Spicy Vegan Southwest Salad with Creamy Ranch Dressing (Whole30, Paleo, Vegan)

This Spicy and delicious salad is the perfect vegan meal for you to put together and eat off of all week long! The cauliflower bites are crunchy and delicious, and heat up so easily in the microwave or Air Fryer for future salads. The creamy ranch dressing cools down the spicy bites, and all the veggies come together for deliciousness in every bite! This is the perfect thing to add to your Whole30 and paleo menu, especially if you are looking to take a break from so much meat! I loved making this recipe, and plan on making it frequently!

When I first planned out this recipe, it had chicken in it. When the time came to make it, I was definitely not feeling the meat and opted for a vegan version instead, and let me tell you– that was definitely the right decision! Salads are such an easy go-to meal for me that sometimes I forget that they can be exciting and don’t just need to be thrown together at the last minute. Add in the spiciness for this recipe, and it’s definitely your next lunch.

A brief history of spicy foods and some health benefits of eating spicy foods

I’m definitely a glutton for punishment when it comes to spicy foods. I will put hot sauce on almost anything and everything, and usually love spicy levels that people are afraid to even test out.

But why are some peppers spicy to begin with? And can what spicy foods can do for our health?

Many cultures around the world, including China, Malaysia, Thailand, Mexico, Ethiopia, and countless more, regularly incorporate spicy food into their diet. The main ingredient is a spicy pepper, which has its own scale to measure how spicy the pepper is. Specifically, the Scoville Scale measures the concentration of the “spicy” chemicals, AKA capsaicinoids. The correlation is pretty direct – the more capsaicinoids, the spicier the pepper.

Chili peppers come from all over the world, each with their own unique histories. Making spicy foods not only helped people preserve food before modern technology, but also may contribute to a healthier lifestyle.
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The interesting thing is that capsaicin – the most prominent chemical that causes this burning sensation – does not seem to have the same effect on non-mammals. Evolutionarily, attracting animals that do not grind down the seeds that will eventually germinate and produce more offspring is much more favorable. And as far as insects and fungi go – the spicier the chili pepper, the less likely insects are to eat the fruit of a chili plant. Even better is the fact that capsaicin inhibits mold and fungal growth, which is yet another evolutionary benefit for spicy pepper plants.

So why do people eat them? Many cultures used to put spicy peppers into their meals as a way to preserve them for longer periods of time. Interestingly, regularly eating spicy food is also connected to living longer. Eating spicy foods 6 to 7 days a week has an inverse relationship with mortality. There could be many reasons for this correlation, but considering that spicy foods fight inflammation might be one of the reasons. Specifically, capsaicin might reduce low-grade inflammation in the gut that has been linked to obesity.

Lastly, capsaicin might boost your metabolism. There are many spices that seem to boost the human metabolism, including turmeric, cumin, and cinnamon. Adding spicy peppers into the mix can also potentially speed up your metabolism. One study suggested the spicy foods might even prevent more fat from being stored in mice, but more studies are needed to determine whether the same effect happens in humans.

How to make Spicy Vegan Southwest Salad with Creamy Ranch Dressing

You don’t need anything fancy for this recipe, although I would recommend using an air Fryer to heat up any leftover fried cauliflower bits!

The ingredients for the salad are:

This salad is so easy to put together, but does take some time a number of steps. The spiciness complements the creamy ranch dressing, which all gets tied together with the crunchiness of the breaded cauliflower and vegetables! You should definitely try this on your Whole30, paleo, and vegan diet!
  • cauliflower
  • cassava flour
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper
  • cumin
  • ground flax seed
  • vegan butter (can substitute ghee if on Whole30 or paleo, or also coconut oil)
  • hot sauce (I love using Cholulua!)
  • salad greens (I used romaine lettuce)
  • carrots
  • celery
  • cilantro
  • avocado
  • red onion

For the dressing, you will need:

  • vegan mayonnaise (or your choice of Mayo if not vegan)
  • dill
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder
  • parsley (fresh preferred, but can substitute dried)
  • almond milk or other nondairy milk
  • apple cider vinegar
  • fresh chives

First, cut your cauliflower into smallish florets. Rinse them under water to remove any dirt and pat them dry with a paper towel. Allow them to dry completely.

