In the past, even in healthy eating circles, cauliflower paled in comparison to more vibrant, assertive vegetables, especially kale. But in the past few years, cauliflower has come to rule the kitchen, especially for those on paleo and keto diets. This cruciferous cousin to bolder broccoli easily nabs the spotlight in a variety of meals and can be a healthy substitute for lots of things including meat and potatoes. Let us impart to you why we adore the almighty cauliflower and how to use this misunderstood vegetable.
What Can You Do with Cauliflower?
The better question might be: What can’t you do with it? Cauliflower is like the LBD (little black dress) of the veggie world. It’s so versatile. You can dress it up or down and take it anywhere. Cauliflower’s mild flavor and sturdy texture hold up well to many preparations. You can roast it, sauté it, steam it, rice it, and purée it.
Once cooked, it can feature in tacos, buffalo-drenched game day grub, or refined dinner party dishes. It can be a side dish, base layer, or centerpiece. Some restaurants even serve the whole head like a roast, front and center (an impressive move to make at home too).
It can work as a vegetarian substitute not only for steak and chicken, but for comforting, carb-heavy accompaniments like mashed potatoes, rice, and pizza crust too. And it can even be blended into a luscious but healthy vegan cream sauce.
Related Reading: Try Our Editor-at-Large’s Deeply Personal Cauliflower Pizza Recipe
What Is the Best Way to Cook Cauliflower?
If you’re keeping your cauliflower intact or serving as a side (in the form of florets or cauliflower steaks), roasting is the best way to cook it. The excess water evaporates in the oven, resulting in a more concentrated, sweeter flavor. The outer layer browns and caramelizes into a crisp, nutty coating, giving way to a soft interior.
Many in the Chowhound community agree roasting is best. But you can also steam it, saute it (either the florets or riced cauliflower), or even batter and fry it. See the recipe section below for examples of all of the above, and then some. But don’t forget about pickled cauliflower either!
Chef'n Stalk Chop Cauliflower Prep Tool, $7.60 on Amazon
If you find prepping cauliflower a pain with a knife, this tool promises to make it easier.
Is Cauliflower Good for You?
In a word, yes. Cauliflower is blossoming with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins B6, C, and K, but is incredibly low in carbs, which makes it a close friend to paleo and keto eaters, as well as gluten-free folks. Since it’s high in fiber, it can also help you feel fuller and aid digestion, and it’s high in choline too. Healthline has more details on the health benefits of cauliflower.
Are There Different Kinds of Cauliflower?
Yep! Cauliflower comes in more colors than the common white cloud/brain variety: orange, purple, and a spiraled, pointed lime green guise (a.k.a., cheddar cauliflower, graffiti cauliflower, and Romanesco, respectively).
While roasting and adding a few spices is a wonderful way to give cauliflower its deserved respect (just see the first recipe below for proof), you can give cauliflower the lead in these interesting ways too:
Nutty, earthy tahini and sweet goji berries give extra dimension to roasted cauliflower. The same flavors would work just as well if you want to roast the whole head of cauliflower or cut it into thick steaks. Get our Tahini Roasted Cauliflower recipe.
Consider these babies meat-free buffalo wings for game day. They’re battered in chickpea flour for a slightly crunchy texture, plus coated in buttery, spicy wing sauce and roasted in the oven. With a classic blue cheese dressing as dip, no one will miss the meat. Get our Buffalo Cauliflower with Blue Cheese Dressing recipe. (And see a fully vegan version below.)
The Whole30 creators give us this base that you can change so many ways, from Asian cauliflower fried rice with sesame oil and green onions to Moroccan cauliflower rice with pine nuts and raisins. Whip out your food processor to pulse the halved florets into a rice-like consistency and steam that with some aromatics. Get the Cauliflower Rice recipe.
Cauliflower transforms into a smooth, creamy soup that’s enriched with bouquet garni (a fancy French bundle of herbs), chicken stock, cream, and nutty-tasting gruyère cheese. Get our Cauliflower Gruyère Soup recipe.
You can still get a great casserole with a creamy, spicy sauce and crunchy topping without resorting to cheese. What? Really. That’s the beauty of butter, flour, and milk, plus Dijon and cayenne. And you can swap in vegan butter and dairy-free milk if need be. Get our Deviled Cauliflower Casserole recipe.
These little trees are coated in a savory concoction of cumin, paprika, chile powder, coriander, and salt, then roasted for maximum sweetness. Add in the lemon crema and cilantro slaw, and these tacos give you all the tart, savory, sweet, salty flavors and crunchy, soft, creamy textures you crave. Get our Cauliflower Tacos recipe.
No need to buy expensive wheat flour substitutes for making your own gluten-free pizza crust. When you process cauliflower, blanch it, and squeeze out the water, you can make a pizza dough substitute with creamy goat cheese, an egg, and some spices. Get our Cauliflower Pizza Crust recipe. (If you don’t like goat cheese, Chowhound Editor-at-Large Joey Skladany’s cauliflower pizza crust recipe uses mozzarella—and you can find more delicious bites in his “Basic Bitchen” cookbook, out August 4!)
This dish is packed with Indian flavor and provides the nutrition you need with meat-free protein and vegetables. You can either blend your own garam masala or buy the spice mix. Make brown rice instead of white if you want to avoid simple carbs. Get our Curried Cauliflower, Chickpeas, and Tofu recipe.
Longtime low-carb lovers know this trick to satisfy your mashed potato needs. This version doesn’t taste like diet food. Steamed cauliflower is pureéd with a rich mix of cream cheese, butter, parmesan cheese, a vegetable bouillon cube, garlic, salt, and pepper. Get our Creamy Mashed Cauliflower recipe.
If you’re on a keto or other low-carb diet, hummus might be something you miss. Luckily, cauliflower can take care of that craving too—well, okay, it’s not exactly the same as the usual chickpea hummus; in fact, it’s a whole lot different, what with goat cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and Boursin in the mix. But it is creamy, fluffy, delicious, and perfect for dipping all your favorite veggies. Get our Cauliflower Hummus recipe.
A creamy vegan cheese sauce can be achieved in more than one way, but we like to puree coconut milk, nutritional yeast, and toasted walnuts before cooking them into a complex, creamy, and completely dairy-free sauce. It’s so good you’ll be licking the spoon, but pour plenty over pasta mixed with roasted cauliflower, broccoli, and caramelized onions too. (Even if you’re not vegan or dairy-free, it’s a great idea to add the roasted veggies to your next batch of mac and cheese.) Get our Vegan Macaroni and Cheese recipe.
Related Video: How to Make Vegan Buffalo Cauliflower Bites
Header image courtesy of Brett Stevens / Cultura / Getty Images