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Cauliflower is a good vegetarian option for shawarma and other dishes

One of the most versatile winter vegetables, cauliflower can be crispy and sweet, mild and tender, or everything in between.

Cauliflower shawarmaConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

One of the most versatile winter vegetables, cauliflower can be crispy and sweet, mild and tender, or everything in between. That’s why it’s a great stand-in for spit-roasted shawarma meat; when seasoned with coriander, sumac, and garlic, then deeply roasted at high heat, it tastes downright meaty. Or, when blitzed into small pieces in a food processor, it becomes Mexican “rice,” which we then sauté with tomato paste and chipotle chili powder. And it soaks up seasonings when dry-fried with Sichuan peppercorns and chilies in a mild, sweet soy-based sauce.

Cauliflower Shawarma

Makes 4 servings

Traditional Levantine shawarma is meat, commonly lamb, that’s seasoned and spit-roasted. Modern meatless riffs opt for cauliflower because it pairs well with nearly any type of spicing and cooks up with a satisfying texture. At Shawarma Bar in London, cauliflower shawarma gets a boost in richness with butter, and we agree it’s a flavorful addition, but we also include a little olive oil for better browning.

Tangy, deep-red sumac is made by grinding the dried berries of the sumac bush; look for it in the spice section of the supermarket or Middle Eastern grocery stores. If it’s not available, use lemon zest; zest alters the flavor profile but the cauliflower still will taste great.


So the florets brown deeply, it’s best not to stir the cauliflower more than once during roasting. The best tool to use is a wide metal spatula to scrape up and flip the pieces.

4 tablespoons salted butter, melted

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 medium garlic cloves, finely grated

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon ground sumac or grated lemon zest

1 2- to 2½-pound head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt, room temperature

Pita bread rounds, halved, to serve


Sliced onion or sliced tomato or sliced cucumber or a combination, to serve

Fresh flat-leaf parsley or fresh mint or lemon wedges or a combination, optional, for garnish

Heat the oven to 500 degrees with a rack in the middle position. In a small bowl, stir together the butter, oil, garlic, coriander, and 1 tablespoon of sumac. On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle the cauliflower with ¼ cup of the butter mixture and sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to combine. Roast until well browned and tender, 18 to 24 minutes, stirring once about halfway through.

Into the remaining butter mixture, stir the yogurt, then taste and season with salt, pepper, and the remaining ½ teaspoon sumac. Tuck the cauliflower and sliced vegetable(s) into the pita, garnish with lemon wedges and/or the herbs, if using, and serve with the yogurt sauce.

Sichuan dry-fried cauliflowerConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

Mexican-Style Cauliflower Rice

Makes 4 to 6 servings

The best cauliflower rice starts by pulsing chunks of the vegetable to bits in a food processor. It’s quick and easy to do, and the “rice” has fresher flavor and better texture (because the pieces are more even in size) than store-bought fresh or frozen riced cauliflower.

For this side dish, we took inspiration from Mexican arroz rojo, which cooks rice in a puree of tomatoes and aromatics plus chicken broth, ingredients that supply hearty, satisfying flavor. Since cauliflower rice doesn’t require liquid for cooking, we depend on

umami-rich tomato paste plus a few spices to add depth and savoriness. Peas, a common addition in Mexican rice, add sweetness and pops of color. We add cilantro for fresh, herbal notes.


Pat the thawed peas dry so their moisture doesn’t turn the rice soft and soggy. Cooking it to the point of tender-crisp, and no further, also helps ensure the rice has the best texture.

1 1½-pound head cauliflower, trimmed and chopped into 1-to 1½-inch chunks

3 tablespoons grape-seed or other neutral oil

1 small white onion, chopped

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground coriander

¾ teaspoon chipotle chili powder

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

½ cup frozen peas, thawed and patted dry

1/3 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro, chopped

Lime wedges, to serve

Add enough cauliflower to fill a food processor about halfway. Pulse until the pieces are smaller than peas but larger than grains of rice, 3 to 5 pulses; do not over process (it’s fine if the rice is somewhat uneven). Transfer to a medium bowl and repeat until all of the cauliflower has been processed; you should have about 4 cups.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomato paste, garlic, coriander, and chipotle powder, then stir to coat the onion with the tomato paste. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds. Add the cauliflower rice and ½ teaspoon each salt and pepper, stirring to coat the cauliflower in the tomato paste, then cook, stirring often, until the rice is tender-crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.


Add the peas and cook, stirring, until the peas are warmed through, 1 to 2 minutes. Off heat, taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the cilantro, and serve with lime wedges.

Sichuan dry-fried cauliflowerConnie Miller/of CB Creatives

Sichuan Dry-Fried Cauliflower

Makes 4 servings

The Mandarin term for dry-frying, sometimes called dry-searing, is gan bian. It’s essentially a two-stage cooking technique. A protein or vegetable first is parcooked in oil until the surfaces are browned and any moisture on the exterior has evaporated. The food then is stir-fried with aromatics and seasonings that reduce and cling to the browned surfaces. The resulting dish is more or less sauce-free. Green beans are the vegetable most often cooked in this manner, but in our version we use cauliflower.

Sichuan peppercorns provide their resinous, tongue-tingling heat, while optional árbol chilies add a more direct spiciness.

The head of cauliflower should be no larger than 2 pounds. Otherwise, the skillet would be too crowded to get the essential browning. Also, for proper browning, don’t stir the cauliflower for the first several minutes after adding it to the pan; once the Sichuan peppercorns are added, stir only every minute or so.

Serve with white or brown rice.

1 2-pound head cauliflower, trimmed

¼ cup grape-seed or other neutral oil

1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns

6 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

3 dried árbol chilies, broken in half (optional)


2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon dry sherry

1 teaspoon white sugar

4 scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger

Chili oil, to serve

Using a chef’s knife, cut the cauliflower in half top to bottom. Set each half flat side down and cut parallel with the stem into rough ¼-inch slices; the florets will break up a bit as you cut.

In a 12-inch skillet over medium heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Add the cauliflower in an even layer and cook without stirring until browned, about 6 minutes. Sprinkle in the Sichuan peppercorns and cook, stirring about every minute or so, until the cauliflower is spotty brown all over, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the garlic and árbol chilies (if using), then cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the soy sauce, sherry, and sugar. Cook until the skillet is mostly dry, about 1 minute. Stir in the scallions and ginger, then continue to cook until the scallions are slightly wilted, about another 1 minute. Transfer to a serving dish and serve with chili oil for drizzling.

Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to Send comments to