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Sticky Lemon Cauliflower

4.85 from 20 votes

Sweet, sticky, savory, and seductively crispy lemon cauliflower.

Crispy Lemon Cauliflower Recipe

One of my favorite restaurants growing up was a local Chinese place just outside of Philadelphia.

We’d often go there on weeknights, because it was close to home, offered quick service, and the food was consistently good every time.

Upon sitting down at the table, I’d always immediately start on the deep-friend crispy noodles and duck sauce while waiting for my order of sticky glazed lemon chicken to arrive.

(I was pretty much on a sugar high before we even got to dessert.)

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vegan lemon chicken

Years later when my family moved to China, I remember being initially confused by the cuisine.

Where were the General Tso’s, the fortune cookies, the sweet and sour?

Where was the lemon chicken???

Much of what we in America know as Chinese food is not actually Chinese at all.

For example, fortune cookies were invented in San Francisco!

And in all my time living in Shanghai, not once did I ever see lemon chicken listed on a menu.

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chinese cauliflower
crispy cauliflower


This crispy lemon cauliflower is my healthier, vegan answer to Chinese-restaurant lemon chicken.

The sticky lemon glaze is absolutely addictive.

And if you’re not feeling cauliflower, you can easily opt to pour the sauce over chickpeas, tofu, broccoli, or anything else you think would taste good with lemon sauce.

Here are 25 more healthy and super simple Cauliflower Recipes.

Crispy Lemon Cauliflower, this recipe was SO good!

Adapted from Sticky Sesame Cauliflower

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Sticky Lemon Cauliflower

A sweet, sticky, savory, and delicious lemon cauliflower recipe.
Total Time 40 minutes
Yield 3 – 4 servings
4.9 from 20 votes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large head cauliflower
  • 1/4 cup milk of choice
  • 1/4 cup fine cornmeal or flour
  • 1-2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs, regular or gf
  • 1/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 tbsp pure maple syrup, honey, or agave
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp powdered ginger
  • 2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot
  • lemon zest, optional for garnish

Instructions

  • Finely crush breadcrumbs, either in a blender (easiest method) or by placing them in a bag and crushing with a rolling pin or heavy object. Preheat oven to 425 F. Cut cauliflower into florets. Whisk milk, cornmeal, and oil, then toss with the cauliflower in a large ziploc. Put the cauliflower in a colander to drain off excess batter. Toss with the breadcrumbs. Arrange in one layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 35-40 minutes. Meanwhile, make the lemon sauce by whisking together all remaining ingredients except cornstarch. Then quickly whisk in cornstarch. Turn heat to medium. Stir frequently – it thickens pretty quickly. Remove cauliflower from oven and stir into the sauce. (If you wish to omit the oil, feel free to experiment. I have not tried and so can’t say how it would affect taste/texture.)
    View Nutrition Facts

Notes

If you’re still craving cauliflower, be sure to try this Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce.
 
 

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Published on June 6, 2019

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58 Comments

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  1. Ashley says

    Can’t wait to try this! I just picked up some cauliflower yesterday so the timing is perfect! When I first started making sweet and sour tofu the sauce was way too sweet. It was delicious, I loved it. But All the sugar made me feel sick. We’ve since toned it down quite a bit, and it’s still a favorite.

  2. jordan @ dancing for donuts says

    this sounds incredible!!!! what an awesome idea – i’ve never thought to make cauliflower with citrus flavors. pretty sure i have all of these ingredients in my cupboard right now and am hoping to make this for dinner sometime this weekend!! thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Golden says

    I am a sucker for new vegan recipes especially new ones. I am loving this recipe sounds so good and healthy, I cant wait to try this one, something that looks easy since starting a healthy way of eating along with exercise. Will definitely check out more!!

  4. rt says

    Can attest to this recipe’s gloriousness. So so good! Did not have any vegetable broth so I subbed in water + soy sauce and then omitted the salt. Served it with sticky white rice. Amazing stuff! Thanks for sharing another fantastic recipe!

  5. pam says

    this did not become a batter at all, nothing stuck to the cauliflower. Mixing milk, corn meal, oil & bread crumbs turned into a blob.

    • Catriona says

      Just making this for the first time and same. I added an extra splash of milk (maybe 1/8 c more) and shook the heck out of it in the bag, the cauliflower did coat. It’s in the oven now.

    • Maddie Haddad says

      The same thing happened to me, but I just added extra cornmeal and sprinkled extra breadcrumbs on top instead of just rolling the cauliflower in them.

