Cauliflower is still very much enjoying its moment in the spotlight. It’s nutritious, it’s affordable, and it’s extremely versatile. So whether you’re new to this oft-maligned but delicious vegetable or you’re a seasoned pro (spicy cauliflower tacos anyone?) these are 14 of the most comforting vegan cauliflower recipes we could get our hands on. But first, a bit of background on just what makes cauliflower recipes so good, and what makes the vegetable such a useful and nourishing ingredient.
What is cauliflower?
Cauliflower, or brassica oleracea, is a cruciferous vegetable alongside broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, kale, turnips, and collard greens. (Plus several thousand other varieties.) Overall, cruciferous veggies are known for being high in nutrients, low in calories, and rich in fiber – all desirable qualities when planning healthy meals.
Cauliflowers are shrub-like in appearance and typically grown from seed. They can be sown either indoors or outdoors, but are known to be relatively tricky to grow at home unless the growing conditions are just right: firm, moist soil, and plenty of sunshine.
Because a cauliflower is made up of a head or ‘curd’ – which is the part that humans eat – and a bed of leaves, the vegetables look a little like flowers. In fact, the English language name cauliflower itself comes from the Italian cavolfiore, or “cabbage flower,” based on its appearance when growing.
Cauliflower has been popular in Europe since at least the 12th century but became a staple food for many around the 16th century. There are hundreds of historical and commercial varieties, including orange, green, and purple, with white remaining the most common today.
Much like its fellow cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower gets a bad rap in the US and UK, which its stalwart stans maintain is down to improper cooking. However, much like cilantro, studies do indicate that genetics could also affect how cauliflower and similar veggies taste, meaning that they just might not work for some folks.
What are the health benefits of cauliflower?
Cauliflower is high in vitamins C and K, which help to protect cells and support healing. It also contains B9 (also known as folate) which is important in red blood cell growth and formation, along with choline, which has become a hotly contested nutrient for vegans in recent years. (All the more reason to eat cauliflower.)
Cauliflower also contains B vitamins, phosphorous, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. The vegetable is low in fat, cholesterol-free, and overall contains a high ratio of nutrients compared to calories.
Some studies indicate that cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables could help reduce the risk of both heart disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in the US. This reduction may be due to one or all of the plants’ nutritional qualities, including cruciferous vegetables’ anti-inflammatory affects (chronic inflammation can lead to cancer) or their high fiber content (fiber-rich diets are likely beneficial in lowering the risk of heart disease).
Speaking to the Guardian earlier this year about the potential benefits of eating more fiber, Annie Coombes, a dietitian and the clinical director of The Gut Health Clinic, noted that emphasizing vegetables and plant foods at every meal is the easiest way to boost intake and lower the risk of chronic illness in the future.
“It’s about looking at every meal, and making sure that it is very much plant-based,” explained Coombes. “Aim to have, in every meal, some sort of whole grain, so something like wholemeal bread, quinoa or brown pasta, and then half of the plate to be vegetables.”
The rising popularity of cauliflower
Part of cauliflower’s increased popularity in recent years can certainly be attributed in part to the many nutritional and health benefits listed above. However, it’s also likely that the ebb and flow of low-carb diets has impacted sales, with trends such as keto and paleo increasing consumer demand for versatile ingredients such as cauliflower that can be used to replace sugary carbohydrates such as bread and pasta.
For example, cauliflower can be turned into pizza dough, puréed into tater-style tots or mash, and turned into an alternative to white rice or cous cous. No longer simply a side dish, cauliflower can be baked, fried, and transformed into an entrée as vegan ‘steak’ or the centrepiece of a roast dinner.
Cauliflower’s increasing popularity as a main is also likely due to growing global awareness of how plant-based foods can positively impact personal and planetary health at the same time. Cauliflower is considered a low carbon food, and uses far less water and land than meat and dairy.
According to an article by Time, US farmers sold USD $402 million worth of cauliflower in 2015, more than a 150 percent increase in takings from the $239 million sold in 2012. The market is still growing, and a 2022 analysis by Precision Reports predicts that the global cauliflower and broccoli market will continue to grow up to 2030.
Vegan cauliflower recipes
Now that we’ve explored exactly how eating more cauliflower can benefit both you and the planet, let’s dive into some unique and delicious vegan cauliflower recipes. This selection includes some snacks, sides, and salads, but most incorporate cauliflower as part of the main dish. Note the varied preparation times for each, and enjoy!
Whole roasted cauliflower with harissa hummus
Say goodbye to plain boiled veggies with this recipe for a whole roasted head of cauliflower from Happy Skin Kitchen. It combines a tahini-based marinade (also flavored with lemon, spices, and pomegranate) and creamy red pepper-harissa hummus.
Harissa is a zingy spice mix that blends roasted red peppers, hot Baklouti peppers, garlic, cilantro, and cumin with olive oil. It originates in the Maghreb region of Africa, also home to several other variations of a spiced cauliflower dish.
