Sweet Chilli Cauliflower

sweet chilli cauliflower

Try this sweet chilli cauliflower for a fragrant and flavourful appetiser. Perfect alongside jasmine rice or your favourite noodles!

I honestly think cauliflowers are great.

There are 101 ways to use them and they’re quite a blank canvas on their own. They pick up flavours and sauces really well making them a perfect staple vegetable.

In fact, I know that this recipe is one that you will fall in love with if you’re a fan of big and bold flavours.

Sweet chilli cauliflower

The dish that has become my favourite cauliflower dish of all time. It’s got texture and flavour written all over it and it’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

In addition to that it’s spicy, garlicy, sweet, and full of depth and fragrance. This sweet chilli cauliflower is hands down one of my top 10 stand out dishes that I’ve ever made (in my opinion).

This is one that you will need to make to truly understand why I’m so passionate about this dish.

It’s essentially bite sized pieces of cauliflower with a light batter that are then fried to perfection. That alone is enough to have me convinced it’s a winner.

I mean, crispy bites that melt in your mouth – what’s not to love? I would describe the texture as almost like a popcorn cauliflower. But no, this recipe goes one (or two) steps further.

The fried cauliflower is then tossed in a homemade sweet chilli sauce. And this sauce is everything, but I’ll cover that in the next section.

The dish is then finished with spring onions, sesame seeds and good helping of fried kaffir lime leaves. I cannot stress enough how essential the lime leaves are to this. They’re one of my favourite ingredients and something I always keep on hand.

The lime leaves are such a simple addition but they add a pop of freshness, fragrance and a lemony flavour that not only completes this dish, but elevates it.

sweet chilli cauliflower

Sweet chilli sauce

Firstly, you can’t make sweet chilli cauliflower without sweet chilli sauce. This is the main flavour running though the entire dish and it’s important for the sauce to be full of depth.

Unfortunately the store bought sweet chilli sauces just don’t quite cut it for this dish. They’re often far too sweet and pretty one-dimensional in flavour.

This is why I make my own sauce.

It has far less sugar than commercial counterparts and it’s full of flavour. You can adapt the heat to your own preferences this way too. The base of the sauce involved a mixture of mild and hot chillies along with garlic and chilli flakes (or gochugaru as I’ve used).

Simple sauces are added in which I’ll cover later. But these sauces add umami and acidity which is essential for a sweet chilli sauce. There has to be a balance between heat, sweetness and acidity.

Sugar normally allows for a sticky and syrupy sauce which is the texture that normal sweet chilli sauces have. However with the lower sugar amount in my recipe we’ll be adding in starch to thicken it up.

I recommend using rice flour, however corn flour or tapioca flour will also work well. This will provide a similar texture without the overpowering sweetness.

Keep extra sauce bottled away in the fridge, it’s perfect for dips and goes really well with my Szechuan paneer spring rolls.

How to serve sweet chilli cauliflower

You could serve the sweet chilli cauliflower alone or along side some rice or noodles. Even though it’s a sweet chilli dish it still has a kick to it so I’d advise serving it alongside something.

I’d recommend some jasmine rice or coconut rice as the best pairings, or even some rice noodles. The cauliflower is so flavourful that you don’t need a heavily flavoured accompaniment to go with.

My go-to is simply jasmine rice every time! It’s a classic combination that works so well. It also helps to balance out the spice from the sweet chilli cauliflower. Jasmine rice is also very fragrant which compliments the flavour of this dish perfectly.

sweet chilli cauliflower

Deep frying the cauliflower and why you should do it

For the best texture for the cauliflower, it’s best to deep fry it. I’m all for baking and air frying when it doesn’t take away from the final result of the dish.

Here it does so I’d stick with deep frying for best results. The texture should be perfectly crisp with a slight chew, followed by a soft melt in the mouth cauliflower.

The batter is also thick but runny and deep frying allows this batter so set immediately. That’s something that air frying and baking don’t allow for.

Reserve this dish for a special evening or you Friday night ‘fake-away’ if you’re feeling conscious about deep frying. But rest assured, it’s 100% worth it and you’ll love this recipe.

What you’ll need

The full recipe can be found at the end of the blogpost

To make this sweet chilli cauliflower, you’ll need:

  • Cauliflower
  • Rice flour
  • Plain flour
  • Red chillies – a mixture of hot and mild ones will work best. The larger more mild chillies will help provide a deep red colour whilst the hotter chillies will provide the necessary heat. This can be adapted to taste, by all means use all mild chillies or red peppers if you want a mild sauce
  • Garlic
  • Rice vinegar
  • Light soy sauce
  • Gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)/Kashmiri chilli powder/Paprika
  • Sugar
  • Rice flour
  • Fresh Kaffir lime leaves
  • Salt
  • Water

How to make sweet chilli cauliflower

Let’s first make the sauce:

1+2) Place the finely sliced garlic and red chillies into a pestle and mortar or a food processor. Pound/blitz until coarsely ground with some chunks for texture as shown in 3)

3) Leave at it this texture, try and refrain from making it completely smooth
4) Transfer the mix to a pan and sauté for around 2 minutes on a medium-low heat

5) Then add gochugaru or whichever red chilli powder you’d like to use
6) Following this, then add the sugar and place the heat on medium

7) Continuously stir as the sugar dissolves and it will begin to form a caramel. This step of caramelising the sugar adds a lot of depth!
8) Once the sugar has caramelised, add the vinegar and allow to simmer to help cook out the acidity

9+10) Then add in the soy sauce followed by the water. You’ll notice no salt has been added as the soy sauce is providing our seasoning. Next, bring the mixture to a simmer

