• Gluten-free cauliflower pizza (China Squirrel)
Mild-mannered cauliflower is like the Clark Kent of the food world. Here's how to transform it into (almost) everything.
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24 Apr 2019 - 12:35 PM  UPDATED 24 Apr 2019 - 1:01 PM

For an unassuming knobbly white veg with a mild flavour, cauliflower has had an amazing rise to food-world star status these past few years. But unlike the vibrant greens getting a run in millions of smoothies, the avocado being smashed on endless plates of toast, or the turmeric adding its bright yellow to everything from lattes to soup, cauliflower is a winner precisely because of its pale colour and gentle flavour. It can be transformed into, well almost anything. Pizza for those who can’t eat wheat? Tick. Rice for those who can’t eat grains? Tick. Hidden veg (good for you, and good for your budget!) in everything from hummus or waffles to mac ‘n’ cheese? Tick, tick, tick.   

"I love cauliflower. It's thick and meaty but it has a subtle taste, right? And I love that I can cook it a million different ways. I can eat it raw, put it in a salad, or I can make pizza from it,” says Desiree Nielsen, host of The Urban Vegetarian (starts April 29 on SBS Food), who cooks up several cauli dishes in her show.

“I love roasting cauliflower and dredging it in a spicy buffalo-style sauce or sticky sesame sauce as a snack; you can even bind it with cheese and eggs for keto-friendly cauliflower ‘buns’. Cauliflower makes a silky smooth mash that will make you forget all about potatoes; I also love grating it and using it in a fried ‘rice’.

“An easy way to eat more veg is to swap it in for your grains, and cauliflower is just a versatile choice.”

We 110 per cent agree!

SBS contributor Brett Sargent loves cauliflower for its ability to make a pizza that's thin, crisp and just as delicious as its doughy counterpart; Gourmet Farmer Matthew Evans has been "playing around with cauliflower" in recipes since he was just a boy (his whole cauliflower cheese is delicious result); and Shane Delia loves "the extra kick of flavour" roasted cauliflower brings to a traditional hummus

And it’s a bit of a quiet superhero on the nutrition front, too. This low-calorie, high-fibre brassica is rich in phytochemicals, and is a good source of Vitamin A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron and phosphorus;

Of course, while the cauli we mostly see is white, there are also a few family members with rather more vibrant looks – keep an eye out at your local farmers market for eye-catching heads in purple, yellow and other unexpected shades.

No matter what the shade or shape of cauliflower, though, they share one thing – versatility. Cauliflower can mimic everything from steak to pizza (read on for some tips on making a five-star cauli crust), boost the veg count in familiar dishes, or just be downright amazing solo, all roasted and golden and caramelised.

Here are some of our favourite ways to cook with cauli.

Roast with the most

Sometimes, simple is just downright superb.  A blisteringly hot oven is the secret to caramelising the cauliflower, creating golden florets that star in this Moroccan spiced cauliflower salad with buckwheat, mint and pistachios (or just make the cauliflower and use as a side for any meal).

Fab as a fritter

Do we need to say more than "crunchy golden spiced cider batter"? Get the recipe for these cauliflower fritters here

Or try these roast cauliflower and anchovy bites

Get a 'pizza' the action

Not all cauliflower pizzas are winners. The secret to a good, crisp crust? Applying some muscle, says Desiree Nielsen.

“The trick is you've really got to wring out the cauliflower and get all of the liquid out.  Use your muscles.  Because if there's any water left in the crust, it's going to fall apart,” she explains when she makes her cauliflower pizza in The Urban Vegetarian. Her recipe uses steamed cauliflower, wrung out in a cheesecloth or tea towel to get rid of any excess water. The steamed cauli is then mixed with cheese, two kinds of cheese and fresh oregano to create the base.

Cauliflower pizza crust

Brett Sargent’s version also uses steamed and squeezed cauli, which is then mixed with cheese, almond meal, egg and herbs:

The extra ingredient

See these waffles?  There’s cauliflower in there.

Photograph Deb Lindsey

The bumpy brassica’s mild flavour and soft texture after cooking makes it the perfect “extra” in all kinds of dishes. It’s great if you’re trying to up the veg count in what you cook or if you’re watching your budget.

Try it in a roast cauliflower bacon mac ‘n’ cheese;  see how it lifts a dip in Shane Delia’s roast cauliflower hummus; discover a gluten-free cauliflower béchamel in this veg-rich moussaka;  dig into the creamy cauliflower cheese filling wrapped in a crunchy cheesy crust in these cauliflower cheese pasties.

Make a mash

If you’re after an indulgent side, how could you go wrong cooking cauliflower with butter and cream? It’s what Sarah Wilson does to make the cauliflower cream she serves with her falling-apart slow cooker pulled pork.

For something a little chunkier, try this cauliflower mash; unlike most mash, this one is made by baking cauliflower, onion and garlic, with extra flavour from parsley and chilli flakes.

Hearty enough for a steak

Cauliflower steak, says Desiree Nielsen, is “the easiest thing in the world and one of the most delicious”.

“I love how versatile cauliflower is.  It has this flavour that … works so well with everything.  But it’s also incredibly satisfying. And when you roast cauliflower, it really brings out the sweetness and caramelises to totally give you a different flavour than you’d get otherwise,” she says in The Urban Vegetarian. “This is the kind of steak I can get behind!”

Nielsen’s recipe serves her roasted cauli steaks with a savoury-sweet raisin sauce.

Bondi Harvest’s Guy Turland pan-fries his cauliflower steaks to get the caramelisation started, then finishes them in the oven. Perfect with his beet hummus and a poached egg.   

Cauliflower steak with beet hummus

Join Desiree Nielsen in The Urban Vegetarian, with double episodes airing Mondays at 7.30pm from 29 April on SBS Food (Channel 33).

More ways to embrace the cauli
Fried cauliflower with tarator (arnabeet mekleh)

Cauliflower is so hot right now. This recipe has you dipping and drizzling it with tarator - it's like the Lebanese version of mayo.

Indian chicken curry with cauliflower rice

Serve this richly spiced, creamy chicken curry on a bed of paleo-friendly cauliflower ‘rice’. Finishing it off with a drizzle of coriander pesto adds another dimension of taste and texture.

Baked cauliflower, fontina and mandarin

This a classic winter comfort dish with a twist. A seemingly unusual combination, the sweet and slight bitterness of the mandarin is a perfect foil for the rich creamy sauce. 

Mushroom and cauliflower gratin

“When you find a special ingredient like fresh shiitake mushrooms, you want to make a dish that truly highlights their beauty. This little vegetarian number does just that! Quick brining is a great way of ensuring all the mushrooms are equally well-seasoned before cooking. By roasting them, all the water evaporates and you’re left with perfectly seasoned, intense flavoured mushrooms.” Rachel Khoo, Rachel Khoo's Kitchen Notebook Melbourne

Middle Eastern-spiced cauliflower soup

The difference between a good soup and an amazing soup often comes down to the stock, particularly in vegetarian recipes like this one. Here, a stock cube will suffice - as the recipe does contain plenty of spice - but to really respect your cauliflower, go for the best stock you can afford. This soup is quite thick, so if you prefer a thinner consistency, add a little extra stock or water.