sticky-sesme-cauliflower-1The Story

Quick Quiz: You have between 6 and 8 people to feed for dinner.  Two are vegetarian, two would eat nothing but meat if you’d let them, one is allergic to tree nuts, one hates seafood, one is a self admittedly picky eater and you just want to make everyone happy while testing out a new recipe.  What do you make?

This is the question I face every week when preparing for our Wednesday board game nights.  Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE hosting game night and I love that I have the opportunity to try out new recipes with a group of amazing friends every week.   Cooking something that everyone will enjoy can be a challenge though.  THANK GOODNESS FOR PINTEREST.

When we started hosting game nights at our home a few years ago, a lot of the meals I prepared were standard recipes that could easily be made with or without meat.  Build your own pizzas, build your own sandwiches, pasta with chicken on the side, etc.  These are always great options, but it does turn out to be significantly more work preparing two options, one with and one without meat.  Ultimately, I prefer to find recipes that are completely vegetarian, tree nut free, but are still tasty enough for the meat heads to enjoy…or at least tolerate for one night a week.  😉  I tried out this sticky sesame cauliflower with jasmine rice last night and even though I fumbled a few things, the flavor was outstanding and everyone seemed pleasantly surprised.

The Recipe

The original recipe can be found on Connoiseurus Veg here.  There are several reasons I like this recipe compared to other similar ones on pinterest:

  • It’s baked, not fried.  One of the things I like so much about standard sesame chicken, (and I’m sure many people feel the same), is the crispy breading that coats every piece of chicken.  Unfortunately, that crispy breading normally comes with the cost of deep frying.  I’ve deep fried things before but I hate the way fry oil stinks up the house, frying is incredibly messy, it’s extremely unhealthy and there’s always such a massive amount of oil left over.  It seems like such a waste to throw it away but there isn’t much else I know of to use it for once it’s been used to fry food.   I’m no stranger to eating deep fried food.  Every year a group of our family and friends attends the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and we try everything from fried s’mores to fried p b&j sandwiches.  When it comes to a recipe I plan to make myself over and over again though, I’d much rather sacrifice the little bit of extra crispiness to not have to deal with all of the negatives I’ve mentioned above that go along with deep frying.  That said, this recipe does provide a good amount of crunch so add that to the “pros” column.
  • It’s vegetarian friendly and tree nut free. Being able to make one dish that accommodates everyone’s food restrictions (at least the ones that are mandatory) makes it a lot easier as far as amount of ingredients and prep time goes.
  • It’s tasty enough for even the meat heads to tolerate. They commented that it tastes just like General Tso’s chicken but with cauliflower instead of chicken.  Even though I know they’d prefer the real thing, I call that a win.
  • The flavor is outstanding.  Even if everyone we were feeding was vegetarian, there are a lot of similar cauliflower based recipes like this out there.  The combination of ingredients in the sauce and I think even the soy milk/wheat flour combination in the batter makes for a superbly flavorful dish.  Watch out Panda Express and make way for…cauliflower.  😉
  • It’s super easy to make. There are a few time consuming bits like cutting up the cauliflower or dipping each piece in batter but all in all, none of it is hard to do.
  • It’s easily doubled or tripled. I tripled the recipe and it came out perfectly.  We had enough to serve 6 people and had just enough left over for one more meal for me and my husband.

Tips and Alterations

A few things I added or realized a little too late that I should have done differently:

  • I added a little more ginger.  I’m pretty obsessed with the flavor of ginger so I added what was probably an extra teaspoon’s worth to the tripled batch of sauce. I’m sure it would have been delicious without the extra as well.
  • Use baking pans with some sort of lip around the edge.  She does mention to do this in the recipe but since I was tripling the batch, I didn’t have enough roasting pans for the job so I used baking sheets.  Unfortunately, only one of my baking sheets has a lip around the edge like the one pictured to the right.  The rest are completely flat.  This didn’t matter for the batter as it is thick enough not to run, but I made a huge mess of my oven in the saucing phase.  Definitely use a pan with a lip.
  • I added extra cornstarch to the sauce. Keep adding it, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce thickens up.  I probably had the sauce simmering for a good 20 minutes before adding the corn starch mixture and probably let it sit for another 5 minutes after that and it still was super runny.  That led to me making a huge mess of my oven when I poured it over the cauliflower.  I did hold back part of the sauce though and added another 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch to the remaining sauce and it thickened up beautifully.  I used a basting brush to evenly distribute the small amount of properly thickened sauce I had across all of the cauliflower.  It worked out alright in the end.  Tasted great but I’ll definitely be sure not to rush and completely thicken the sauce before drizzling it over the cauliflower next time.
  • Don’t line your pans with aluminum foil. I thought I’d be saving myself some time with cleanup and add to the crispiness by doing this but it didn’t do either.  The batter is pretty sticky so when I had to flip the cauliflower partway through the baking, the aluminum foil made it really difficult to really get under each piece to flip them without ripping the foil.  That of course led to the sauce seeping under the foil after I added it so it didn’t help cleanup in any way.  I also don’t think it made anything crispier either.  Next time I’ll just suck it up and prepare to have to soak and scrub the pans afterwards.
  • Cook the cauliflower longer than the recipe suggests.  Before you add the sauce but after you’ve flipped the cauliflower, keep cooking it until you start to get some dark browned tips of batter.  I think I ended up leaving mine in for an extra 10-15 minutes.  Had I taken it out when the recipe suggested, it wouldn’t have been crispy at all and was actually still kind of gooey.

Overall Ratings (out of 5) 

  • Vegetarian meal – 5 This is definitely one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve made and I will definitely be making it again.
  • General meal – 4 I don’t think the meat heads will ever give any vegetarian meal a 5 when comparing it to the real thing, in this case General Tso’s chicken.  Keeping that in mind, a 4 is the best a veggie meal can hope for in this category.  Other than spontaneously turning into chicken, I don’t think anything could have been changed to make it better for the non-vegetarians.
  • Quick to make – 3 It did require some prep work.  Especially when tripling the recipe.  I’m horrible at chopping vegetables so cutting up the cauliflower took some time but can be done well in advance.  Dipping all of the florets in the batter also takes time and is messy. I do love that you just drizzle the sauce over the cauliflower at the end and then bake it for a little longer instead of having to toss it in a bowl like many recipes call for.  That definitely saved on time and didn’t affect the final product at all in my opinion.
  • Easy to make – 5 The most difficult part was flipping the cauliflower partway through the baking.  No one likes messing with 450 degree pans through several stages of a recipe.  Everything else was super easy.  Kids could even easily help with breaking up the florets and dipping them in batter.
  • Ingredients needed – 3 While there weren’t any extremely exotic ingredients or anything, I’m not sure everyone would have all of the ingredients just lying around in their kitchen.  Things like rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, sesame seeds and fresh ginger, soy milk and wheat flour may be common in some kitchens and we happen to have them on hand most of the time but I don’t consider them items the average person would have in their kitchen at all times so you’ll likely have some extra shopping to do before making this recipe.
  • Equipment needed – 5 a good knife, a sauce pan a few bowls and a baking sheet are all you really need.

All in all, this one is definitely a keeper.  Have you tried any other cauliflower recipes? What do you think about substituting cauliflower for chicken?  Comment below!