How to Eat Cauliflower's Delicious Leaves and Stems

Cooked cauliflower on a plate including florets, stems, and leaves

Treehugger / Melissa Breyer

The cauliflower parts that usually end up in the trash may be the tastiest part of all.

Last year, Chad Frischmann, vice president and research director at Project Drawdown, said that, "Reducing food waste is one of the most important things we can do to reverse global warming." And in fact, If food waste were a country, it would place third – following the United States and China – for impact on global warming.

Knowing that kind of makes one look at their food differently. When I am cooking, I consider every part and wonder if it can be eaten; carrot tops get used as herbs, herb stems join the pesto, peels are left on whenever they are edible enough. The scraps that defy my efforts end up in my freezer awaiting a future with a stock pot.

Which brings us to cauliflower. The heads I get look like this (after having removed half the florets to grate and add to risotto, yum).

cauliflower leaves

Treehugger / Melissa Breyer

If I were just to use the florets, I would be throwing away around two-thirds of this beauty! Thankfully, most of it is not only edible, but delicious.

Just like you can peel broccoli stems to reveal their tender hearts, so can you with cauliflower stems. They are toughest at the very bottom of the stem, but the rest of the stems are pretty tender when cooked and often don't even require peeling. The leaves, man, they are so good. Like kale, but sweeter. I think they are the best part.

For the dish above, I chopped up the stems and sauteed them on medium heat in one tablespoon of olive oil (with a smashed garlic clove for good measure) until they started to soften. Then I added the leaves and florets along with two teaspoons of maple syrup (because glazing) and continued cooking until everything was tender enough, with some caramelized edges. Then I plated it and added some sea salt, red pepper flakes, and lemon zest. (By the way, don't throw away your lemon rinds, seriously! See: Are you throwing out the best part of your citrus fruits?.)

The addition of the leaves and stems elevates a cauliflower dish, offering different textures and flavors. But if you just plan to use the florets for ricing or a recipe, you can cook the leaves on their own. I love roasting them, they get that melt-in-your-mouth crispy thing like kale chips. Simply toss them in olive oil, place then on a baking sheet in a single layer, and roast at 400F degrees until crispy but not burned, about 10 to 15 minutes.

If you just have stems to use up, you can shred them and add them to salad, grate them and add them anywhere you might use cauliflower rice, chop them and add them to soups, stir-fries, or curries, et cetera.

And there you go ... who knew that helping to reverse global warming would taste so good?