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What Is Cauliflower?
Cauliflower is a brassica, a type of cabbage with a bright, sweet flavor. Cauliflower has a large stem (its name actually comes from the Latin word caulis, meaning “stem” or “stalk”) from which a mass of flower buds called the curd, or head, protrudes. The thick stems are packed with nutrients—especially vitamins C and K—to support the growth of flowers which never actually bloom. So don’t throw away your cauliflower stems! Trim them of any woody bits and prepare as you would florets.
What Color Is Cauliflower?
The heads and stems of cauliflower are typically white, with bright green leaves. To keep the cauliflower curd as white as possible, farmers will often cover the head with its leaves to protect from sunlight. Recently, though, more colorful varieties of cauliflower have become popular: Orange cauliflower has 25 times more vitamin A than white cauliflower and tastes slightly squashy, while purple cauliflower is high in antioxidants and a little more bitter. When choosing cauliflower, any color head will do; just look for bright green leaves and a tight curd with no brown spots.
11 Easy Ways to Cook Cauliflower
- Roasted: Roasting is one of the most popular techniques with this cauliflower. It brings out cauliflower’s creamy sweetness and adds caramelization and crunch. Try preparing Chef Gordon Ramsay’s cauliflower steaks with olive pistou and porcini mushrooms.
- Baked: Try baking cauliflower florets into a gratin with cream, garlic, and thyme topped with breadcrumbs.
- Steamed: For a quick, healthy way to prepare cauliflower, steam in a basket over boiling water as you would broccoli.
- Deep-fried: Deep-fried cauliflower feels decadent while still being (mostly) healthy. Try buttermilk-battered, deep-fried cauliflower with buffalo sauce as an alternative to buffalo chicken wings.
- Mashed: Mash cauliflower instead of potatoes, adding extra flavor with parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, cream, or butter, roasted garlic, and freshly ground black pepper.
- Puréed: Cauliflower purée is a sweet and creamy base for salmon, steaks, and other main dishes. To make a smooth cauliflower purée, steam florets with water, butter, and salt, and blend with a little lemon juice.
- Stir-fried: Stir-fried cauliflower is a popular side dish in Chinese cuisine. For high-heat wok cooking, use smaller florets, which cook quickly.
- Cauliflower rice: This low-carb alternative to white rice has a fluffy texture due to cauliflower’s low fiber content. It’s made by breaking raw cauliflower down into ¼-⅛ inch pieces in the food processor, and then steaming the “rice” in a covered pot.
- Raw: Raw cauliflower, which has a crisp texture and mild flavor, is popular in salads or crudités. Try slicing it very thinly instead of breaking into florets.
- Pickled: Raw cauliflower florets make a great pickle because they’re firm and won’t become mushy in the pickling liquid. They’re essential in giardiniera, the Italian pickled relish used as a condiment for sandwiches, hot dogs, and—in Chicago—pizza. (Learn how to pickle with our pickling guide here.)
- Soup: Since cauliflower is low in fiber, it breaks down very easily, making a silky-smooth soup sans dairy.
How to Cut Cauliflower
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To prepare cauliflower for roasting, trim any damaged leaves and remove the bottom part of the stalk along with any woody pieces (if using). Once you’ve trimmed your head of cauliflower, cut into your preferred size and rinse.
There are several different methods of cutting cauliflower for roasting:
- Sliced whole heads of cauliflower can become roasted cauliflower steaks, a center-of-the-plate alternative to meat. Remove the stem and save for another purpose. Slice the head, cut-side down, into about 4 equal steaks.
- Roasted florets are great for salads—just be sure to cut them as evenly as possible, and don’t make them too small (they’ll disintegrate and burn, and won’t cook at the same time). You can slice and roast the stem, woody parts removed, along with the florets—it’s full of nutrients and becomes very creamy when cooked.
- A roasted whole head of cauliflower makes for a beautiful presentation but requires a slightly longer cooking time. Remove the stem and save for another use (or roast separately).
- To optimize surface area while keeping the florets intact, remove the stem and cut the head into 8 equal-sized wedges.
2 Creative Recipes for Cauliflower
1. Roasted Cauliflower Salad With Pomegranate and Hazelnuts
In a small bowl, combine ½ cup raisins and the juice of one orange and soak at room temperature until softened, at least one hour, up to overnight. When the raisins have softened, drain them, saving the orange juice. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine reserved orange juice with 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar, ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper, and 1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey, and whisk until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. In a small dry skillet over medium heat, toast 1 cup hazelnuts until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Wrap warm hazelnuts in a kitchen towel to steam, about 1 minute. Use the towel to rub the skins off. (It’s okay if they don’t come off completely.) Chop coarsely. Combine the drained raisins with 1 recipe Easy Roasted Cauliflower, 3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, ⅓ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, and toasted hazelnuts. Toss with ¾ of the dressing, adding additional dressing if needed.
2. Mediterranean Roasted Cauliflower Pasta
In a large pot, bring a large quantity of salted water to boil over high heat. Zest and juice one lemon. Set aside zest. In a very large bowl, combine the lemon juice with the 1 tablespoon capers, drained and coarsely chopped, and ¼ cup green olives, drained, pitted, and coarsely chopped. In a medium pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add ½ cup breadcrumbs and toast until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon zest and 2 cloves garlic garlic, sliced thinly (or ¼ tablespoon garlic powder) and continue to toast until breadcrumbs are golden brown and mixture is fragrant, about 2 more minutes. Transfer breadcrumbs mixture to bowl with lemon juice, capers, and olives. Add ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, and 1 ounce parmesan, grated. Season with salt to taste. Meanwhile, cook 1 pound dried pasta, such as spaghetti, according to package directions. When the pasta is al dente, drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid. Add pasta to bowl with seasonings and 1 recipe Easy Roasted Cauliflower, and toss with tongs to coat, adding a little cooking water or olive oil if needed.
Easy Oven-Roasted Cauliflower Recipe
Prep Time5 min
Total Time30 min
Cook Time25 min
- 1 large or 2-3 small heads cauliflower (2½–3lb)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or other vegetable oil, plus more to taste
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
- Heat oven to 400°F. Divide cauliflower into medium florets. Place on a large rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil and salt, then spread in an even layer.
- Roast until florets are tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and season to taste with additional olive oil and salt if needed.
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