Air-Fried Cauliflower Poppers with Smoky Garlic Dipping Sauce

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  • Makes 6 cups poppers + ¾ cup sauce (4 Servings)
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Air-fried to crispy perfection, these tender-on-the-inside cauliflower poppers feel like a deep-fried appetizer, with none of the unhealthy fats. Buttery oven-roasted garlic and smoked paprika give the Smoky Garlic Dipping Sauce a bold flavor that pairs well with the milder cauliflower. Tofu does double duty, showing up in the dipping sauce and in the buttermilk-style coating for the cauliflower. The battered cauliflower pieces get a dusting of whole wheat panko bread crumbs and cornmeal—then 10ish minutes in the air fryer and and pat yourself on the back for a standout appetizer. These tasty bites would also work well added to a salad. 

For more inspiration, check out these tasty ideas:

By Laura Marzen, RD, LD,


  • 2 heads garlic (2-inch bulbs)
  • 1 12.3-oz. package firm silken-style tofu
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon + ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • ½ cup unsweetened, unflavored plant milk
  • 4 cups 1½ - to 2-inch cauliflower florets
  • 1½ cups whole wheat panko bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup coarse cornmeal


  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut the top ¼ inch off garlic bulbs so the clove tops are exposed. Remove any loose papery outer layers. Place bulbs, cut ends up, in custard cups or small ramekins. Cover and roast 35 to 40 minutes or until very soft. Let cool. Squeeze garlic from papery skin into a blender.
  • For dipping sauce, add half of the tofu, the mustard, 2 teaspoons of the vinegar, the paprika, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, ⅛ teaspoon of the black pepper, and the cayenne pepper (if using) to blender with garlic. Cover and blend until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl. Clean blender.
  • In the blender combine the remaining tofu, 1 tablespoon cider vinegar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and the milk. Cover and blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a large bowl. Add cauliflower florets; toss until well coated.
  • In a shallow dish stir together bread crumbs and cornmeal. Dip cauliflower, a few pieces at a time, in bread crumb mixture, turning to fully coat each piece. Arrange one-third of the coated cauliflower pieces in a single layer in an air-fryer basket.
  • Preheat air fryer to 400°F. Air-fry cauliflower 9 to 11 minutes or until browned and tender. Keep cooked cauliflower pieces warm in a 200°F oven. Repeat with remaining cauliflower pieces. Serve cauliflower with dipping sauce.

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Jill and Sylvain

This recipe was terrible!!

About the Author

Headshot of recipe developer and nutritionist Laura Marzen by Theresa Schumacher Photography

About the Author

Laura Marzen, RD, LD

Laura Marzen, RD, LD, is known for developing approachable recipes using her attention to detail and relying on two decades of experience creating and testing recipes. She created and tested recipes while working in the Better Homes & Gardens test kitchen for over seven years. Since then, she has gone on to develop more than 1,000 recipes for national magazines. In addition to her work developing recipes, Marzen uses her passion for healthy eating to coach women on improving their digestion and health in a way that's practical and sustainable. She has consulted for authors Rocco DiSpirito and Joy Bauer and has appeared on both local and national news and television programs on behalf of Better Homes & Gardens and Living the Country Life. With her work coaching women to improve their health, Marzen has extensive knowledge on the topics of digestion, metabolism, inflammation and IBS. Marzen earned a B.S. degree in dietetics from Iowa State University. She followed that with a dietetic internship and classes in public health at the University of Iowa through the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Learn more on her website. Photo by Theresa Schumacher Photography
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