter and stir until all pieces are coated. Using a fork, carefully transfer battered cauliflower to the baking sheets, leaving 1 inch of space around each floret.
  • Bake the battered cauliflower for 20 minutes. While the cauliflower is baking, make the sauce. In a small saucepan combine the tamari, maple syrup, sesame oil, rice vinegar, tomato paste, chili paste, garlic, ginger, and sesame seeds. Bring the sauce to a boil on the stove over medium heat. Simmer for 5 minutes or until slightly reduced. Set aside.
  • After cauliflower has baked for 20 minutes, remove and let cool slightly. Once it's cool enough to handle, transfer the par-baked cauliflower to a large bowl. Cover the cauliflower with all but 1/4 cup of the sesame sauce. Toss to thoroughly coat the cauliflower.
  • Bake the cauliflower for another 15-20 minutes, or until the edges are starting to darken. Depending on positioning in the oven and just overall hotness of your oven, you may have to take them out of this second bake sooner. Just keep an eye on them! Remove the cauliflower when the sauce has “set” around the edges and all florets are a deep golden brown. Let the Cauliflower sit for a full 5 minutes before serving in lettuce wraps, on rice etc., drizzled with remaining sauce and topped with extra sesame seeds, and chopped green onions.
28/11/2018 (Last Updated 08/02/2023)
Posted in: appetizer, autumn, gluten free, grain-free, main course, nut free, roasted, salty, sauce, side dish, spicy, spring, summer, sweet, umami, vegan, winter

63 comments

Recipe Rating




  • TexJDGal

    3 stars
    i liked the idea of this but a couple of corrections to improve the original as I tried twice following recipe and then made modifications as follows:

    Frying vs baking – i think this would be better flash fried to crisp up and cook faster and not create a flour puddle chip on each floret. Albeit less healthy than baking but it will give it the nice crispy coating similar to fried chicken.

    If baking – bake once only and toss with the sauce to finish. It was crisp on first bake but became a soggy mess on the 2nd bake for me.

    Substitute cornstarch flour – if don’t have cassava

    Too salty – Reduce soy sauce to 2 tablespoons/max 1/4 cup rather than 1/2 cup and added a little vegan oyster sauce, added Thai sweet thai chili sauce instead of maple syrup to keep the Asian flavors consistent and 1 tablespoon of corn syrup to help create a crackly candy glaze.

    Came out great 2nd time around!

  • Amanda

    5 stars
    Seriously amazing!!! I added more maple syrup though!
    Also the cauliflower didn’t stay crispy after I put the sauce on it. I used chickpea flower and cornflour mixed and it was super crispy when I first took it from the oven but then went soft after the sauce.

  • Lacey

    3 stars
    I had been eyeing this recipe for awhile before trying it, so I have to say, my expectations were high. The cauliflower breading did not stay as crispy as I’d hoped (I used brown rice flour) and my partner and I both agreed the cauliflower ended up being too salty. I paired it with plain edamame and brown rice and still felt like it was too salty. However! The flavors were amazing, even if too salty for our taste, and my partner had the brilliant idea to use the leftover cauliflower to make ramen broth and oh man, was it good. I boiled some homemade veggie stock, added the leftover cauliflower and boiled for a few minutes until the breading dissolved, tasted, and added just a little bit of miso to round it out, but it made such a delicious broth! Served it with ramen noodles, some roasted diced sweet potato, and edamame, it was delicious. I may keep this recipe for the express purpose of having delicious instant ramen broth :)

  • Valerie Haskins

    3 stars
    This was a miss for me. My vegan son liked it. But I thought it was not worth the amount of time I invested—about an hour.. I used low sodium soy sauce and it was still too salty for me. I also used chickpea flour and it needed more than one cup to make it thick enough to coat with little pooling. I adore many recipes from this website, and I have the lovely cookbook, but I won’t make this one again.

  • Andrea

    4 stars
    I used sparkling water instead of regular it came out really nicely 

  • Amelia

    4 stars
    These were addictive. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jj

    5 stars
    Thank you for this recipe!  I used wheat flour and agave since that is what I had.  I ended up adding more water than flour for the correct consistency but man this was an awesome meal over brown rice.

