I don’t know many people who don’t love the tangy heat – varying degrees of heat, that is – of a good buffalo sauce. And of course, buffalo sauce is synonymous with chicken wings. But if you’re like me and you choose to very infrequently eat any meat if at all (and for me personally, if I’m going to have some, it never includes poultry – even though that used to be the meat I ate the most of!) – then alternative vehicles for buffalo sauce are needed.
Cauliflower is an under-appreciated but very versatile and extremely nutritious vegetable. Roasted to a char it’s almost addictive, steamed and pureed it transforms into a mashed potato-like dish (or can be woven into a soup), and it’s light enough in flavor that it happens to be a great vegetable to enjoy with any number of dips – hummus, salsa, different dressings, etc. Including buffalo sauce!
I had grand plans to make these cauliflower buffalo bites alongside another dish for dinner, but we wound up eating this whole plate and were extremely full – cruciferous veggies can do that!
There are many iterations of similar recipes for this out there, but I found this one to turn out the best so far. This particular recipe is gluten free and vegan. I opted for brown rice flour because of its mild flavor and the gooey texture created when mixed with water (unlike some other non-wheat flours). Whole wheat pastry flour should also work fairly well here, though you may need to adjust the flour to liquid ratio so it doesn’t get too doughy.
As for what constitutes buffalo sauce, this is a hotly debated topic amongst those who consider themselves connoisseurs. Many purists rely on Frank’s Red Hot (tasty), with the possible addition of some butter for mellowing. For a treat nostalgic to my husband’s Buffalo roots, I ordered a bottle of the “hotter” sauce from the famed Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY – an institution known for it’s wings/sauce. While this sauce contains small amounts of some ingredients I generally and across the board recommend avoiding, given that it has the “real deal” flavor, I thought it would be worth it for at least my own taste test and a throwback for Peter – so I can now work on concocting my own cleaner but just as delicious recipe for the sauce itself. That’ll be a future Part II to this recipe!
Serve these alone, or with the traditional carrot and celery sticks. And, of course, don’t forget bleu cheese or ranch dressing for dipping… easier than ever for those avoiding dairy/ vegan and when you don’t want to whisk together something homemade, thanks to Follow Your Heart’s amazing bottled vegan dressings. I think everyone (even those who don’t stay away from dairy) should try these. I never thought that blue cheese in particular could be replicated without cheese/milk – but they proved me wrong in a big way.
I think this is a great recipe for both meat eaters and those who avoid animal protein – you get a delicious (and Buffalonian-approved) dose of spicy buffalo sauce, with a non-fried, nutritious base of cauliflower. So much healthier than fried meat!
Recipe: Buffalo Cauliflower Bites (vegan + gluten-free)
What You Need
- 2 small heads cauliflower with florets cut off — the smaller, the easier for crisping up in the oven
- 2/3 c brown rice flour OR 1 c almond flour/meal
- Approx. 1 c water (or 2/3 c light coconut milk or any unsweetened and unflavored coconut milk + 1/3 c water)
- A generous pinch each of salt (himalayan), ground pepper, and garlic and onion powder
- At least 3/4 c preferred hot sauce or pre-made “buffalo sauce” (if buying it bottled, check the ingredients and avoid any that are chemical-laden or have butter if keeping vegan)
- Optional: 1/2 tbsp Earth Balance
What You Do
- Preheat oven to 450
- Whisk the flour, water and spices; consistency should be on the thinner side – just think enough to lightly coat the tip of your finger if you dip it in
- Cover a baking pan in tin foil (optional – but prevents a messier clean up!) and lightly grease
- Dip or toss the cauliflower pieces in the batter, shaking off any excess big drips and arranging on the baking sheet with the “flower” side up when possible (the pieces can be very close together, but try not to let them overlap too much to allow for more surface area cooking)
- Bake for 20-25 min
- While baking, pour your hot/buffalo sauce into a medium bowl. If your sauce is a little too spicy for you and you’d like to reduce some of the heat, melt the Earth Balance and mix into the hot sauce (stir in 1 tsp at a time), tasting as you go. The “butter” will also help slightly thicken the sauce; a pinch or two of flour will also do the trick without impacting heat/flavor if your sauce is very thin.
- Remove the tray of cauliflower from the oven. Being careful of heat, touch a few pieces of cauliflower to make sure the batter has set and is no longer wet (if it is, bake for a few more minutes).
- Using a spatula, gently scoop the cauliflower from the tray and put into the bowl of sauce. Carefully and slowly toss the cauliflower around to coat with sauce. Then put the pieces back on the tray. Alternatively, you can leave the cauliflower on the tray and use a pastry brush to coat the pieces in sauce. Make sure they’re thoroughly covered to get the most flavor out of this!
- Put the tray back in the oven and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the sauce has absorbed/firmed up on the cauliflower.
- Switch oven setting to high broil and, keeping a watchful eye on the cauliflower, broil until a few edges of the pieces begin to brown. This broiling is an essential step in helping crisp up the cauliflower – but broiling can go from great to burnt very quickly, so stay near the oven and watch! Depending on your oven, it may be 2-6 minutes (approx.).
- Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes – this helps slightly cool the steaming inside and set the outside.
- Pile onto a plate with a side of bleu cheese or ranch (make your own or buy Follow Your Heart vegan brand) and devour while still warm!