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Exploring Cauliflower: The Childhood Nightmare Is Now a Superstar

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.

— Mark Twain

If one is to interpret the dry wit of Mr. Twain, I would come to the conclusion that he admires cauliflower. And what’s not to love?

Move over kale; step aside acai berry. Cauliflower is our new superfood, and with good reason. Unlike kale, acai, or other “health foods” cauliflower is a blank canvas; its mild unassertive taste can readily adapt to almost any flavor profile. And cauliflower is the master of disguise—it can take the place of beef or chicken in a teriyaki stir fry, be sliced into steaks and roasted, mashed like potatoes, transformed (with the magic of the food processor) into a savory rice dish, or even shaped into gluten and flour-free bread!

From Where Did This Clever Cabbage Cousin Originate?

As a member of the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea), the legend and exploits of cauliflower are very much like that of its cousins. Food historians date brassica to about 6,000 B.C. when Etruscans were cultivating wild cabbage plants. Pliny the Elder (Roman philosopher and author) wrote of it, and the Romans enjoyed a form that was purple (similar to the color of red cabbage). The name comes from the Latin caulis (which means cabbage) and floris (flower).

According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

Cauliflower in Turkey and Egypt was mentioned in the 16th century by European writers, but it had been certainly known in those places for 1,500 to 2,000 years or more. In England in 1586 cauliflower was referred to as "Cyprus coleworts," suggesting recent introduction from the island of Cyprus. For some time thereafter, Cyprus was mentioned as the source of seed for planting in England. Cauliflower was an item on the London vegetable market as early as 1619. It was grown in France around 1600.

At about this same time, it was also being cultivated by Colonists in America. By the 18th century recipes were appearing in home cookbooks; simmering in milk or pickling and serving as a condiment were favored methods of preparation.

aren't they beautiful?

aren't they beautiful?

But, What About That Smell?

Most people who say that they hate cauliflower (or cabbage) complain about the funky smell. I can remember walking home from school, and I'm sure that one block away I knew if my mom was boiling cabbage.

And this is why: cauliflower (and all other members of the cabbage family) contain sulfur compounds called isothiocyanates. When heated, these compounds break down into several other simpler compounds, and one of those is sulfur dioxide. Yes, the same aromatic that provides the smell of the Yellowstone National Park geysers, natural gas, and (our favorite) rotten eggs.

The longer members of the cabbage family are subjected to heat, the stinkier they become. And there my friends is the solution. Cauliflower is not the problem, it's the cook (or to put it more gently, the cooking method). We can fix this.

And, I'll bet there is a recipe here that your whole family will enjoy!

How to Select and Store Fresh Cauliflower

  • Look for heads that are firm, compact, and unblemished.
  • White cauliflower should be pure creamy white. But did you know that there are green, orange, and purple varieties too?
  • The head should feel "heavy" for its size.
  • If there are soft spots or an "off" smell, don't buy it.
  • Any attached leaves should be fresh-looking, not limp.
  • To store, place cauliflower in a plastic bag, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. It will keep this way, if refrigerated, for up to 5 days.
  • Do not wash cauliflower until you are ready to prepare and use it.
  • Mashed cauliflower (use in place of mashed white potatoes)
  • Faux white rice or couscous (save carbs and avoid wheat allergy issues)
  • Cauliflower fried rice with vegetables (no need to pre-cook rice)
  • Coliflor arroz roja (Mexican cauliflower "rice")
  • Pizza crust or flat bread (made with cauliflower "rice")
  • Bread buns (made with cauliflower "rice")
  • Sesame glazed cauliflower "wings"
  • Buffalo wings (without the chicken)
  • Carb Diva's macaroni and cheese with cauliflower
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Read More From Delishably

Instead of Potatoes...


Cauliflower can be steamed and then gently mashed. For those hoping to consume fewer carbohydrates, this is a blissful substitution for mashed potatoes.