  • Lia

    I had this recipe bookmarked forever and finally made it last week. It was a huge amount of work and not great unfortunately. Mine didn’t look like the picture at all. I used chickpea flour and reduced the water as suggested. I thought the batter was the right thickness, but after cooking there was sort of a “batter chip” attached to the bottom of each one. For the second bake, 20 minutes was way too long. The sauce was extremely burned. The cauliflower was also try looking and not glossy like the photo. I love this site so trying to figure out where I went wrong!

  • Holly Regan

    This looks amazing! What about using coconut flour instead of cassava?

    • Laura

      Hi Holly,
      Coconut flour is extremely drying and will not work in a direct one-for-one substitution here. In the recipe notes, the alternatives that I suggest are brown rice or chickpea flour. If you need to keep this grain-free, cassava really is the best option (from my own experience).
      -L

  • Anna Perault

    Another one of my favorite The First Mess recipes! I always make this when I have skeptical vegans to please. The sauce is unreal and I have used modified versions of it for other Chinese inspired dishes. I like this one over rice with a side of green veg as well for a full meal. 

  • Liane @ Foodie Digital

    Super easy and super delicious. Will make again!

  • Tessa

    My husband and I ate a bowl of these on the couch in front of the TV with our bare hands as guiltily as if we were eating fried chicken. He doesn’t even like cauliflower. So delicious! I subbed brown rice flour for cassava and it worked great.

  • anjali reddy

    So so good! Thank you!! Perfect texture and taste!

  • Maria

    I used the suggested tamari and thought this recipe was way too salty to enjoy! Need suggestions for tamping it down before I make it again.

  • Cheryl

    Please consider adding a “jump to recipe” link to make it faster to navigate to the ingredients list of the recipe. Thanks,

  • Erin

    Awwww man a bit disappointed :(
    Used brown rice flour and 1 cup water and salted the batter (may have been the mistake!)
    I used Braggs soy substitute (also may have been a mistake?) But mama was this a salt bomb. Otherwise so good just beyond salty! I think I’ll put the leftovers in a wrap with mango or avo to try to combat it! Amy suggestions?! Has anyone made this using less tamari/soy?? Thanks!

  • Leslie

    I made this for the first time last night and my husband and I both LOVED it! I used whole wheat flour and it seemed to work fine. The first batch came out laughably burnt, like 100% charred, but I forgot to keep an eye on them and left them in for the full 20 minutes. The second batch I set for 10 min and kept a close eye on them. They were perfectly done at the 6 minute mark with just a few tips of black starting to form. Thanks for the wonderful recipe!

  • Lucy

    Love this recipe. Brought it to a New Year’s Eve party tonight. At first everyone thought it was chicken. Then I told them it was cauliflower. The vegans were thrilled and everyone else loved it too! Served as appetizer. Terrific new option that will become a “go to”.

  • Lisa Roberts

    So yummy! I am going to make a big batch of the sauce for easy quick use. Winner winner, veggie dinner!!

  • Amanda

    This recipe is amazing! It’s a weekly obsession right now for us! Thank you!

    P.S. no cassava flour available where we live but almond flour and potato starch together made a great substitute IMO.

  • Patricia Szkotnicki

    Made this today and my cauliflower was not crispy followed your recipe exactly, just doubled it bc I made a larger batch. Why didn’t it get crispy?

    • Laura

      Hi Patricia,
      I’m wondering if your cauliflower was too crowded on the baking sheet? If the hot air in the oven can’t flow evenly around each piece of cauliflower it will not get crispy. Each piece needs a little cushion of space on the baking sheet. Other than this, I can’t really think of what else went wrong here.
      -L

  • Lindsey

    Made it tonight, it was great!! Used almond flour instead and accidentally put 1.25 cups water prior to adding almond flour (she recommends 1 cup water to 1.25 cups flour if you use other than cassava flour) so added 1.25 cups almond flour to start and it was a little runny so added a little less than .25 cup more almond flour and it was great. Ginger was great addition to the sauce, don’t skip if you don’t have to. Used low sodium soy sauce as well. Will def be making again!!

  • Maren

    I made this in the oven last winter and LOVED it. Is there a way to do it (or prepare most of the way and then finish cooking) on the grill?

  • Bethany

    Delicious, looks like chicken fried. Have to tried it

  • Carmen

    Do you get different types of cassave flour? Because I used tapioca flour (as far as I understand it is the same thing) and the water was way too much. The batter didn’t thicken at all. In the end I threw out some of the water and added more tapioca, but still the batter just “melted” from the cauliflower in the oven.

