In the 1500s, cauliflower was a delicacy reserved for royalty. Today, commoners are a little luckier: we can eat all kinds of things that were once only found on royal tables. But without a castle full of chefs at your service, you’ll need to learn how to cook cauliflower.
For a while, cauliflower actually fell from its early glory. Many 20th-century consumers saw it as a bland vegetable, eaten only by people so health-obsessed that they were willing to sacrifice taste. But in recent years, it has enjoyed a resurgence.
Cauliflower doesn’t just have a fascinating history. It also offers a long list of health benefits, and even works well to replace the carbohydrates that some people seek to avoid. It’s easy to cook, and can be turned into a surprisingly wide variety of dishes to suit any palate.
Ready to learn how to cook cauliflower? We’ve got you covered — read on to discover everything you need to know about broccoli’s most famous cousin!
Humans and Cauliflower: A Brief History
To understand why you should learn how to cook cauliflower, it helps to understand our relationship with this vegetable throughout the ages. It’s more of a dietary staple than you might realize!
Cauliflower actually started out as wild cabbage. Years of selective breeding produced cauliflower and the other cabbage relatives that we know today, like kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
With selective breeding, humans have turned countless plants into versions that are tastier, more nutritious, and easier to harvest. People in the Mediterranean region were probably the first to grow cauliflower — history from the Middle Ages attributes the vegetable’s origins to the island of Cyprus.
Trade throughout Europe brought cauliflower seeds outward from Cyprus. The plant reached France in the 1500s, and as the French learned how to cook cauliflower, it soon became a delicacy. Over the next few centuries, it spread all over the world.
Cauliflower has been bred to meet human tastes and needs from the start, which explains why it’s so versatile for modern cooking — and so healthy. It contains lots of vitamins and other nutrients, like potassium. Although it’s low in calories, the high fiber content makes it filling.
Ready to learn how to cook cauliflower? Let’s dig in!
How to Cook Cauliflower: Our Favorite Methods
Cauliflower can be eaten raw as a tasty side dish or salad ingredient. However, cooking it opens up a wealth of new possibilities.
Here are some of our favorite cauliflower cooking methods, and a few ideas for what to do with the results.
The microwave probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about cooking nutritious meals. But if you want to know how to cook cauliflower, this is actually one of the best ways to start.
Not only is microwave cooking quick and easy, but it also preserves many of the nutrients in your vegetables.
Heat causes some vitamins and nutrients to break down, which is why raw vegetables are the most nutritious choice.
But if you can minimize the amount of time your food is exposed to heat during cooking, you can preserve more of its nutrients. Microwaves do their job fast, so your food doesn’t lose as much nutrition.
Cooking foods in water or other liquids also causes nutrient loss, since the liquid leaches out nutrients. So if you want nutrient-rich food, steaming is your best bet, and microwave steaming is better yet.
To steam your cauliflower in the microwave, just put the florets in a microwave-safe bowl with about a tablespoon of water in the bottom. Add a microwave-safe lid as a cover, and cook your cauliflower for one minute, or until it’s done to your liking.
You can use your steamed cauliflower as an ingredient in another recipe, or use a food processor to mash it up with seasoning and goat cheese for an amazing side dish.
If you don’t have a microwave, stovetop steaming also gives highly nutritious results.
You can use a steamer basket if you have one, or just a pan if you don’t. (The steamer basket gives the most nutritious results since it doesn't directly expose the vegetable to water.)
For the steamer basket, place your cauliflower in the basket, place the basket in a saucepan, and fill the pan with water to just below the basket. Bring the water to a boil, then cover it and let it simmer for about 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your preference.
To steam cauliflower in a pan, add enough water to cover the bottom of your frying pan. Boil and salt the water, then add your cauliflower. Cover the pan and steam for 5 to 10 minutes, then drain and serve.
When many people think of how to cook cauliflower, they think of roasting. Although this method doesn’t preserve nutrients the way steaming does, it does bring out the earthy flavor of the vegetable beautifully.
To roast cauliflower, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F, then coat the cauliflower in olive oil and seasoning. Evenly space the florets on an oven sheet (you can line it with aluminum foil for easy clean-up).
Put the pan in the heated oven, and roast the cauliflower for about 20 to 25 minutes, turning it halfway through.
Roasting cauliflower makes an excellent side dish (try sprinkling it with cheese!). You can also roast cauliflower alongside other hearty vegetables like beets, sweet potatoes, and carrots for a nice mix.
You can also saute your cauliflower if that’s more your style. This method lets you season the dish as you go, or prepare the cauliflower before adding it to another dish, like a stirfry.
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet until it’s hot. Place your cauliflower florets in the skillet and cook them on one side for a few minutes until that side is golden brown. Flip the cauliflower and brown the other side. Continue flipping and cooking until the florets are evenly browned.
