This vegan cheesy cauliflower recipe is an atypical take on traditional cauliflower cheese. For added acidity and bready flavour, I used Southern Chinese black vinegar (Chinkiang and Zhenjiang, depending on the transliteration).
Cheesy cauliflower ingredients
For vegan cheese in sauces I prefer Violife Epic Mature, even though it's a really stupid name clearly conceived of by a hybrid beast composed from the parts of chef bros and champions of
pyramid multi level marketing schemes. At least one person on that team has probably thrown a tantrum on Twitter about how no one understands crypto. Epic! But in all seriousness, it's a great product.
Anyway, moving on to our next legendary ingredient, I often combine yoghurt with nutritional yeast and grated vegan cheese for creamy sauces. Adding yoghurt stretches the sauce but it also adds flavour of its own, imparts favourable texture (it goes pleasantly grainy – in a good way – sort of like ricotta), and adds some acidity. Also, if you've ever doubted the congruity of yours and other people's interpretation of the word "meltable" (i.e. changing from a solid to liquid state versus changing from a solid to crispy solid state), yoghurt (also oil) is a good culinary companion.
Be sure to choose yoghurt that is sugar free. I use the cheapest storebrand vegan yoghurts, which most of the big chains carry. Typically I grab the Asda one because it's the closest shop to my house. Avoid anything with sugar or any flavouring. No one wants a sweet vanilla-y cheese sauce. Actually can we just stop already with adding vanilla to every other vegan dairy product please? Monsters.
There are a lot of brands of black vinegar, but Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) vinegar from Southern China is what I use and it's also the most readily available. It may not be so straightfoward to find in major chains (I don't know) but you'll find it in just about any Chinese market, even a tiny one.
About Chinkiang vinegar
I've written a little bit previously about Chinkiang vinegar in this recipe for 5 minute Zhenjiang vinegar noodles, but hold on while I irritate you with some further material you never asked for. Joking, just a wee paragraph after this.
Chinjiang vinegar is a black vinegar made from glutinous rice (in Northern China black vinegar is more likely made from other grains). The ingredients and method of fermentation establishes nutty and breadlike flavours along with the usual acetic acid sour notes. It is not the same as clear rice vinegar.
Chop the cauliflower and stems into uniform sized pieces.
After roasting, add to a bowl with nutritional yeast and Chinkiang/Zhenjiang black vinegar.
Stir through to coat all of the roasted cauliflower.
At the cauliflower back to an ovenproof bowl that will fit into your air fryer.
Top the mix with the yoghurt and cheese mixture.
Pop back into the air fryer to melt the cheese.
If you're using an air fryer, make sure the dish fits properly in the device with clearance for the cheese topping. This will melt down into the spaces between the cauliflower so it's okay if the height of the cheese is greater than the container to start, but you don't want to deal with cleaning burnt food out of the inside of your air fryer if you can avoid it.
I realise making this an air fryer specific recipe limits it a little bit. But you can make this cheesy cauliflower in the oven as well. The cooking times would need adjusting, but as with most casseroles there's a lot of room for imprecision.
The one thing I would prioritise is roasting the cauliflower until it's got quite a few brown bits. You could also deep fry the florets if you wanted to. This is because, in my opinion, roasted cauliflower makes for a superior cauliflower cheese. Furthermore, it means you only need to cook it with the cheese until it melts.
My air fryer is an Instant Brand Vortex Mini 4-in-1 Air Fryer. It's tiny, with a supposed capacity of 2 litres (but in reality much less). A larger air fryer may need less cooking time because the basket wouldn't be as packed with cauliflower florets.
Vegan cauliflower cheese with Chinkiang vinegar
- air fryer
- 530 grams cauliflower cut into chunks
- Oil to coat
- Rounded ¼ teaspoon salt
- Few grates from a pepper mill
- 1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar 15 millilitres
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast 12 grams
- 75 grams grated Violife epic mature cheddar 1 heaped cup
- 140 millilitres sugar free plain yoghurt ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon
- Toss cauliflower with oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Cook for 10-12 minutes at 180 degrees using the air fry function in your air fryer. Agitate the tray halfway through.
- While it’s cooking, add the vinegar and nutritional yeast to the same bowl.
- In a separate bowl mix the grated cheese and yoghurt.
- When the cauliflower is finished, immediately dump it into the bowl with vinegar and nutritional yeast. Mix to coat all of the cauliflower with the sauce.
- Tip the contents of the bowl into an ovenproof dish that will fit in your air fryer. Spoon the yoghurt cheese sauce on top.
- Place back in the air fryer and cook using the bake function for 8-10 minutes at 170 degrees.