    • Laura

      Hi Carmen,
      Tapioca flour and cassava flour are not the same thing! Tapioca flour (sometimes called tapioca starch) is specifically the starch extracted from the cassava root. Cassava flour is the whole root, peeled, dried and ground. It has a lot more fiber and in this recipe, that fiber content helps with the absorption of all that water. Otto’s Cassava Flour is a great brand, but I’ve had good luck with Bob’s Red Mill and Thrive Market’s house brand too. Hope this clears things up!
      -L

  • Mary

    I substituted almond flour 1:1 for the cassava flour and only needed half of the water for the batter. I coated and baked the cauliflower, let the “breaded” florets cool a bit after this step and they where delicious. Then I made the sauce using reduced sodium tamari and it was insanely salty. I love salt, but it was far too strong. I probably could have cut the soy in half and used water as a partial replacement to cut the salt but I tossed it on the florets hoping it would mellow after baking. That didn’t help, still way too salty and strong. Great start though.

  • Larissa

    I made the excellent sauce for this dish on a very ambitious day (while cooking your beet and mushroom bolognese no less) only to end up using it for a quick stir fry sauce the next day. It was very delicious and definitely great for that purpose too!

    I will go for round two tonight attempting the cauliflower! Cannot wait! Thanks for all the cooking inspo!

  • Hollie Levy

    Do you think this would travel well? I was hoping to make for a party but need to prepare at home first. Thank you!

    • Laura

      Hi Hollie,
      Ideally you would do the second baking at the party. I think if you prepared this to completion, the cauliflower would get soggy.
      -L

  • Rhonda

    These look amazing!!! Looks pretty simply to follow. I’m looking for more ways to spice up cauliflower when I’m going through cravings and want something similar to “wings” without eating meat.

  • McKenzie

    Made this last night. Super tasty! I doubled the sauce and also doubled the chili paste, which was a big mistake for me and a happy surprise for my husband. It is a lot of work, so I probably wouldn’t attempt it on a week night again, but super excited about this one! Yum. Thank you!

  • Caroline

    This is my first time trying one of your recipes, and this one is AWESOME! I doubled the sauce as my family usually likes extra, and I substituted AP flour as that’s what I had in the house. I took your advice and cut the water to 1 cup which made the batter the perfect consistency with the AP flour. Cauliflower took only about 12 minutes for me on the second round of baking but I pulled it right when it started getting brown and it’s perfect. And the sauce – YUM! This one’s a keeper!

  • Lisa

    Delicious, but somehow there was really not enough sauce…it was yummy but definitely not sticky or glossy-looking as in the pics. I did throw in some tofu but cut back on the cauliflower so not sure what happened! Will make an extra half recipe of the sauce next time.

    • Sarah

      Ooh yes I was wondering if I could use this method with tofu too as I have half a cauliflower and tofu to eat :) 

  • Little Plastic Footprint Blog

    This looks so delicious! Cauliflower is one of my favourite veggies and am always looking for news ways to cook it so thank you! Saved.

  • Claire

    I had some problems with this – my sauce was lumpy, even though I microplaned the garlic/ginger, and I ended up with very little volume-wise – maybe it got too reduced? When I did the second round of baking after coating, it seemed like the sticky sauce dissolved the batter (I used chickpea flour instead of cassava). The flavors were good, but I’d love to get some pointers for getting the texture to work out for next time.

    • Laura

      Hi Claire,
      I”m so sorry that this didn’t work out for you. Despite the photos, I will say that my sauce is definitely not silky smooth when I make this. It has little lumps and bits from the sesame seeds, chili paste, garlic, and ginger. I’m thinking the sauce may have reduced a touch too much? A few people on Instagram tagged me when they made the recipe and commented that they would have liked double the sauce. I tend to not like TOO much sauce on food, so this could be a factor. I am very surprised that the sauce seemed to dissolve the par-cooked chickpea batter though. Did the batter feel dry to the touch after the first baking? If not, you may benefit from a longer first bake. I’ve done this recipe with all chickpea flour a bunch of times and never had that problem. The only other thing I can think of is that your chili paste may have had some sort of emulsifier or thickener that reacted poorly with the batter, but even that’s a stretch I think.

      I wonder if the sauce was just too concentrated and if you need a longer first baking time? If you try again, please let me know of any changes you make.

