Feeling a bit meh about cauliflower? Let us change your mind with our delicious Air Fryer Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas. Mingled with a sweet, nutty red pepper pesto, this hearty side dish will rock your vegetarian taste buds.
Why You’ll Love This Side Dish
I am a big fan of cauliflower. Such a versatile vegetable. It might come across as bland and boring, but when treated right, there is so much to love.
From stir fries, roast, grilled, puree, soup, mash, rice, and fried, cauliflower will step up and deliver you a delicious dish. The neutral taste of cauliflower will take on the flavours around it and elevate the recipe.
One of my favourite recipes to make in the air fryer is air fried cauliflower. My kids love fried cauliflower with crispy florets and tender sweet stems.
The air fryer makes it even easier and healthier to make with far less oil. Plus air fried cauliflower transforms the taste and brings out the natural sweetness.
After experimenting with a few different seasonings and combinations, I decided to create a more substantial side dish that features air fried cauliflower so I can share with friends and bring to festive gatherings.
Air fryer cauliflower shines as the main star of this vegetarian side dish supported by a nutty red pepper pesto base and elevated with crispy roasted chickpeas to finish.
Essentially there are three components to the this side dish, all that can be served separately as snacks/sides. How good is that? You get three recipes in one here!
And when you put them all together, this vegetarian side dish is hearty, delicious and perfect for sharing with friends.
What’s This Cauliflower Craze?
What was considered quite an uninspiring vegetable in the past with bland flavours and mushy steamed versions, cauliflower is now very much at the forefront of many food trends.
Cauliflower can be used in various recipes to substitute the carb component like cauliflower rice, mashed cauliflower or even a cauliflower pizza crust.
So you can see why it is popular with people who have dietary restrictions. It is suitable for keto, low carb, gluten free, vegan, plant-based and paleo diets.
Plus, cauliflower is an excellent meat substitute in vegan diets. For example, try air fryer cauliflower wings instead of Buffalo wings or cauliflower walnut taco filling instead of ground beef.
And we know how good cauliflower is because we have tried and tested quite a few cauliflower recipes, including Cauliflower Rice Salad, Curried Vegan Cauliflower Steak Salad and Purple Cauliflower Salad.
Tips For Air Fryer Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas
- Cut cauliflower florets in similar size to help with quick and even cooking.
- Do spread out the chickpeas and cauliflower in the air fryer and try not to overcrowd the basket. Work in batches if needs be.
- Pat dry the chickpeas before adding to the air fryer for a more crispy texture.
- Shake the basket halfway so the cauliflower and chickpeas in the air fryer cook evenly. It is like flipping them in the oven.
- Reheat cauliflower in an air fryer quickly if not served immediately as air fried cauliflower will soften over time.
Flavour/Texture: With three separate components of this air fryer recipe, you really get an explosion of flavours and texture.
In one bite, you get crispy but tender air fried cauliflower mixed with crunchy roasted chickpeas and layered on top of a bed of nutty red pepper pesto—lots of different and exciting textures and mouthfeel.
Cauliflower itself can be bland but is an amazing vehicle to carry other flavours. I love the mix of the aromatic seasoning on the air fryer cauliflower along with the sweet, nutty flavours in the red pepper pesto.
And roasting chickpeas in the air fryer really delivers crunchy little morsels with ease.
Ease: Even though there are three components in this recipe, they are not all challenging. You just need to follow the steps and do one at a time.
An air fryer is a great tool to help roast chickpeas and fry the cauliflower. However, you can do both in the oven if you don’t have an air fryer.
Time: Total time will take approximately 40 minutes but may take a bit longer if you have a smaller air fryer and need to fry in multiple batches.
These are the ingredients you need in Air Fryer Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas.
Chickpeas: I usually use canned chickpeas as I find them the easiest. No soaking is involved and very affordable.
Olive oil: A good quality olive oil is required for all three components, chickpeas, cauliflower and red pepper pesto. To add flavour and help with the crispiness of chickpeas and cauliflower.
Cauliflower: I find cauliflower heads at our local greengrocer can really vary in size. Choose a medium-sized one that is firm, tightly closed and with no or only slight blemishes.
Garlic/Onion powder: To season air fried cauliflower, I prefer to use dried seasoning to get the full flavour but not extra moisture. I like to add garlic and onion powder for the intense flavours. Adjust the seasoning to your liking.
Cayenne pepper: Our family likes a bit of heat, so cayenne is perfect in this instance. It is subtle and aromatic at the same time. Cayenne pepper also ties in with red pepper pesto.
Marinated red peppers: Bought in a jar pre-marinated, making red pepper pesto super easy to make.
Cashew nuts: Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, but I love adding different nuts for variety. Cashews are similar to pine nuts in colour, texture and flavour.
However, I find it to have a more robust nutty flavour versus pine nuts that are more buttery. Plus, the bonus is that cashews are generally cheaper than pine nuts.
Grated parmesan cheese: Helps bind the red pepper pesto together and also adds a savoury bite.
Variations and Substitutions
Alternative cooking to air fryer: If you don’t have an air fryer, roast chickpeas in the oven for about 20 minutes or until crispy.
