Ah, the cauliflower. Is there anything it can’t do? It’s the culinary understudy for so many things – rice, mashed potatoes, pizza dough, and even chicken wings. Or at least, that’s what Pinterest and the like will have you believe. There is no denying that the cauliflower is as magical as it appears but, let’s be honest, you won’t be mistaking it for a chicken anytime soon. No, the beauty of the cauliflower doesn’t lie in its ability to imitate, it lies in its ability to disappear. Shred-it, boil it, rice it, or fry it; unless you’re adding to a crudites platter, you’re probably doing everything in your power to conceal it. And you know what? That’s okay. The cauliflower is a blank slate, and that’s precisely why these Pomegranate Cauliflower Wings are so dang addictive.
A few years ago, I was like any other snobby omnivorous foodie. I sneered at the concept of a cauliflower wing. I made the “clever” and not funny observation that cauliflowers do not have wings and therefore the concept of a cauliflower wing was an impossibility. Fast forward to today, I am a much better person in that I don’t complain loudly about things other people enjoy in an effort to appear as the smartest person in the room. Today, I do eat cauliflower wings and yes, I do like them. I don’t think they taste like chicken but I do think the cauliflower is an excellent vehicle deep-fried batter and gooey sauce. So yeah, you could say I’m on team cauliflower wing.
Placing the word “cauliflower” front and center in the title of this recipe feels a little unfair. As I mentioned above, the cauliflower isn’t exactly impactful. The crispy batter, the tangy salty/sweet sauce, and the creamy labneh are the true heroes of this dish. And while the pomegranate does manage top billing, the unmentioned panko/tempura batter is what will keep you coming back for more.
Cauliflower can be a bit tricky to bread. It has a tendency to steam and steam is definitely not a batter’s best friend. You can tackle this problem by dredging the veg in flour first. But if you’re more texture focused, I say why not employed two batters in the place of one? Come on, I double-dog dare ya!
The first batter applied to these cauliflower wings is a simple thin tempera-esque affair. It gets its airiness from the addition of baking powder and sparkling water. It thoroughly encases the cauliflower and protects the secondary dredge from any steam resulting from the cooking process. And that secondary dredge is a panko breadcrumb mixture! Introduce these two juggernauts to hot oil and BOOM! You have the crispiest cauliflower wing you ever did eat.
Now, the crispiest cauliflower wings can stand-up to a host of sauces, so let’s talk about the true stars of this dish. First up, mostly because you have to make it first, is the labneh. Now, you know when it comes to labneh, I don’t joke around. It has wound up in so. many. dishes. on this blog that it’s finally bordering on ridiculous. But I swear the labneh works so well here it’s worth repeating myself.
These Pomegranate Cauliflower Wings get a seriously refreshing boost from the herbed labneh. I often find fried food, even fried veg, a bit heavy, so I think a hit of bright acidity is a welcome change of pace. The labneh cuts through the heavy savory notes and delivers a bit of lightness, albeit in a creamy package, to the overall eating experience. Plus any leftover labneh is a killer stand-in for cream cheese. Your bagel won’t know what hit it.
And finally, let’s talk about the pomegranate glaze. Up to this point, the flavors in this dish have been borrowing heavily from the Middle Eastern palette, but this sauce, well, it has a bit of an Asian bent. Soy sauce, Shaoxing, and sesame oil bring the umami and floral notes to this cornstarch thickened sauce. It’s glossy appearance and general viscosity bring to mind the likes of sweet and sour chicken from your favorite Chinese takeout. But where this sauce differs is in its sophisticated flavor and gentle tartness. This is brought to you by pomegranate molasses.
Now, pomegranate molasses is a favorite of mine. I glaze meat with it, I stir it into hummus, I even put in my gin and tonics. It can be a touch difficult to find, but once you find a source I swear it’ll work its way into your everyday culinary adventures. It doesn’t taste exactly like pomegranate juice, it has more of a sour note almost verging on the edge of savory, hence the hit of sugar in the pomegranate sauce. I love the molasses’ complex flavor but I will admit it caught me off guard when I first tasted it. So, fair warning.
So, that’s everything you need to know about these Pomegranate Cauliflower Wings with Herbed Labneh. Keep this recipe in your back pocket this holiday season. They are the perfect veg-friendly appetizers that everyone will love, even your meat-obsessed Uncle Lou.
Pomegranate Cauliflower Wings with Herbed Labneh
- 750 g (26.5oz) Greek yogurt
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup fresh mint finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro finely chopped
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 head cauliflower cut into florets
- 1 cup flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt divided
- 1 cup sparkling water
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 4 cups canola oil
- 1/2 tbsp canola oil
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1 (1/2 inch) knob ginger minced
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- Pomegranate arils for sprinkling
- Fresh mint leaves for sprinkling
- Fresh cilantro leaves for sprinkling
- Toasted sesame seeds for sprinkling
For the Labneh
- Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
- Line another bowl with a few pieces of cheesecloth. Spoon the yogurt mixture into the bowl and gather the edges of the cheesecloth together to form a bundle.
- Suspend the bundle from your faucet and let drain for 5 hours. Unwrap the finished labneh and place it in a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
For the Cauliflower
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, and half of the salt. Stir in the sparkling water and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk to combine the panko breadcrumbs and the remaining salt. Set aside.
- Working in batches, dunk the cauliflower florets in the flour-based batter. From there transfer the florets to the bowl with panko breadcrumbs. Toss until completely encrusted. Transfer the dressed florets to a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and set aside. Repeat until you run out of florets.
- Pour the oil into a large, deep cast-iron skillet. Heat the oil to 350°F. Working in batches of about 6 or 7, add the florets to oil and fry until golden brown, about 6-7 minutes. Transfer the fried florets once more to the cooling rack to drain. Keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Pomegranate Glaze
- While the cauliflower is frying, work on the glaze. Heat the oil in a small skillet. Add the garlic and ginger and fry until fragrant. About two minutes.
- In a small bowl whisk to combine the soy sauce, pomegranate molasses, wine, sugar, and sesame oil. Add the mixture to the skillet and bring up to a boil.
- Once boiling, pour the water into a small bowl and add the cornstarch. Whisk to combine. Whisk the mixture into the soy sauce mixture and reduce the heat to low. Stir until the sauce is thick enough to readily coat the back of a spoon.
- Transfer the sauce to a small bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
- Spoon the labneh onto a large platter. Using the back of a spoon, spread the labneh into a swoosh. Pile the cauliflower on top and spoon the pomegranate glaze over the cauliflower.
- Garnish the dish with sesame seeds, pomegranate arils, fresh cilantro leaves, and fresh mint leaves. Serve immediately.