11+12) Add in the rice flour slurry (rice flour and water mix) and bring the sweet chilli sauce to a boil on high. This will begin to turn glossy and thicken quite quickly. This does not take long at all and the sauce will continue to thicken as it cools

Now let’s make the fried cauliflower pieces:

1) Mix together the plain flour, rice flour and salt
2) Add in water to form a batter. The consistency should be thick but pourable

3) Add in the cauliflower florets (ensure these are bite-sized) and gently toss with a spatula to ensure all the pieces are covered with batter
4) Fry the cauliflower in batches making sure not to overcrowd the pan. This would lead to the oil temperature dropping and the pieces absorbing too much oil. In turn you’ll end up with soggy, oily cauliflower rather than a light, crisp coating

5+6) Fry until the cauliflower is deep golden in colour

7) Remove the fried cauliflower pieces with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel in order to drain off excess oil
8) Cut thin strips of lime leaves and fry these for a matter of seconds until crisp

9) The lime leaves will fry very quickly, remove and leave on a paper towel in order to drain excess oil
10) Mix together the fried cauliflower, sweet chilli sauce, fried lime leaves and spring onion on a medium-high heat to heat through. Enjoy immediately

Questions and Answers

Does the cauliflower have to be deep fried?

For best results yes. If you’re keen to air fry or deep fry then you can try by all means. Set the temperature to 190’C and it will take around 8-12 minutes, check every few minutes. But it just doesn’t out that great!

Will the sauce work as a dipping sauce?

Yes it definitely will, allow the sauce to cool completely and it will be perfect for a dipping sauce.

How can the sweet chilli sauce be stored?

You can keep the sauce refrigerated for up to 7 days. It has a shorter shelf life than commercial sweet chilli sauces as there is less sugar and vinegar, which both act as preservatives.

Commercial sauces are also packaged in a completely sterile environment which also helps to increase longevity.

How can I adjust the heat, e.g. to make the sweet chilli cauliflower more mild?

Opt for milder chillies and de-seed them as this is where the main ‘spice’ chemical is located. You can also substitute the chilli for red pepper if you want it completely mild, however this will end up being quite a sweet sauce. This is because the red pepper is already naturally sweet.

Can we make this in advance?

The sweet chilli cauliflower is best served immediately as the cauliflower coating will soften the longer it’s kept in the sauce. If you want to prepare this ahead of time, you could make the sauce and keep it aside.

You could also fry the cauliflower pieces separately and keep them aside too. The fried cauliflower pieces can be reheated by baking or air frying till they become crisp again.

Reheat the pieces right before serving and then mix with the sauce, lime leaves and spring onions.

sweet chilli cauliflower

Sweet Chilli Cauliflower

Crispy battered pieces of cauliflower tossed in a flavourful sweet and spicy sauce, finished with fried lime leaves and spring onions. Perfect with jasmine rice.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Pan-Asian, Thai
Servings 4 people


  • Pestle and mortar or Food processor


  • 500 g cauliflower (medium sized cauliflower) – separated into bite sized florets
  • 2 kaffir lime leaves cut into thin strips
  • 3 spring onion greens finely sliced
  • Sesame seeds for garnishing (optional)

For the sweet chilli sauce:

  • 2 tbsp neutral flavoured oil e.g. sunflower, vegetable, rapeseed
  • 3 large mild red chillies
  • 3 bird’s eye red chillies optional de-seed to reduce heat
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tbsp gochugaru or Kashmiri chilli powder/paprika
  • 3 tbsp white granulated sugar
  • 50 ml rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce not dark
  • 100 ml water
  • 1 tbsp rice flour mixed with 3tbsp water

For the batter:

  • 100 g plain flour
  • 45 g rice flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 150 ml water
  • Oil for deep frying


For the sauce:

  • Either pound the chillies and garlic in a pestle and mortar or pulse in a food processor until it forms a chunky paste. If using a pestle and mortar, finely slice the garlic and chillies first to make this process quicker
  • Transfer this paste to a pan and sauté in the neutral oil on medium-low heat for 2 minutes, stirring continuously
  • Then add the gochugaru or chilli powder of choice, followed by the sugar. Increase to a medium heat
  • Stir continuously as the sugar dissolves and begins to caramelise, you will see bubbles of liquid caramel forming around the pan
  • Once the sugar has caramelised add in the rice vinegar and simmer for around 1 minute to cook out the acidity
  • Next add in the soy sauce and water and bring to a simmer
  • Finally add in the rice flour slurry. This is the rice flour mixed with the water. Bring the heat to high and allow the sauce to come to a boil. It will begin to turn glossy and thicken quite quickly. As soon as the sauce begins to thicken turn the heat off

For the cauliflower pieces:

  • Whisk together the plain flour, rice flour and salt
  • Gradually add the water whilst whisking to form a batter. The consistency of the batter should be thick but pourable. If the batter is slightly too thin, add an additional tbsp of both rice flour and plain flour at a time. If the batter is too thick add a tbsp of water
  • Add in the cauliflower florets and gently toss with a spatula till evenly coated in batter
  • Bring some oil up to 185’C ready for deep frying and deep fry the cauliflower in batches until they’re deep golden in colour. Once fried transfer the cauliflower to a tray lined with paper towel to drain excess oil
  • Then fry the sliced lime leaves, these will take 1-2 seconds only. Transfer to a paper towel as well
  • Finally place the sweet chilli sauce back on a medium-high heat and add in the fried cauliflower, fried lime leaves and spring onions. Toss to combine
  • Garnish with sesame seeds (optional) and serve immediately. I recommend serving alongside jasmine rice
Keyword cauliflower, lime leaves, sweet chilli, sweet chilli cauliflower, sweet chilli sauce

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