For cauliflower, you can also roast in the oven on high heat for 15-20 minutes, turning them occasionally until golden brown.
Other seasoning suggestions for air fried cauliflower:
- Spice it up with buffalo sauce
- Turmeric, smoked paprika, salt and pepper
- Crushed chilli, turmeric and garlic powder
- Dried garlic granules and grated parmesan cheese
Nut free option: Substitute cashew nuts for toasted sunflower seeds for a nut free pesto.
Vegan/Dairy free option: Switch the parmesan for a little shiro miso paste in the red pepper pesto to create a dairy free option.
Follow these instructions on how to make Air Fryer Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas.
Drain chickpeas from the can and pat dry. You can also use dried chickpeas or frozen chickpeas. Cook/defrost as per instructions.
Add chickpeas to the mixing bowl, season with sea salt and coat well with olive oil.
Preheat the air fryer for 3 minutes, if required.
Roast chickpeas in an air fryer for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
I generally like to give the air fryer basket a shake between cooking to make sure chickpeas are roasting well.
Remove from the air fryer and set aside for assembly.
Cut cauliflower into florets. Try to cut the florets roughly the same size so they air fry at the same rate.
Place cauliflower florets in a large mixing bowl and toss with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, cayenne pepper and olive oil until well coated.
Place cauliflower into an air fryer basket in one layer. Try not to overcrowd so there is enough hot air to circulate the cauliflower. Fry in separate batches if required.
Air fry seasoned cauliflower at 200°C or 400°F for approximately 10-15 minutes or until fork tender and lightly brown.
Flip cauliflower florets at the halfway mark.
How to Make Red Pepper Pesto
Add marinated red peppers, parmesan, garlic, cashew nuts, and olive oil in a food processor.
Blitz until everything is combined. I am not expecting a smooth texture in the pesto but enough that the cashew nuts are crushed and combined well with the other ingredients.
Taste the pesto and add more olive oil if the mixture is too gluggy.
How to Assemble Side Dish
On a large serving platter, spoon a layer of red pepper pesto on the bottom. Use the back of the spoon to spread it out.
Add air fryer cauliflower on top and then scatter chickpeas throughout.
Finish with roughly chopped parsley to serve.
How to Serve
Here are some main dishes that will go well with Air Fryer Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas.
This Moroccan carrot red lentil soup or Cacio e pepe recipe will make for fantastic vegetarian meals that pack a punch and are so delicious. And for a great mid-week meal, try this cumin meatballs in red sauce.
Frequently Asked Questions
I like to preheat my air fryer first for about 3 minutes just to get the hot air circulating, similar to preheating your conventional oven.
Some manufacturers say you don’t need to preheat, but I find preheating the air fryer first cooks better.
Yes, you can use frozen cauliflower florets for air fryer cauliflower. You don’t need to thaw the cauliflower first; just season and fry in the air fryer. You will need a couple more minutes of cooking time.
Overcrowding the air fryer can cause the cauliflower to be less crispy. Space them out more or cook them for an extra couple of minutes.
Definitely can make red pepper pesto and air fryer roasted chickpeas in advance. However, for the air fryer cauliflower, I would fry closer to the time you are serving. Otherwise, reheat in the air fryer for 3-4 minutes.
Altogether, this cauliflower side dish is a winner in both flavours and texture. Visually it definitely draws attention as well. This recipe is going on the list for dinner parties and festive gatherings this year—a great one to share.
More Air Fryer Side Dishes
Air Fryer Cauliflower and Roasted Chickpeas
Cauliflower and Chickpeas
Click on the toggle below for conversion to US Cooking Units.
- Drain chickpeas from the can and pat dry. Add chickpeas to the mixing bowl, season with sea salt and olive oil.
- Roast chickpeas in an air fryer for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Give the air fryer basket a shake if required between cooking.
- Cut cauliflower into florets. Place in a large mixing bowl and toss with garlic powder, onion powder, salt, cayenne pepper and olive oil until well coated.
- Roast seasoned cauliflower florets in an air fryer at 200°C or 400°F for approximately 10-15 minutes or until fork tender and lightly brown. Flip cauliflower florets at the halfway mark.
- In a food processor, add marinated peppers, parmesan, garlic, cashew nuts, and olive oil to blitz until everything is combined for red pepper pesto. Add more olive oil if the mixture is too gluggy.
- On a large serving platter, spoon a layer of red pepper pesto on the bottom.
- Add air fryer cauliflower on top and then scatter roasted chickpeas throughout.
- Finish with roughly chopped parsley to serve.
- If you don’t have an air fryer, roast chickpeas in the oven for 20 minutes or until crispy.
- For cauliflower, you can also roast in the oven on high heat for 15-20 minutes, turning them occasionally until golden brown.
- Other seasoning suggestions for air fried cauliflower:
– Spice it up with buffalo sauce
– Turmeric, smoked paprika, salt and pepper
– Crushed chilli, turmeric and garlic powder
– Dried garlic granules and grated parmesan cheese
– You can use frozen cauliflower florets for air fryer cauliflower.
-Do not overcrowd air fryer. Cook into multiple batches if required.
*Disclaimer: Nutritional information provided is an estimate only and generated by an online calculator.
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