Updated on 04.13.17

The Surprisingly Versatile Vegetable You May Be Ignoring (and Nine Creative Ways to Cook It)

“Eat your vegetables,” your mom told you. And she had a point. Federal researchers note that people who eat more natural foods are less likely to develop chronic diseases and more likely to enjoy good health. Eat enough vegetables, researchers say, and you’ll reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and certain types of cancers. And if you go the extra mile to eat vegetables with loads of fiber, you can reduce your risk of obesity and Type 2 Diabetes by half or more.

Still, eating enough vegetables isn’t always easy – nor is it always good for your wallet. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, women ages 19 and up need to eat 2 to 2 ½ cups of vegetables each day. Meanwhile, men ages 19 and up should strive to consume 3 cups (or 2 ½ cups for ages 51 and older). In today’s hectic environment, it has become increasingly hard to find smart veggie options on the run, and particularly in fast-food restaurants. And when you do find a fast-food salad or veggie burger, they aren’t always particularly cheap.

Unless you mostly eat at home and cook vegetables with every meal or eat vegetarian most of the time, hitting your daily quota of veggies can be tough. To bulk up on vegetables – or at least get close to the daily requirements proposed by government agencies – you may need to get creative.

Trick Your Taste Buds with Cauliflower

One vegetable is so versatile that it’s easy to work into your regular food routine – often, without changing much. By getting creative with cauliflower, you can create some yummy (and convincing) dishes that emulate other less-than-healthy foods.

If you’re not eating enough vegetables, it might be time to put cauliflower on the menu at your house. Here are a few of the best ways to work this adaptable plant into your nightly meals:

#1: Cauliflower Fried Rice

I don’t mean simply preparing fried rice with cauliflower in it — I mean using minced cauliflower as your “rice.” It tastes exactly like the real thing. Here’s how I make it:

Wash and dry a full head of cauliflower, then cut it into florets. Once the vegetable is completely dry, pulse small portions in a food processor until the entire head of cauliflower is rice-sized.

In a skillet, combine two tablespoons of sesame oil and four eggs. Cook the eggs “scrambled style” and set aside.

Add another tablespoon of sesame oil to the skillet, along with a medium onion (chopped) and chopped green onions. Cook for a few minutes on medium, then add a small bag of frozen peas and carrots. Once heated, add cauliflower “rice” and several tablespoons of soy sauce. Cook thoroughly for 6-7 minutes, adding back the eggs when it’s almost done.

You can add a ton of soy sauce or very little while the mixture simmers – the choice is yours. Just remember that, if you’re heavy on the soy sauce, this dish can get very high in sodium (try a low-sodium soy sauce for more flavor and less salt).

#2: Cauliflower Breadsticks

Cauliflower breadsticks mimic the flavor of traditional breadsticks, yet don’t pack nearly as many carbs. With this recipe, you’ll start with a head of cauliflower, wash it thoroughly, and chop it up. Make sure to dry your cauliflower completely before you move on to the next step (you’ll want to get ride of excess moisture with almost any cauliflower recipe to ensure it doesn’t come out soggy).

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Pulse your cauliflower in a food processor until it’s fine, then pour it onto a cheesecloth or towel. Wrap the cauliflower up into the towel and squeeze out all the extra water you can.

In a bowl, add two eggs (or four egg whites), one cup of your favorite shredded cheese, two teaspoons of minced garlic, one teaspoon of Italian seasoning, and a dash of salt and pepper. Mix it up, then spread it evenly to create a square shape on a baking sheet. I like to bake cauliflower breadsticks on parchment paper, but you could use a non-stick baking pan instead.

Bake your cauliflower for 15 minutes, then take it out of the oven. Sprinkle a cup of parmesan cheese on top, then bake for another 5-8 minutes. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce.

#3: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

To make cauliflower “pizza,” you’ll follow the directions above until you take your crust out of the oven the first time. Once the crust has baked for 15 minutes, you’ll take it out and cover it with marinara sauce, your favorite pizza toppings, and one cup of mozzarella cheese. I like to top my cauliflower pizzas with a bunch of veggies (onion, chopped peppers, mushrooms, etc.), but you could also add pepperoni, sausage, or ham.

Bake for another 7-10 minutes (until toppings are cooked and cheese is melted), then cut into square-shaped pieces and serve.

