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5 from 2 votes

Vegan Chili 'Crab'

This Vegan Chili 'Crab' is scrumptious with an appetizing sauce that goes so well with a few steamed or fried buns or a bowl of rice. The recipe is easy, flavorsome, and packed with a healthy vegetable that is sure to whet your appetite.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Total Time50 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Asian, southeastasian
Keyword: cauliflower, veganchilicrab
Servings: 4 people
Author: woonheng


  • 1 small cauliflower ~ 580g
  • 2 tablespoons ginger chopped
  • 2 tablespoons shallots chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic chopped
  • 2 Thai chili or red chili chopped
  • 1 oz [30g] extra soft tofu
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch slurry
  • oil for cooking

Batter for Cauliflower

  • 115 g [¾ cup] all-purpose flour see notes if using a measurement cup
  • 155 ml [½ + 2 tablespoons] water or more adjusted depending on the brand
  • ¾ teaspoon salt adjust according to taste
  • a pinch of black pepper

Sweet Chili Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon sambal
  • 4 tablespoons ketchup
  • 4 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
  • ½ teaspoon salt adjust accordingly
  • 236 ml [1 ½ cups] vegetable broth adjust depending on how saucy you need


Prepare the cauliflower

  • Prepare the cauliflower by removing the tough stem and leaves. Using a paring knife, cut cauliflower into bite-sized florets.
  • Rinse florets thoroughly with water and drain them on dry or paper towels.

Prepare the batter

  • To make the batter, mix flour, salt, and black pepper in a bowl until well-combined. Then, add the water while whisking vigorously until you get a thick batter.
  • Preheat the air-fryer to 390°F or 200°C for 3 minutes or based on the appliance's instruction.
  • Dredge florets in the batter, shake off excess, and place them into the inner air fryer rack. Lay battered florets in one layer and air-fry for 12 minutes or until golden brown and set aside.

How to make the sauce

  • To make the sauce, heat a non-stick pan with 2 tablespoons of oil. Sauté ginger and shallots for a minute or two or until shallots turn translucent.
  • Then, add garlic, Thai chili, and continue to sauté for another 30-40 secs. Add the rest of the sauces in and give it another quick stir.
  • Slowly pour in the vegetable broth and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, then let it simmer until slightly thickened.
  • Using a fork, mash silken tofu into pieces and add it into the sauce, then stir to combine.
  • To thicken the sauce, add about a tablespoon of cornstarch slurry and stir to combine.

Final Step

  • While the sauce is cooking, slowly add in the cauliflower florets and toss them with the sauce until all florets are well-coated. Cook down the sauce slightly and turn off the heat.
  • Ladle into a serving bowl and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve warm with rice or fried buns.



  • To measure flour in the cup, I used the spoon & sweep method.  Spoon flour into a standard measuring cup, then level the top with a knife without packing the flour, which I had about ~63g in 1/2 cup.
  • For a gluten-free batter mix, use a gluten-free flour blend and adjust the water to get a thick batter.
  • For other ways to prepare the cauliflower, please check the '3 ways to prepare cauliflower' section for more details.
  • To make the fried buns or mantou, first, make the buns using Steamed Bun – Mantou ‘馒头' then:
    • Brush buns with oil
    • Place them on a preheated air fryer, and air fry for 3 mins until golden brown. Then, set aside until ready to use.
  • I used Thai sweet chili sauce and Easy Vegan Sambal in this recipe. For a less spicy version, you can use mild sambal or omit it completely.