Cauliflower gets a bad rap as a boring white version of broccoli with little to no flavor. Boy, is that idea ever wrong! Cauliflower does have flavor, a mild one, but one that makes it receptive to being cooked with lots of different spices and flavors and in a multitude of ways. Cauliflower is delicious when cooked with pretty much any ethnic flavor profile and lets the spices shine. Cauliflower also comes in a variety of colors including orange and purple which make for the most beautiful, colorful dishes.
Besides flavor, cauliflower is magical because it can be used in many forms and textures. We all know that it breaks down into florets much like broccoli, but unlike broccoli, cauliflower can be cooked whole, sliced into slabs or grated into a grain-like texture. So, if you pass by the cauliflower in the supermarket thinking it’s bland and boring, think again. Take a look at these ideas of dishes you can make with cauliflower and see how exciting it can be.
1. Cook the Entire Head
If you want a dish with “wow factor,” this is it. You don’t need to break the head of cauliflower down at all. All you have to do is marinate it, roast it and serve it. It makes a very dramatic dish when you set down a platter with a whole roasted cauliflower and then slice it at the table. For the marinade, you can choose any spice blend you like. I chose to make mine with jerk seasoning for a spicy kick.
In a bowl, mix 8 oz. of plain, non-dairy yogurt, the zest and juice of one lime, 2 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce, 1 tsp. apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp. soy sauce, 2 tsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp. ground allspice, 1 tsp. dried thyme, 1 tsp. chile powder, ½ tsp. onion powder, ½ tsp. garlic powder, ½ tsp. kosher salt, ¼ tsp. ground ginger, ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper, 1/8 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg and 1/8 tsp. ground cloves. Taste the marinade for any seasoning adjustments.
Make sure the cauliflower is clean of leaves on the bottom and trim the stem. Brush the marinade onto the cauliflower head, being sure to completely cover the whole head. If you have a bowl or plastic storage bag big enough, you could even let the cauliflower sit in the marinade for 30 minutes. Place the head of cauliflower on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast it in a 425 degree oven for 40 minutes or until the marinade is dry and the cauliflower is fork-tender. Turn the broiler on for 2-3 minutes to get a bit of char on the head. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut the head into wedges or slices to serve.
2. Make Cauliflower Soup
The first time I ever bought cauliflower in different colors, I struggled with what to make because I really wanted to highlight the amazing colors. I decided to make a purple cauliflower soup, curious to see what it would look like. It turned out to be a gorgeous deep, dark pink color.
Saute 1 small, chopped onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic in oil in a soup pot. Cook for 5 minutes until softened but not browned. Add 1 head of cauliflower that has been stemmed, cored and broken into florets and 1 quart of low-sodium vegetable broth. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered for 20-30 minutes until the cauliflower is falling apart. Remove the soup from the heat. Reserve about ½ cup of the cauliflower from the soup and set it aside for the garnish. Puree the soup with an immersion blender until it is smooth. Serve soup in bowls garnished with the reserved cauliflower and chopped chives.
3. Make Chinese Food
When I wanted to make a cruelty-free version of my husband’s favorite Chinese dish, sweet and sour chicken, I also wanted to keep it all vegetables. Cauliflower seemed like the perfect choice since it just takes on the flavors it’s cooked in and has a crunchy texture. So I created Sweet and Sour Cauliflower. There is no breading or frying going on here; just healthy cauliflower sauteed in all its deliciousness.
First, make a batch of Sweet and Sour Sauce and set it aside. Then, heat a tablespoon of peanut oil in a deep saute pan. Saute 2 cloves of minced garlic and 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger over medium high heat for 2 minutes or until softened and fragrant. Add 1 head of cauliflower that has been stemmed, cored and broken into florets to the pan, toss to coat in the garlic and ginger, and cook until it is to your desired texture. I like mine softened but still crunchy which takes about 20-30 minutes. Add 2 chopped bell peppers and 1 cup of pineapple chunks. Cook, stirring often, until the pineapple is a bit crisp and the peppers are tender, about 4 minutes. Stir in the sweet and sour sauce and toss to coat the vegetables. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook until the sauce thickens, about 1 or 2 minutes.
Stir in the sweet and sour sauce mixture into the skillet and toss to coat all the strips and the vegetables. Bring it to a boil and cook until the sauce thickens, about 1 or 2 minutes. Garnish with toasted cashews, if desired. Serve with brown rice. For another Asian cauliflower dish, try this Cauliflower Manchurian.
4. Make Indian Food
One of my favorite Indian dishes combines two vegetables I love: potatoes and cauliflower. Here in this Northern Indian dish called Aloo Gobi, they are cooked in fragrant, aromatic spices to make an amazing and delicious dish.