    • Chloe says

      Same here! Breadcrumbs would not stick. In oven now but most of the breadcrumbs are sitting around the cauliflower florets. :-/

  6. D.T. says

    Seeing this recipe caused me to deviate from part of my weekly meal plan to go grab some cauliflower and try this out. I just made it and it is OUTSTANDING! The sauce is amazing and I also love the crispy cauliflower method without frying or too much oil. Thanks so much for this recipe!

  7. Amanda says

    So delicious!! My family absolutely loved it. It is definitely going into our rotation. I took some short cuts and it was still good – air-fried 1 bag of defrosted cauliflower (no breading) and a pack of extra-firm tofu and I also added a can of chickpeas. It wasn’t enough! Next time I will triple the sauce and add more cauliflower and tofu.

  8. Andrea says

    This came out absolutely fabulous! A few important changes: there is no way enough batter for the cauliflower; I doubled it for 1/2 of my large cauliflower and it was barely enough. Also increased the amount of sauce I made, and I added much more fresh lemon than called for as well as lemon zest which is pictured but not listed. Even then, it was not heavily sauced by any means. In the end, it was incredible and will definitely make again.

  9. Nicole Boland says

    I’m a little confused by the instructions. It says to turn heat to medium, but in what? A pan? So do you put the sauce into the heated pan, stir, then add the cauliflower to coat?

  10. Kay says

    Could you leave out the salt and it still taste good? My hubby is on a low sodium/heart healthy diet and even though it is only 148mg, it’s for 4 pieces. I’m thinking if he liked it, he’d want more and the sodium would add up.
    Thanks for any help

    • Lori says

      Due to high blood pressure, I never use salt anymore. For this recipe, I suggest you increase the lemon juice by 50% and add orange zest to the sauce. Lemon juice and orange zest is often used in India to bring out citrus flavors without using salt. Definitely add lemon zest as a garnish, this too will serve to punctuate the flavors. Also, instead of adding salt to veggies while cooking them, add a pinch of sugar instead. This helps to enhance the flavor of the vegetables.

  11. Casey says

    Lemon chicken is a traditional dish from Guangdong. It’s perfectly fine that you don’t see it in Shanghai because our signature dishes do vary a lot in different provinces – e.g. sweet and sour in Guangdong, hot and spicy in Sichuan, etc. Glad that you like ours 😉

  12. Victoria says

    Loved this!
    Made several cauliflower recipes this is my favourite and certainly a keeper. Thanks so much for sharing!

  13. fran says

    Am in the midst of making this but didn’t realize I was out of panko! Can I just Tempura batter mix instead and elimate the breading?
    Looks yummy

  14. Lydia B Fiedler says

    I love all your recipes so much – and you are a cauliflower wizard. I actually used a bag of frozen broccoli and made my own breadcrumbs out of Ezekiel bread and it’s DELICIOUS! FYI – the panko bread crumbs that were in my pantry have milk in them! EEK.

    Thanks for all your amazing recipes – you are a lifesaver.

  15. Crystal says

    Thanks for creating and sharing this recipe!
    FYI – I lived in Hong Kong and my Hong Kong classmates and I ate lemon chicken frequently at several local restaurants (where no/minimal English is written or spoken)! There are so many unique, regional Chinese cuisines (and, as you point out, so many popular American/foreign interpretations) that it can be difficult to separate out whether a dish is traditional, but I am pretty certain that lemon chicken is a ‘real’ Chinese dish — likely just limited to Hong Kong and perhaps select other regions. <3

  16. Jean ELeyton says

    AMAZING!! It was so good I ate the whole bowl MYSELF!! I will double it so I can share next time…

  17. Barb Clark says

    I LOVE your recipes, Katie, but your website is killing me! So many ads loading that I can’t get to the print menu to print anything. I just sit here with the circle of doom……..forever! And if I do finally get to print something a small recipe prints on two pages! With loads of blank space at the top of the first page. Am I doing something wrong? I can’t believe I’m the only one having these problems……

    • Jason Sanford says

      Hi Barb, I am so sorry for the trouble. What browser are you using? Can you send a screenshot to me (chocolatecoveredmedia at gmail) of what you’re seeing? The site shouldn’t have any more ads than any of the other big food blogs, and should actually have fewer than many because we have the minimum selected. (We’ve opted out of the lucrative mobile fixed-video player from adthrive, as well as in-image ads, and we never do takeover ads.) If you’re seeing more ads on Katie’s site than what’s normally seen on other food blogs, they are not sanctioned by us and we definitely want to know about them.
      Jason (media relations)