#4: Cauliflower Mashed ‘Potatoes’

Cauliflower can taste a lot like mashed potatoes if you mash it and add traditional creamy, garlicky flavors. To make mashed cauliflower “potatoes,” you’ll start by boiling or steaming a full head of washed cauliflower florets for 15 minutes. Once the cauliflower is cooked, you’ll dry it completely – the dryer the better!

Put your vegetable in a bowl and add two tablespoons of milk, a half cup of sour cream, one tablespoon of butter, garlic salt, and chives. Mash the cauliflower by hand or use a hand mixer until it has the consistency of potatoes.

Serve your cauliflower mash alone, with butter on top, or with your favorite gravy.

#5: Cauliflower Buffalo ‘Wings’

Bite-size cauliflower florets make a healthy substitute for chicken wings, but soak up plenty of savory, spicy buffalo sauce. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Start with a head of cauliflower, taking special care to wash it and cut it up into wing-sized florets. Dry the cauliflower completely before you move to the next step.

In a bowl, whisk together one cup of flour, two tablespoons of garlic powder, a half cup of milk, and a pinch of salt. Dip each of the cauliflower florets into the mixture, shake off any excess, then lay them in a large baking pan. Cook the cauliflower for 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

Now, take the cauliflower out of the oven and turn the temperature down to 400 degrees. Grab a marinating brush and saturate the “wings” with your favorite buffalo wing sauce. This recipe also works with other sauces you’d normally try with wings – teriyaki, for example, or barbecue sauce.

Bake another 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then serve with blue cheese or ranch dipping sauce.

#6: General Tso’s Cauliflower

The General Tso’s cauliflower recipe I tried at home was similar to this one (except for the fact I used store-bought General Tso’s sauce).

Start with a head of cauliflower that’s been washed and cut into florets. In a bowl, mix together one cup of flour, ½ cup of cornstarch, two teaspoons baking powder, two teaspoons salt, four eggs, and ½ cup water.

Add cauliflower to the batter, shaking off the excess but leaving enough behind to coat it. Fry cauliflower in a large oiled skillet on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Make sure to flip cauliflower halfway so both sides are slightly brown and crunchy.

Let the cauliflower sit on paper towels to soak up excess oil once cooked, then toss in your favorite General Tso’s sauce. Sprinkle shallots and sesame seeds on top, then serve with rice or dipping sauce.

#7: Roasted Garlic Cauliflower

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees, then wash and cut a head of cauliflower into florets. Dry the cauliflower all the way, then cover it thoroughly with a mixture made up of three tablespoons olive oil and three tablespoons of minced garlic.

Pour cauliflower into a casserole dish, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes, stopping to mix halfway through. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and sprinkle a cup of your favorite cheese on top. I prefer a mixture of parmesan and mozzarella, but nearly any cheese that melts will do.

Bake for another 5 minutes (or until cheese is melted), top with parsley, and serve.

#8: Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower

Turmeric is a bright, yellowish spice hailed for its health benefits. Some experts say it’s a natural pain reliever and anti-inflammatory, and that it may help prevent certain types of cancer and strengthen your immune system (though others caution that it’s not a miracle spice).

Combine turmeric with cauliflower and you’ve got a healthy dish that packs an antioxidant punch. I make turmeric roasted cauliflower with a recipe similar to this one.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, then toast coriander and peppercorn seeds on high heat for around a minute. Once cooled, grind the spices along with garlic, turmeric, crushed red pepper, and olive oil. Cover cauliflower florets in the mixture and bake them for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Once roasted, sprinkle with shallots and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

#9: Cauliflower ‘Tots’

I’ve never tried to make these before, but I am aching to experiment with this low-carb recipe for tater tots. Start with a head of cauliflower. Wash it thoroughly, cut into florets, then dry all the way. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, then steam the cauliflower florets for 3-5 minutes before pulsing in a food processor.

In a large bowl, combine cauliflower, one egg, ½ cup minced onion, ½ cup minced bell pepper, ½ cup cheddar cheese, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, ¼ cup breadcrumbs, and ¼ cup minced cilantro and/or parsley. Mix ingredients together and season with salt and pepper.

Once your mixture is ready, use your hands to form it into small tater tots. Place tots on a cookie sheet and bake them for 20 minutes at 375 degrees. Serve with ketchup as you normally would.

Holly Johnson is an award-winning personal finance writer and the author of Zero Down Your Debt. Johnson shares her obsession with frugality, budgeting, and travel at ClubThrifty.com.

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What is your favorite cauliflower recipe? Have you tried any of the recipes on this list?

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