Cauliflower leaves are edible!

Our CSA farm does not trim the outer leaves off a head of cauliflower because they help to keep the white part of the cauliflower clean until you’re ready to eat it.  The farm newsletter had mentioned from time to time that these leaves are edible, too, and we’d tried substituting them for kale in a few dishes, but our main impression was that they were tougher and less tasty than kale.

On Saturday I made roasted vegetables: cauliflower, potatoes, and green peppers.  Now, I’ve read all over the place how other people’s children just adore vegetables of all sorts when they are roasted, but my six-year-old Nicholas has steadfastly refused to eat any roasted vegetable except potatoes and the golden turnips we get about once a year from the CSA.  I’ve even tried showing him someone’s blog with photos of enthusiastic children yumming down the roasted cauliflower, to no avail.

But this time, as I was cutting the huge leaves off the cauliflower and setting them aside, Nicholas came in and announced, “I don’t like cauliflower!  But I like cauliflower leaves!  Can I eat a leaf, please?”  I gave him a leaf.  He chomped into it and chewed earnestly for many minutes.  Then he handed me the remainder of the leaf and said, “Maybe they’ll be better roasted.”

Well, why not?  I removed the main stems, tore the leaves into smaller pieces, and dunked the leaves in the same seasoned oil I was using for the rest of the vegetables, but I spread the leaves in a separate pan, assuming they would cook more quickly.  I made a double layer rather than use yet another pan.  After 10 minutes, they were looking crispy.

Wow!  They are so good!  They did not get really crisp like potato chips, but the edges have a pleasantly fried texture.  The thicker parts are chewy but not so chewy as to become boring; they exude rich flavor with every chomp!  Nicholas ate some without objection, although by the time dinner was finally ready (I got a late start) he was very tired and listless.  I love them so much I’ve been eating the leftovers cold, with my fingers!

I don’t use a recipe for my seasoned oil, but here’s the basic procedure:

  • Pour some olive oil into a bowl.  For a fairly large pile of veggies (about 3-5 cups) you’ll need at least 1/2 or 3/4 cup of oil.  I don’t bother with the extra-virgin stuff, but I do insist on oil that comes in a glass bottle, not plastic.
  • Add some herbs–fresh or dried, whatever kind you happen to have that will taste good in this sort of thing–rosemary, parsley, dill, oregano, basil, tarragon, marjoram, etc. , totaling at least a tablespoon of herbs, in small bits.
  • Add some garlic and/or onion, fresh or dried, in small bits.  This time I used the last of a bag of thawed frozen thinly sliced onion that was hanging around the refrigerator left over from making a small batch of Beans & Rice; I also poured in the onion juice from the bottom of the bag.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.  I used sea salt and white pepper in this batch.
  • Add a small amount (about a teaspoon) of nutritional yeast flakes, if desired.  They give a nice golden color to pale veggies like white cauliflower, as well as improving the flavor and adding B vitamins.
  • Mix thoroughly with slotted spoon.  Put veggies into oil until the top ones are breaking the surface.  Stir.  Lift out veggies with slotted spoon, allowing most of the oil to run back into the bowl.  Spread veggies in a single layer on a pan that has at least a shallow edge all the way around.  Now put more veggies into oil and repeat the process.
  • If you run out of oil before you run out of veggies, add more oil.  Taste it to see if you need to add more seasonings–often you won’t because they sink to the bottom.
  • Put pans in oven at 425 degrees F.  Check every 5 minutes.  Veggies are done when they start looking really browned in spots.

I wasn’t able to find clear nutrition information on cauliflower leaves, but I bet they’re similar to other leafy green vegetables: high in Vitamins A, C, and K and fiber.  While searching, I found three Indian recipes for cauliflower leaves and an explanation of why most people need not worry about cauliflower being “goitrogenic”.

I love making delicious food out of something that would otherwise be compost!  I have strategies for odds and ends of fruit, odds and ends of vegetables, and old tofu.

See the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop for more healthy recipes!  Visit Your Green Resource for other ways to avoid wasting stuff!

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About 'Becca
author of The Earthling's Handbook, about the environment, parenting, cooking, and more!

19 Responses to Cauliflower leaves are edible!

  1. Never thought to use the leaves. Great idea!

  2. Alea Milham says:

    I am so excited about this! I love finding new ways to eat more of the things I grow. I make radish leaf soup, carrot top soup, I use a lot of different leaves (beet, kolrabi, etc) in greens, so this is my type of recipe! Thank you for sharing this with the Hearth and Soul Hop.

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  6. Ranee Marero says:

    Really informative article post. Will read on…

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  9. Maureen says:

    Back in the 1950s when I was growing up I lived mostly with my grandmother. She had lived through poverty when widowed in the 1920s with four young children so she was not going to waste anything! Cauliflower leaves were eaten one day and the cauliflower the next. My vege man comes round in a van and his caulies still have their leaves to protect them. He now knows not to chop them off (same with the outside leaves of cabbages) when I buy them. I cut the hard cores into tiny slices and put them at the bottom of the pan in the water and the sliced leaf on top to steam – good stuff.

    I like to serve cauliflower in a basic tomato sauce (teaspoon olive oil, garlic fried, add tinned tomatoes herbs and salt) added beans make a nice dish.

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  12. Jarrod says:

    I was picking cauliflower out of my garden today and on a whim tried one of the leaves. I loved it. They taste great right off the plant. I’ll be saving them from now on.

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  14. Debbie says:

    I’ve never understood why the leaves are chopped off cauliflowers. Such a waste. My mom always had to look for one with as many leaves as she could find when I was younger as I never liked the flower but thought the leaves were yummy. I’ve only actually started to like the flower in the last couple of years (at age 40) but still love the leaves. Your recipe does sound good and I’ll be definitely be giving it a go! :D

    • 'Becca says:

      Yeah, I wonder what happens to the leaves of cauliflowers that get packaged for sale in the supermarket. I hope that they’re used to make vitamin pills or rabbit chow or something, or at least composted, but the way most industrial processes work in today’s economy I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they just go into landfills. :-(

  15. michaelene berger says:

    So happy to hear we can save Cauliflower Leaves! My leaves are sooooo huge and as I was clearing out my garden, I felt it would be a waste to not do something with these leaves. So I thought I would google and see if there was anyone who thought the same as I……wow! Now I
    know what to do….Thank you so much!

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  17. jfreeder says:

    Try frying the leaves in VCO, probably be even better than olive oil and the coconut oil is better for you.

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