As the cauliflower is roasted whole it does take some time to cook all the way through, but the hummus can be prepared while it’s in the oven. You could also try serving with couscous or khobz bread, both popular foods in the Maghreb and frequently combined with baked cauliflower dishes.
Creamy cauliflower bake
A truly comforting autumnal recipe from Romy London, this could be considered an exciting alternative to traditional cauliflower cheese. The sauce is naturally buttery and combines cashews, potato, and carrot with nutritional yeast and miso for a cheesy, creamy flavor. Topped with caramelized onions and almond flakes for added texture, this is a simple but impressive recipe suitable for all occasions.
Roasted cauliflower and apple
Another deceptively simple recipe, this roasted cauliflower and apple combination from JAZZ Apple means minimal prep, minimal washing up, and maximum flavor. In fact, all you’ll need is a big bowl, a baking tray, and some pantry basics such as salt and pepper which you’ll likely already have on hand already.
Spicy cauliflower tacos
Ashley Madden’s vegan taco recipe features black beans, avocado, and salad, but the carefully spiced cauliflower is undeniably the heart of the dish. Combining nutritional yeast, chilli powder, cumin, onion, garlic, paprika, and black pepper ensures that the baked cauliflower florets are flavorsome enough to carry the meal. (Side note: cauliflower has been a market staple in Mexico for years, and because it can be used as an easy substitute for meat, dairy, and even rice, it can be easily incorporated into a wide variety of different Mexican dishes.)
Creamy cauliflower casserole with olives
This recipe for cauliflower casserole from Ashley Madden also incorporates tahini, and the earthy flavor of the sesame pairs well with the slightly sweet, nutty taste of cauliflower. This dish includes an array of other vegetables, making it colorful and nutritious as well as flavorful. Best garnished with fresh mint, sesame seeds, and lemon wedges, this casserole requires at least an hour of oven time to cook properly.
Spicy sesame cauliflower wings
Another combination of sesame and cauliflower, Plantifully Based’s spicy cauliflower wings are crisp, sweet, and savoury all at the same time. The recipe calls for panko breadcrumbs, which originate in Japan and are made from steamed, crustless loaves, resulting in large, flaky breadcrumbs that stay crispy for longer and are particularly effective at coating moist foods like cauliflower.
Find the recipe here.
Pasta with cauliflower, white beans, and kale
This recipe from It’s All Good Vegan is a cauliflower classic, combining the vegetable with a white sauce, pasta, kale, and white beans. High in protein and super creamy, this dish can be finished off with some nutritional yeast for an extra cheesy flavor. (Nutritional yeast, or ‘nooch,’ is also extremely nutrient dense, and just two teaspoons of fortified nooch contains more than the RDA of riboflavin, niacin, B6, and B12.)
Cauliflower taco bowl
If you fancy the taco flavors but without the tortillas themselves, this taco bowl recipe from So Vegan has you covered. It includes pineapple salsa, vegan ranch dressing, and of course, baked and seasoned cauliflower. Garnish with coriander and lime wedges for a zesty finish.
Buffalo cauliflower sandwich
Planted In The Kitchen’s buffalo cauliflower also includes a vegan ranch dressing, but combines it with buffalo sauce for a zingy, creamy, fully loaded sandwich. (Get practising ahead of next year’s Superbowl!) In this recipe, cauliflower makes a welcome alternative to seitan and other mock meats, and gives the sandwich a soft, delicate texture and flavor.
Spicy gochujang cauliflower wings
If the spice from that last recipe caught your interest, these gochujang cauli wings are a great way to ramp up the heat even further. Featuring a Korean-inspired recipe from Cupful of Kale, these cauliflower wings are seasoned with gochujang – a red chilli paste that also contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s hot, sour, and sometimes sweet, and the cauliflower simply soaks up all that flavor. Top with sesame seeds and serve with mayo.
Crispy cauliflower vegan ‘fish’ tacos
These “fish” tacos from Herbivore’s Kitchen combine battered cauliflower with pickled red onions and purple cabbage slaw for a delicious and nutritious vegan taco. Top with vine-ripened tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, lime wedges, and habanero hot sauce.
Kickin’ cauliflower salad
Gaz Oakley (AKA the Avant Garde Vegan) has put together a simple cauliflower salad recipe with minimum prep time and maximum flavor. It includes seasoned, battered cauliflower florets with a citrusy, spicy orange and sriracha sauce to top the mixed leaf, avocado, and radish salad.
Pearl couscous salad with roasted cauliflower
Another deceptively simple recipe, this couscous and cauliflower salad from Cherie Tu (the chef behind Thriving On Plants) also has a quick prep time but with big results. It involves roasting the cauliflower florets with chickpeas for added protein (plus significant vitamins, minerals, and potassium) and includes a simple lemon mustard vinaigrette.