      Thanks so much,
      Laura

  • Audrey

    Very good but I would definitely double the sauce!

    • Lindsey

      We also doubled the sauce. DOUBLING the sauce was way too much though. 1.25 or 1.5 would have been perfect.

  • Leah

    I have never commented on a blog before for a recipe but holy crap this is soooo good !!!! I’m writing it down, this is a winner ! And the sauce is perfection!

  • Hillary

    This recipe is BOMB. I made the sticky cauliflower tonight and tucked it in rainbow chard wraps with white basmati rice, fresh mango slices, red cabbage, and green onions and drizzled some lime juice on top. One of my new favorite meals! Can’t wait to share this one with guests. Thank you so much for sharing your creations!! <3 Love from Maine

  • Nadia

    I’ve only got white flour on hand. What do I do? Thanks!

    • Laura

      You can try substituting it if you’re willing to risk the results. I personally find white/all-purpose flour gets kind of gummy in the interior part of the cauliflower, even after the full cooking time. If you’re using all-purpose flour, start with 1 cup of water to mic into the batter. If it still seems to thick, keep adding water by the tablespoon until it’s fluid, but thick enough to coat a piece of cauliflower.
      -L

  • Tianna

    I subbed fine sprouted spelt flour for cassava and it was no bueno :( immediately became super sticky and glutenous and did not create a batter and wouldn’t coat the cauli. Better luck next time when I get some cassava flour!

    • Laura

      Hi Tianna,
      Did the batter get super thick immediately after mixing? Or did you mix the batter super thoroughly and that’s when it started to get gluey? And did you try adding more water to thin it out a bit? So sorry that this happened to you! I can say that it is super easy with the cassava. Another commented said that she used brown rice flour and it worked great.
      -L

  • Beth

    I saw this recipe and knew I had to make it for dinner tonight. I used brown rice flour in lieu of cassava flour and it worked just fine.

    This was so good! Wonderful crispy/sticky texture, and the sauce is great. I could eat this every day.

    • Laura

      Thanks for this note on substitution, Beth! I’ve added it to the recipe notes. So glad that you enjoyed it.
      -L

  • Hannah

    What’s a substitute for cassava flour?

    • Laura

      Check my notes at the top of the recipe for substitution suggestions.
      -L

  • Christina

    Thank you thank you thank you for a savory, sticky, yummy looking sauce where chili is optional! I physically can’t process spicy foods so I appreciate a recipe that doesn’t use heat as a crutch for “flavor”. I mean, I get it, my husband loves spicy foods and tells me there’s a taste to most kinds of heat but too often I see sauces that have 3 ingredients and the third is copious amounts of red curry paste or gochujang or the ubiquitous sriracha, none of which I can eat (and are processed foods to boot).
    So, sorry for the rant, but yay! a real sauce made of real ingredients that lets me tweek it for me! Yay!

    • Laura

      Totally appreciate your situation! My only suggestion would be to increase the tomato paste, maple, and sesame oil to make up for the lost volume. Other than that, your sauce should still be quite tasty :)
      -L

  • Jill

    Wondering of you’ve tried this in an air fryer?

    • Laura

      I haven’t! I don’t own an air fryer (yet) ;)
      -L

  • Jen @ sweetgreenkitchen

    I am so excited to try this recipe! All my favorite flavors and crispy cauliflower too. I’ve seen a lot of similar recipes, but this is the one I most want to make and eat. The sauce is everything, yum!

  • Heather

    Have you tried this method with other vegetables? I’m not a cauliflower fan but this looks to die for

    • Laura

      I haven’t yet, but I think it could be relatively flexible as long as the vegetable you’re using doesn’t have a heavy water content!
      -L

    • Lindsey

      You should try it anyways! I never liked cauliflower much but now I don’t mind it and the sauce is so flavorful here you really don’t taste the cauliflower much and it’s soft enough from cooking it for so long.

  • Amanda Maguire

    Oh my, yes! I’ve been in a big food rut lately and this recipe just got me excited. Perfection!

  • Louisa Berry

    I never have rice vinegar in the house, can this be substituted easily?

    • Laura

      Since rice vinegar has an ever so slight sweetness and is milder than most vinegars, I’d suggest substituting with either white wine or apple cider vinegar and adding a touch more maple syrup.
      -L