Delicious Cauliflower


For me, cauliflower is a vegetable which eludes inspiration. I eat it raw. I roast it. I’ve made soup with it once or twice. That’s about the sum of my historic use of cauliflower. Now, everything has changed. I’ve found a recipe for cauliflower which I love.

It comes from a book called Vegetarian Dishes from the Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian. I think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s a good, reliable book. Lately I’ve been on a deep Middle Eastern jag, cooking out of this book every day. Erik is in hog heaven, because he hasn’t had to cook in weeks. I’m in heaven because I’m eating exactly what I’m craving.

Anyway, back to the cauliflower. It’s an easy recipe that comes from north-west Syria, where, according to the author, it is considered a regional specialty. It has a lovely, rich flavor. I never knew tomatoes and cauliflower could be such good friends. The ingredients are pretty basic. And we all have a lonely can of tomato paste on the shelf that needs to be used, don’t we?

We’ve been eating it hippie style, over brown rice, but it would be more elegant over an herbed pilaf, or it could be used as a side dish. I suspect it would be good cold, too, but we’ve never had leftovers.

Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce (Kharnabit Emforakeh)

  • 1 large head of cauliflower
  • 6-8 tablespoons of oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 3 green/spring onions, sliced thin (I’m sure you could sub. regular onion for this)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • juice of one lemon  (maybe 2 tablespoons–to taste)
  • parsley for garnish

Wash, core and break up the cauliflower into bite sized florets.

Steam, boil or elsewise cook the cauliflower until it is just tender. Don’t overcook, because it will receive some more cooking down the line. Drain if necessary.

Add the 6-8 T of oil to a big frying pan. My favorite cast iron pan is 10 inches and it’s crowded for this, but it works. Heat the oil and add the cooked cauliflower. Fry over med-high heat, turning carefully with a spatula, until the cauliflower is kissed with little brown marks.

Remove the cauliflower from the pan at this point and set aside. Add the green onions and pressed or smashed garlic to that same frying pan. Add a splash more oil if it seems dry, and cook these for just 2 minutes or so. Don’t let the garlic burn.  Then add the tomato paste and the water, which thins it, as well as the salt and pepper, and let that all cook for another couple of minutes.

Next, return the cauliflower to the pan and toss it with the sauce. Let it cook a few minutes more until it’s nice and hot and the sauce has a chance to sink in.

Just before you take it off the heat, sprinkle the lemon juice over the cauliflower. The author calls for the juice of 1 lemon, which is a very imprecise quantity–basically, this is very much a “to taste” thing. I find 2 tablespoons works for me.

Garnish with parsley and serve.

Serves 4

Variant: I really like tomato paste. I sneak it straight off the spoon. If you’re like me, you can up the amount of tomato paste in the recipe–double it, say. This results in a thicker, redder sauce and much more pronounced tomato sauce flavor. The original version is subtler, more classy.

Leave a comment


  1. We like creamy cauliflower as an alternative to starchy mashed potatoes. Steam, mash by hand or whiz in a blender with a bit of butter and milk/cream, then add whatever you love: a few squeezed bulbs of roasted garlic, crispy sautéed shallots, green onions, toasted pignoli, Wasabi sesame seeds — tomato paste! Best wishes.

  2. Aloo Gobi

    For what it’s worth, I never cared for cauliflower as a child. Whether it was boiled without spices to a stale mush or raw and drowned in miracle whip + adorned with wizened raisins, I couldn’t stand it.

    But in indian dishes, it’s sublime.

    There are a million variants; if you like cauliflower and you’ve never had aloo gobi (hard to believe…) you owe yourself to try it.


    • Oh, I do indeed love aloo gobi but I don’t cook Indian food. (I’ve been trying not to attempt to cook all the cuisines of the world–focusing has really helped with kitchen management.) So for me, Indian food is a treat for meals out. That said, if you have a recipe I am easily tempted…

      ps. Miracle whip and raisins??? Good God!

    • Hi,

      (tries not to look at the bookshelf, groaning under half-read cookbooks for japanese, thai, indian, mexian, chinese…)

      This is essentially the recipe we use. It’s both quick and tasty. I thoroughly commend the suggestion to squeeze lime/lemon juice over it on serving.

      This is also a great dish to add to your rota if you have a ‘new dish + leftovers’ cooking schedule. We often make enough dal for 2-3 meals, and on the second day cook another quick dish such as aloo ghobi to make for a more rounded (and more luxurious-seeming) meal.

      PS – And yes, Miracle whip and raisins – the style is very 1950s midwestern (and as I’ve now found living in Berlin, very, very German). But to each his or her own!

      My palate has rejected its heritage and self-identified as some uncouth hybrid of south Asian and Sonoran Mexican. I know I’m a traitor to my genes, but I’m much happier now that I’ve come to terms with this.

  3. This looks great! thanks for sharing. I love vegetable dishes like this. Right now I am on a tomato mono diet as my tomatoes are ripening in the garden and NOTHING tastes better than they do, but I switch once frost hits to winter type veg. And I am already looking for a side dish to take for thanksgiving that I can just reheat. It might sound a little silly to already be thinking about it but at our family gathering everyone brings a side and we typically get 10 variations on potatoes or noodles. I get desperate for something healthy. This would be great! you solved one of my biggest problems!!!

    • Hey, here’s a variant for your tomato diet from the same book. Just boil some waxy potatoes, like red skinned, and then chop them into cubes. Mix these with chopped tomatoes, or whole cherry tomatoes, and dress with a simple dressing of olive oil, lemon juice and one clove garlic, pressed or minced. S & P. Serve warm, cold or room temp. Surprisingly good. It’s a new combo for me. You could throw in some parsley or basil for fancy, I suppose.

  4. That looks and sounds delicious. Daddy would mash broccoli and cauliflower into a delicious, pale green, buttery goodness. It freaked me out the first time he made it, and I was an adult.

    What is wrong with raisins and Miracle Whip? I put apples, bananas, raisins, pecans and MW in a bowl and stir well. It is a good meal if you cannot wait to cook. I can and have made more sophisticated fruit salads, but this one is delicious.

  5. This looks so tasty! We found a mac n cheese recipe that calls for cauliflower instead of noodles. cheesey delicious comfort food. And my 5 yr old loves it.

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