Saute 4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 tsp. grated ginger, 1-2 chopped green chiles (depending how hot you like it), and 1 small, diced onion in 1 tbs. coconut oil in a deep saute pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Stir and cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 large peeled and cubed potatoes and toss to coat in the aromatics. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 head of cauliflower that has been stemmed, cored and broken into florets. Mix in 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander, 1 tsp. curry powder, ½ tsp. chile powder, and ½ tsp. turmeric. Cover the pan and cook for ten minutes. Mix in ½ tsp. kosher salt and ½ cup frozen green peas. Add ¼ cup water, cover the pan and allow the vegetables to steam until tender. They should still have some bite and not be falling apart. Taste for spice adjustments. Garnish with 2 tbs. fresh chopped cilantro or parsley. Serve warm.
Other Indian dishes starring cauliflower you may like to try are Methi Gobi Indian Style Cauliflower with Ginger and Fenugreek and this version of Aloo Gobi- Curried Potatoes and Cauliflower with Green Peas.
5. In Place of Carbs
We all love our carbs – hearty and filling rice and potatoes – but sometimes it’s nice to lighten things up. Or maybe you are looking for a new and different way to eat more vegetables. Cauliflower can be used to substitute for or supplement rice and potatoes to make healthier dishes where you get all the taste but not all the calories or carbs.
Making cauliflower rice is as easy as this: take a head of cauliflower that has been stemmed, cored and broken into florets and place those florets in a food processor in batches. Pulse until the cauliflower is broken down into rice-like pieces. That’s it. Done. You can freeze your “rice” in storage bags for future use. Use as you would any rice to make your favorite dishes, even risotto.
To make cauliflower mash, cook cauliflower florets in boiling water for 6-8 minutes. Drain and pat the cauliflower dry with towels. Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor and add non-dairy cream or coconut milk, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper and your favorite herbs like rosemary or thyme. Puree until smooth and serve warm.
For more recipes, check out Spicy Curry Cauliflower Rice with Kale, Spicy Orange Cauliflower Couscous and this CauliMash. You can even use cauliflower to make pizza crust. Try this Cauliflower Crust Pizza with Mung Bean Curry.
6. Make Them Spicy
The most popular recipe on my blog is for my Roasted Buffalo Cauliflower Bites. I wanted to indulge in a delicious treat but without frying so I toss the cauliflower florets in a bit of oil and season them with garlic, salt and pepper. Then they get roasted in a 450 degree oven for 35 minutes until they are browned, firm and even a little blackened. Melt 2 Tbs. vegan butter into ¾ cup of hot sauce, and toss the cauliflower in the Buffalo sauce to coat. Arrange the florets on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put them back in the oven for 10 minutes to “seal” the hot sauce onto the cauliflower. Serve with carrots, celery and your favorite dipping sauce. Try Simple Roasted Cauliflower with Chipotle and Lime for a different way to spice it up.
7. Make Cream Sauce
When you put cauliflower in a food processor with cashews or milk, some nutritional yeast and seasoning, you get a rich and creamy sauce with cheesy flavor. It’s a yummy and healthy way to cover your pasta or upgrade your mac and cheese. Try this Spaghetti Squash with Basil and Creamy Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, this Fettuccine Alfredo with Zucchini Pasta and Cauliflower Sauce and this Vegetable Rigatoni with Creamy Cauliflower Sauce.
8. Put It in Other Dishes
Cauliflower is a perfect vegetable for bulking up your dishes. I love adding cauliflower to stews, pasta dishes and stir-fries. Try it in this Roasted Buddha Bowl that is filled with lots of amazing veggies and grains with a creamy lemon white bean sauce. This Cauliflower Wild Rice Pilaf has lentils, wild rice, garlic, cumin and cayenne as well as cauliflower roasted in fragrant spices for a delicious one-pot meal.
9. Stewed and Saucy
One of my favorite ways to cook cauliflower is to stew it in tomato sauce with spinach. Saute 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped bell pepper in a large saute pan that has a lid over medium heat. Cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Mix in 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add cauliflower florets and let cook until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add 1 tsp. each of ground turmeric, dried thyme and dried oregano and ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes and mix well. Stir in 1 ½ cups diced tomatoes. Cover the pan and let cook until the cauliflower has softened, about 20-30 minutes. You want the cauliflower to be tender but still have some bite. If the pan gets dry, add water in small increments. When the cauliflower is about ready, add in 12 oz. of baby spinach and a pinch of nutmeg and heat through. Serve while hot.
10. Cauliflower Steaks
So far we have cooked cauliflower whole, broken it up into florets, pulsed it into rice and pureed it into sauce. What’s left? We can cut it into steaks. Remove the leaves and trim the stem but leave the core intact. Place the cauliflower down on a cutting board, core side down, and with a large knife, slice the head into four ½-inch thick “steaks.” Work from the center of the head to the outside. Some florets will break off. That’s fine, we can eat those too. Roast the steaks in the oven with some oil and your favorite herbs and spices for about 30 minutes or until they are browned and tender. Then you can eat them as is or saute them in a pan with sauce. One incredible way to enjoy cauliflower steaks is by making Cauliflower Piccata. The cauliflower steak gets cooked with mushrooms in a white wine sauce with lemon and capers. Yum!
These are just 10 of the incredible ways you can cook with cauliflower and I can still think of more. Try these and I promise you will never think of cauliflower as bland and boring again.
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Lead image source: Cauliflower Piccata