Last weekend, I found proof that the best things in life really do come for free. And when I say "things," I’m talking about cauliflower leaves. Bags and bags of cauliflower leaves, which usually get tossed away or given (to people like me) at no extra cost (usually for the compost). But secretly, they also have a place in your fridge and kitchen.
Just when you thought cauliflower could get no cooler (exhibit A, exhibit B, exhibit C), it turns out those often-discarded leaves possess a culinary magic of their own. Something I discovered, by accident, when a few stowaways landed in a pan of roasting florets. After 30 minutes at high heat, they emerged crispy at the tips (like kale-chips) and buttery along the stalk (like roasted leeks); or in other words, a darn tasty treat.
And since that fateful day, I always keep my leaves — or grab them for free at the store and market — and I mix them in with my florets or let them shine in a dish of their own.
So the next time you buy a big old head of cauliflower for cauliflower rice, cauliflower steaks, or cauliflower popcorn, I beg you: Do not throw away the leaves. Save them. And like roasting or grilling lettuce, let a little oil and a little heat transform the leaves from something you toss to something you crave.
How to Roast Cauliflower Leaves
To prepare the leaves, trim off the woody ends of the stem, give the leaves a quick wash, and then throw them in a bowl or plastic bag with some oil and spices. I can’t say enough about dill and garlic powder.
Then, for the transformation, place the oiled leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in a 400°F oven until they darken and get crispy, about 15 minutes.
Or, if you already heated up the BBQ, go ahead and place larger leaves directly on a grill over high heat or on a grill pan.
Tips for Serving Cauliflower Leaves
From there, choose your own roasted cauliflower leaf adventure. Mix the leaves with florets or other roasted veggies as a side to your main meal. Serve under a juicy piece of meat, or fish, or (hey!) that cauliflower steak. Toss immediately with herbs, nuts, and dressing for a warm salad. Or keep the leaves in the oven a little longer and enjoy them like chips. Just make sure you eat them while they’re hot (or warm).
(Image credits: Jessica Goldman Foung)