Try adding herbs, bacon, or other vegetables to inject your sauteed cauliflower with variety.
Boiling isn’t the ideal method for cooking most vegetables: it tends to leach out the flavor, as well as the nutrients. However, if you want a mild taste, or don’t have the equipment needed for steaming, boiling is an effective way to prep cauliflower for mashing or pureeing.
Use a large pot of salted water, and add the cauliflower once it’s boiling. Cook it for 5 to 10 minutes to reach the desired consistency. Take care not to overcook it.
You can make a delicious cauliflower soup by pureeing your boiled cauliflower with herbs and chicken broth.
Fried cauliflower makes a surprisingly tasty vegetarian substitute for wings.
Start with cooked cauliflower (sauteeing or steaming are good methods here). Then, heat oil in your deep fryer, and coat the cauliflower with a mix of one beaten egg and a couple of teaspoons of milk. Roll the coated cauliflower in cracker or bread crumbs for a crispy exterior.
Fry the cauliflower until the outside is golden brown. Serve with buffalo, ranch, or your favorite dipping sauce on the side. Don’t have a deep fryer? You can also pan-fry this dish in a skillet with oil until it’s browned.
If you’re looking for interesting alternatives for how to cook cauliflower, why not try pickling it?
To pickle cauliflower, start with the florets of two large cauliflower heads. Mix them with some pearl onions and a quarter-cup of canning or pickling salt in a big bowl, and cover the mixture with ice. Leave it in the fridge for a few hours before draining, then rinse the salt away and drain the vegetables again.
You’ll need a boiling water canner for the water bath. Heat pint-sized canning jars with simmering (not boiling) water, and have the lids cleaned and ready to go on the side.
In a saucepan, mix four cups of white vinegar and two cups of sugar with some herbs and spices (try celery seed, mustard seed, and turmeric). Boil the vinegar mix, then add the cauliflower mix. Simmer for five minutes.
Fill the jars with the vegetable and vinegar mix, with about a half-inch of room at the top of each jar. Make sure there aren’t any air bubbles inside before sealing them with the lids.
Then, put the jars in the boiling water canner for about 15 minutes. Let them stand, lids off, for five minutes before sealing and cooling them. In a day or two, they’ll be ready to eat!
Pickling isn’t easy: it requires special tools and care (you’ll be working with hot water, hot jars, hot vinegar, and hot vegetables!). However, it does give tasty results once you master the technique. Add your pickled cauliflower to wraps, cheese plates, and more.
How to Cook Cauliflower: Tips and Tricks
Now that you know the basics of how to cook cauliflower, let’s take a look at the tricks that will help you get the most out of this trending vegetable.
Shopping for cauliflower
When buying cauliflower, look for a dense head of florets in an even white shade. Pick up the head: if it’s heavy, that’s a good sign. Feel it and make sure it’s firm all over. Check that the leaves are a vibrant, crisp green, not wilted. Make sure the stem looks freshly cut.
In addition to white varieties, you can find yellow, green, orange, and even purple cauliflower. However, the head shouldn’t be turning brown. If there are just a few small brown spots, you can cut them off before cooking. Make sure the florets are still intact and haven’t started flowering.
High-quality cauliflower heads can be both large and small, so don’t choose based on size. Pre-cut cauliflower goes bad faster and tends to come with a hefty surcharge, so only buy whole heads.
Once you’ve chosen a beautiful head of cauliflower, how do you store it?
Don’t wash it right away, but keep it tightly wrapped in plastic. Moisture will make cauliflower go bad faster. Keep it stem-side-down in the refrigerator, so moisture won’t collect on the florets you plan to cook.
A head of raw cauliflower will keep for up to a week in the fridge. Once it’s cooked, you can only store it for about two to three days. However, you can also freeze cooked cauliflower for as long as a year (it will be safe to eat past a year, but will start to lose its quality).
Only wash your cauliflower right before you plan to cook it.
Many people use just the florets, discarding the leaves and stem. However, you can actually use the whole cauliflower if you want to. The stem will cook the same way as the florets, while the delicate leaves can be eaten raw in salads or used to garnish a cauliflower soup.
Now You Know How to Cook Cauliflower: Time to Give It a Try!
Learning how to cook cauliflower well is sure to change your opinion of this vegetable.
Overcooked cauliflower has that bland, mushy taste many of us know and hate. But with these tips for how to cook cauliflower, you’ll quickly see why cauliflower is on par with kale as a trendy ingredient in modern dishes.
Ready to grace your kitchen with the vegetable 16th-century French royalty was obsessed with? Let us know which of these methods you’re excited to try in the comments!
Featured image: Pexels