How to cook the vegetable of the moment: five winning cauliflower recipes

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Abi Jackson
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The humble cauliflower has graduated from cheese sauce to chef’s choice. From popped to pulped, Stylist explores its new starring role

Words: Rosie Birkett
Photography: Pixeleyes

I had friends around for dinner last night and, judging by the excited squeals as I placed their roast in front of them, they were pretty happy with what I dished up. Roasted to a nutty char but tender and yielding on the inside, my centrepiece was topped with tangy green salsa verde and flecked with toasted hazelnuts. But I hadn’t splashed out on a lavish joint of beef. Nor lamb, chicken, pork or duck. Instead, I roasted a cauliflower. 

A few years ago, serving your friends a whole cauliflower at the dinner table might have raised eyebrows. But now, thanks to a host of innovative chefs championing it, the so-often overlooked staple more usually associated with being boiled to a mushy pulp at your gran’s house has found its fan-base. And they can’t get enough. 

On Instagram, there are over 400,000 posts with #cauliflower – the charge led by the likes of Deliciously Ella and Natasha Corrett (my last cauliflower post got over 400 likes – almost double what I usually get for food pics). Food writers Anna Jones and Diana Henry are both self-confessed fans, as is Yotam Ottolenghi, who has it on the menu at his restaurant Nopi. 

While it saw dark days in 2009 (sales plummeted 35% over 10 years to £99m, with a quarter of those to the over-65s), now it’s joining the league of the modish likes of avocado and kale and sales are on the rise – Sainsbury’s sold 14 million whole cauliflowers in 2015. Gone are the soggy school dinner associations. We’ve learned to appreciate the humble cauli for what it really is: one of the healthiest, most delicious and versatile ingredients out there.

As a cook, I always have cauliflower in the house. It can form the basis for many delicious dishes, whether roasted whole or poached until tender in milk and blitzed to a silky puree with olive oil and a grating of fresh nutmeg. It lends itself brilliantly to spicing, makes a crunchy vehicle for dips and takes on the astringent brine of a pickle beautifully. 

When it comes to creativity, there are few veg that can rival cauliflower for options – you just have to look at some of the hottest cookbooks and restaurant menus around to see it’s fast becoming the vegetable muse. 

In her new book Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite, chef Gizzi Erskine uses the veg in myriad guises, roasting baby cauliflowers and dousing them in a creamy cheese sauce, as a moussey topping to her merguez shepherd’s pie, and chargrilled atop a curried slick of chickpea puree with crunchy cashew brittle.

“Cauliflower is so versatile and has a beautiful texture,” says Anna Hansen, who’s had it on the menu at her restaurant The Modern Pantry since it opened over seven years ago. “It can take on a variety of guises which makes it a really fun vegetable to play with. Cauliflower couscous is delicious whizzed up with tumeric, ginger and fennel seeds.”

For chef Tom Hunt, whose second modern tapas restaurant Poco has just opened to much acclaim in East London (the first is an award-winning restaurant in Bristol), no part of the cauliflower is wasted. “We marinate it in the whey left from making labneh then roast it and serve with the leaves from the cauliflower, seasoned with curry spices and stir-fried. The leaves should always be eaten. They are completely delicious.” 

Like broccoli and its more photogenic cousin romanesco, cauliflower is a brassica oleracea. It’s so nutritionally valuable because it stores nutrients for the developing flower head in the flesh below the buds – meaning its ‘curds’ (the tightly-packed florets coming off the main stem) are crammed full of vitamins C, K and B6, minerals and sources of dietary fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. Its nutritional credentials haven’t been lost on the wellness set, with cooks like Natasha Corrett and the Hemsley sisters fashioning it into everything from low-calorie ‘rice’ to faux pizza bases. 

While a surge in popularity might have led to a slight increase in price, we should count ourselves lucky that we can still pick up a cauli for around a pound. In Canada, the drop in oil prices (and devaluation of the Canadian dollar) combined with a bad harvest for California’s vegetable growers mean cauliflowers are selling for $8. That’s £3.95. Still, more than worth it when you think of all you can do with it. 