While your cauliflower is drying, combine in a medium bowl the ground flax seed with some water to create a flax egg. Set it aside to rest for about 10 minutes.

Then, combine in another medium bowl the cassava flour, cumin, salt, and pepper. Put some olive oil in a large frying pan and heat it to medium heat. Once your cauliflower is dry, dip it first in the cassava flour mixture, then in the flax egg, then again the cassava flour mixture. Then, place it in the heated oil. The oil should immediately begin to bubble as soon as the cauliflower is in the oil.

Cook the cauliflower on each side until it is golden and crispy. Then, remove it from the oil and place on a plate with a paper towel. Once all the cauliflower is cooked, set aside.

Next, prepare the dressing by combining the vegan mayonnaise, dill, garlic powder, onion powder, fresh parsley, almond milk, apple cider vinegar, and chives. Blend it well using a hand mixer or a blender. If you have neither, mixing by hand should be fine as long as you finely chop the ingredients. Put it in the refrigerator until ready to dress the salad.

Prepare the rest of the salad by chopping the romaine lettuce, carrots, red onion, celery, avocado, and cilantro. Place it in a large bowl and set aside.

The last step is to coat your cauliflower in the deliciousness of hot sauce! I combine my sauce with some vegan butter (or ghee if you are not vegan) and put it in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Once the butter or ghee has melted, mix thoroughly with the hot sauce and then toss in your breaded cauliflower. They should be evenly coated.

Put your now spicy cauliflower on your salad and drizzle with some ranch dressing.

To reheat the cauliflower, I recommend tossing them in the air fryer for a few minutes to make them crispy again, but the microwave is also a great option.

Store the ranch dressing in a sealed container in the fridge for about two weeks.

Spicy Vegan Southwest Salad with Creamy Ranch Dressing (Whole30, Paleo, Vegan)

This delicious salad has the spicy, creamy, and crispy you want in a Southwest Salad, and is Whole30, Paleo, and Vegan!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Course dinner, lunch, Salad
Cuisine American
Servings 6
Calories 484 kcal


  • Air Fryer (optional)
  • Blender or immersion blender (optional)


For the Salad

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 3 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 9 tbsp water
  • 1 cup cassava flour
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tbsp vegan butter (can substitute ghee if not vegan, or coconut oil)
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce of your choice

For the Creamy Ranch Dressing

  • 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp dill (fresh preferred, but can substitute dried)
  • 2 1/4  tsp garlic powder
  • 2 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp plain almond milk (or substitute other dairy free milk)
  • 2 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped


  • Clean the cauliflower to remove any dirt. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and set aside to dry.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ground flax seed and water. Set aside.
  • In a different medium bowl, combine the cassava flour, cumin, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
  • In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil to medium-high heat.
  • Once olive oil is heated, coat the cauliflower. First, coat it in the cassava flour, then in the flax seed mixture, and then again the cassava flour mixture. Place it in the hot oil. The oil should immediately begin to bubble.
  • Cook the cauliflower on each side, about 2-4 minutes on each side. It should be golden and crispy. Remove and set on a plate lined with a paper towel. Allow it to cool.
  • Meanwhile, combine the ingredients for the dressing. You can blend using a blender, immersion blender, or a fork. As long as you chop your ingredients finely, you should have no problem combining the ingredients. Set in the fridge until you're ready to dress the salad.
  • Next, prepare the salad vegetables by chopping the romaine, carrots, celery, red onion, avocado, and cilantro. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
  • Combine the hot sauce and vegan butter in a bowl and put in the microwave for about 30 seconds. Once the butter has melted, mix the hot sauce and butter well and then toss in your breaded cauliflower.
  • Once your cauliflower is evenly coated, put on your salad and add some ranch dressing. Enjoy!


Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving  
Calories 484
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 37.4g 48%
Saturated Fat 8.1g 41%
Cholesterol 25mg 8%
Sodium 660mg 29%
Total Carbohydrate 37.2g 14%
Dietary Fiber 6.3g 22%
Total Sugars 6.8g  
Protein 3.3g  
Vitamin D 4mcg 20%
Calcium 56mg 4%
Iron 3mg 18%
Potassium 424mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calorie a day is used for general nutrition advice.
Recipe analyzed by 
Keyword cauliflower, hot sauce, ranch, salad, spicy

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