    • Rebekah Hodgson says

      Hi Barb! I’m glad you mentioned it as I thought it was just me. Mine also prints on 2 pages with smaller text, the blank spots are what I think are the missing photos. I change the settings when printing to use one page back and front and then cut and tape the recipe together after 🙂 You can also copy just the text and put into word and change the font size to make it bigger. Totally worth it, hope this helps! I know I can zoom in on my phone and such but with my memory problems I love to print and highlight or check what I’ve done as I go 🙂

  18. Cat says

    Just made this! Delicious. As another person said, you should definitely make twice the batter and sauce as it really was not enough in the amounts listed. I will definitely be adding this to my dinner rotation!

  19. Allyson dalton says

    I can’t wait to make this! Have you tried to freeze the breaded cauliflower after baking? I want to make a lot in advance, but wouldn’t know how to store it. Thanks!

  20. April says

    I made this tonight with the sesame seed one too. I used the lemon sauce over the cauliflower since I prepped the cauliflower as instructed in this recipe and the sesame I used with homemade gluten nuggets. It was a hit with my family.

    Only substitutes I made for the sauce was I didn’t have the right kind of vinegar so I used red wine vinegar since it was all I had at home and I used fresh ginger instead of powdeR for the same reasons.

    I did find I should have used more crumbs on the cauliflower and I noticed that a lot of cauliflower disintegrated when I mixed it woth lemon sauce, I think this was because of how little sauce was created. Next time I’ll go 5x the recipe for sauce. Since I had already doubled the cauliflower I would need to double it again since I’m feeding a family of 6.

  21. Kristin says

    Does the cornstarch go in when the sauce is hot or cold? I put it in when it was heated and mine got clumpy.

  22. Lyf says

    This was great and really simple to make. I highly recommend doubling the batter and sauce, it was so good. Can’t wait to try more of Katie’s cauliflower recipe.

  23. Brian says

    Does no one proofread anything before posting it? Half way through the instructions it say “combine the rest of the ingredients except the corn starch. Add slowly as it thickens quickly. Turn heat to medium”.
    Wait, what? So, we’re combining the ingredients in a saucepan on the stove, assumingly on high heat first, because it doesn’t say anything about that in the instructions. Please don’t leave out important details. This is the second recipe of yours that I’ve almost messed up because of instructions that are not very well written.

  24. Aley Bowen says

    Thank you so much for the recipe! I’ve made it 5 or 6 times now and it is always a huge hit with my family! Even my picky three-year-olds love it and get excited when they see me making it! Seems like our family will enjoy this recipe for years to come 🙂

  25. Leigh says

    I have to hand it to you, Katie. I am not a vegetarian. I avoid cauliflower, I have never really cared for it, especially cooked. I also like Chinese Lemon Chicken… I made this, I had planned on it for several days and procrastinated. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and after it was finally done… (Prep took awhile, I used cauliflower, broccoli and some tofu, also using coconut milk) I made a double batch of the lemon sauce…. I took a small helping and carefully tried it. I can eat this, and enjoy it. Wow. I had a second helping and I will make this again. Thank you.

  26. allison j burgueno says

    I tried to make this with gf panko. It did not stay crispy at all after adding the sauce. The sauce is tasty, but next time I’ll stick to my vegan breading mixture of gf oat flour and yeast flakes.

  27. Denise Corklin says

    The sauce was delicious . Unfortunately I did not have plain breadcrumbs so I used herb seasoned breadcrumbs on the cauliflower ….NOT recommended. I did make a few without any added breadcrumbs and it actually worked very well.

  28. Kim says

    I made the lemon cauliflower and while fine, it wasn’t great, I thought it was lacking in flavor, maybe some Chinese 5 spice in the panko/bread crumb mix…

  29. Patricia says

    I thought this was excellent but needed more sauce. I made a lentil flour based faux rice to eat with it in order to add some more protein. I’m trying to significantly reduce my use of plastic so I simply put the florets and the Coating in a large bowl and mix it around with my hand. Worked out just fine. Also trying to avoid using paper, so I lightly oiled my metal tray. Everything stuck a little bit but not badly and the stuck crispy bits that I got off with my spatula were yummy!

  30. Karen says

    5 stars
    I don’t usually comment, but this recipe was so good! I am trying to do less starches, but I found that putting this over some salad greens was prefect, a combo of the sweet and sticky with the savory. I’ll keep sharing this one!

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