Scroll down for six innovative ways to embrace cauliflower and make it the new star of your kitchen table:

Best make-up: cauliflower steaks

  • 1 large cauliflower

For the baste:

  • 75ml fresh jerk marinade
  • 30ml sriracha 
  • 30ml BBQ glaze
  • 1 tbsp fresh crushed garlic
  • 75ml oil
  • Lime juice 
  • 500ml buttermilk 
  • Salt and pepper

For the spicy jerk yoghurt:

  • 60ml jerk marinade
  • 60ml sriracha
  • 60ml BBQ glaze
  • 1 tbsp fresh crushed garlic
  • 60ml lime juice 
  • 60ml yoghurt
  • Salt and pepper

For the pineapple salsa:

  • 1 pineapple, sliced and grilled
  • 150g cashews, toasted and crushed
  • Bunch chopped coriander
  • 30ml olive oil
  • 2 red chillies, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger

Step 1: Slice the cauliflower into steaks 1 inch thick, mix baste together and brush on steaks. Place on foil under the grill until charred (about 12 mins).
Step 2: Meanwhile, mix the ingredients for the spicy jerk yoghurt in a bowl. Dice the salsa ingredients and mix. Set aside.
Step 3: Plate the steaks and top with the yoghurt and salsa.

By Lewis Spencer, executive chef at HotBox;

Best visual effects: cauliflower popcorn 

  • ¼ cup (50g) coconut oil, melted
  • ½ tsp paprika (smoked or sweet) or ground turmeric
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 large head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Place the melted oil, spices and salt in a large bowl.
Step 2: Toss in the cauliflower and coat well. Transfer the cauliflower to a baking tray and bake, tossing once during cooking, for 30 minutes, or until golden brown and popcorny. (The browner the florets, the sweeter they’ll taste.)
Step 3: Serve in newspaper cones lined with baking paper.
Tip: For a cheesy flavour, add 3 tablespoons of nutritional yeast powder or grated parmesan and omit the cinnamon.

I Quit Sugar: Simplicious by Sarah Wilson (£15, Pan Macmillan,

Best original use: cauliflower muffins

  • 1 small head of cauliflower
  • 700ml water
  • 1 tsp table salt

For the batter:

  • 175g plain flour
  • 40g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsps ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • ¼ tsp turmeric
  • ¼ tsp table salt
  • A pinch of white pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • 150g unsalted butter, melted

For the toppings (if you like):

  • 3 tbsps pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tbsps grated parmesan

Step 1: Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure there are at least six large ‘trees’. Put the water, salt and cauliflower in a large pan and boil until soft – a knife tip should penetrate without resistance. Drain well.
Step 2: Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5 and butter six muffin moulds. Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together. Add the eggs and mix until combined, then slowly fold in the butter until it is all incorporated.
Step 3: Place a spoonful of batter in each mould and stand a whole floret in it, stem down. Fill the moulds to the top with batter. Sprinkle with seeds and cheese, if using, and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and eat while still warm.

Honey & Co The Baking Book by Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich (£25, Saltyard Books,

Best innovation: cauliflower burger

  • 1 large cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 30g peeled garlic, crushed
  • 15g turmeric
  • 500g sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 20g cayenne pepper
  • 100g quinoa
  • 100g puy lentils
  • Chopped coriander 
  • Breadcrumbs

To serve: 

  • 4 burger buns
  • Large ripe tomato
  • Chipotle mayonnaise 
  • Alfalfa sprouts

Step 1:  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/gas mark 5. Place the cauliflower in a roasting tray with the garlic, turmeric, salt and pepper then roast for 20 mins until golden. 
Step 2: Add the sweet potatoes to a roasting pan, drizzle with oil and season with cayenne, salt and pepper and roast for 20-30 mins until crisp.
Step 3: Cook the quinoa and lentils according to instructions. 
Step 4: One cool, roughly mix everything together with your hands and shape into 4 patties. Roll in breadcrumbs and pan fry on both sides for a few minutes before warming in the oven. 
Step 5: Serve in a bun with a slice of tomato, chipotle mayo and a handful of alfalfa sprouts. 

By Tim Fuller, head chef at Hubbard and Bell;

Best production: cauliflower couscous 

  • 1 head of cauliflower, stem and florets coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsps extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to serve
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped 
  • 200g thawed frozen, or cooked fresh, broad beans 
  • 70g pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 2 handfuls of mixed herbs, such as mint and basil, finely chopped 
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • 100g soft goat’s cheese, crumbled
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Step 1: Place the cauliflower in a food processor or blender and process to a fine couscous- or rice-like texture. Do this in batches if you have a small food processor.
Step 2: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan, add the garlic and cook until lightly golden, then add the cauliflower couscous, tossing it to coat in the garlic oil. Cook for 5 minutes, or until heated through. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
Step 3: Add the cold broad beans, pumpkin seeds, chopped herbs, lemon juice, goat’s cheese and remaining olive oil. Toss until mixed. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and season to taste. Serve warm as either a stand-alone salad or as a rice substitute.

The Naked Diet by Tess Ward (£16.99, Quadrille,

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Abi Jackson