  • 2 heads of cauliflower, about 1.5 pounds each (3 pounds total)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. Trim cauliflower to remove stem and leaves; break down into florets.
  2. Place in a steamer basket; steam over gently boiling water until florets are tender; about 10 minutes.
  3. Remove basket from heat and place over a large bowl.
  4. Press on cauliflower with the back of a spoon to extract water from the cooked vegetables (yes, there will be water. Lots of water). Push, push, push!
  5. Place "squished" cauliflower in a food processor. Add sour cream, butter, and seasonings. Process until smooth. (Unlike potatoes, this mash doesn't become gluey when whipped in a food processor).
  6. Transfer to a serving dish. (By the way, you can reheat this in the microwave for a few moments if it has cooled a bit too much for your taste).

But wait, there's more. You can use this puree in place of a roux to thicken soups and chowders.

In Place of Rice or Couscous

cauliflower "rice" pulsed in bowl of food processor

cauliflower "rice" pulsed in bowl of food processor

Do you love white rice, but feel guilty about the 'empty' calories? Or maybe you reminisce about couscous but have become wheat intolerant. There's a fix for that—rice, or couscous made from cauliflower minced fine in your food processor. shows us how.

What can you do with the faux rice? Here's a quick recipe for fried "rice" and vegetables with a savory umami kick from Chinese 5 spice powder and sesame oil.

Cauliflower Fried Rice and Vegetables


  • 3 cups riced cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil divided use
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup celery sliced on the bias
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil


  1. In a large sauté pan or wok, heat 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pan; cook 3 minutes or until carrot is softened. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Remove the vegetables from the pan; set aside and cover to keep warm.
  4. Pour the remaining teaspoon of oil into the pan; add the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up with a spatula until the eggs are scrambled and cooked through.
  5. Place the cauliflower rice in the pan; return the reserved vegetables to the pan and stir in the peas.
  6. Add the soy sauce, Chinese 5 spice powder, and sesame oil. Heat, stirring occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Coliflor Arroz Rojo

Beth has a delightful blog named, and shares a tasty non-rice Mexican rice dish with us. It's great as a side with bean burritos, fish tacos, or grilled chicken.

In Place of Bread: Pizza Crust or Flat Bread

We're not yet done with the faux rice. Believe it or not, you can use it to make a wheat-free, gluten-free bread. Now, don't misunderstand, this is not low-calorie. Without gluten we need to find another ingredient that will "bind" everything together—typically, that ingredient is cheese.


  • · 1 small head cauliflower (enough to make 2 ½ to 3 cups of “rice”)
  • · ¼ cups Parmesan Cheese
  • · ¼ cups Mozzarella Cheese
  • · ¼ teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • · ½ teaspoons Dried Basil
  • · 1 whole Egg


  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, brush with olive oil and set aside.
  3. Place the cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap; lift one corner to vent. Cook for 4 minutes. Dump cooked cauliflower onto a clean tea towel; set aside until cool enough to handle.
  4. Wrap the microwaved cauliflower in the towel; twist and wring to remove as much water as possible. (You will be amazed at how much liquid there is).
  5. Place cauliflower in a large mixing bowl; add the remaining ingredients and mix well until well blended. Form into a tight, cohesive disk.
  6. Place disk onto prepared parchment paper. Pat out with fingertips to form the pizza crust. You will have a circle about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.
  7. Bake for 8–11 minutes, until it starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven.
  8. Cover with your favorite toppings (but take it easy with the pizza sauce, if using).
  9. Return to oven. Bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes or until your cheese is bubbly and slightly golden.

Cauliflower Bread Buns

Kirbie and her DH have a blog—he is the photographer, and she is the creative spirit behind the creative recipes. I have shared a recipe for pizza crust or flat bread, but this is really BREAD-y bread. Perfect for a burger or making a sandwich.

Cauliflower Garlic Bread

This cauliflower garlic bread does not depend on cheese. That's right, no cheese. Whipped egg whites provide the lift.

Main Dishes: Sesame Glazed Cauliflower "Wings"

Would you believe that you can coat florets with batter, oven-bake in a hot oven until crisp, then drench in sweet-spicy teriyaki sauce and achieve something that will satisfy even the most hard-core carnivore? Well, Brianne of did just that to make these sesame glazed "wings."

Buffalo Wings (without the Chicken)

Know what? I think you could take Brianne's idea and turn it into buffalo wings. Just replace her teriyaki glaze with 1/2 cup of your favorite buffalo hot sauce and 3 tablespoons of melted butter.

© 2017 Linda Lum

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