Weekend Cooking

Cauliflower Leaves Have a New Purpose in Life

January 24, 2016

If there’s a ranking of underutilized, unappreciated produce parts, cauliflower leaves are surely in the top five.

I won’t subject you to my ruminations on what would fill the other four slots (today, anyway), but I will say that if you think broccoli stems belong in that list, we need to have a talk.

Photo by James Ransom

Abstractly, we probably all realize that cauliflower leaves are perfectly edible—they can be used just like any of your other favorite dark leafy greens. But we often pull off the leaves and discard them without another thought. It's likely because, unless you're growing your own, there aren’t all that many leaves to work with: probably not enough to create a side dish of their own, which means it might not seem worth it to save a few​ leaves for the future.

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Gingerroot’s Roasted Cauliflower Short Grain Brown Rice Risotto with Lemon, Walnut and Mascarpone deftly solves this problem, incorporating the leaves right into the same dish that the cauliflower goes into.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

The finished dish is creamy and comforting (as rice should be), yet sophisticated, too, with its blend of nutty and lemony flavors. It comes together faster than you might think, considering that it's risotto and you're using brown rice, though you may find you need a bit more time cooking than the recipe calls for.

Know of a great recipe in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Mike Dobson
    Mike Dobson
  • Sabine
  • Cindy Foreman
    Cindy Foreman
  • Karon Skidmore
    Karon Skidmore
  • Sarah Jampel
    Sarah Jampel
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.


Mike D. November 15, 2018
Just curious what the other 4 underutilized parts are?
Lindsay-Jean H. November 15, 2018
Ha! My answer changes by the day, but today I'd say: pumpkin guts, kale stems, potato peels, and fennel stalks.
Funkygirl April 5, 2021
I’m ahead of you! I never peel my potatoes. I do, however, find kale stalk hard to work with....I always end up either under or over cooking them....and who doesn’t like pumpkin meat? It’s as good as turnip! I didn’t know I could steam up cauliflower leaves...
Sabine November 4, 2018
I grow my own cauliflower and this year it did not form heads, but has huge leaves. Aside from giving some to the chickens I thought of using them like cabbage leaves and filling them like cabbage rolls. Has anyone done that?
Robin M. June 26, 2020
Brilliant idea - I was thinking about making a layered/lasagna style cabbage roll dish with kale today...
Librasoy November 25, 2020
Hi. I grow my own for the first time, it’s big and so beautiful. How should I harvest it
Funkygirl April 5, 2021
That sounds interesting. I wonder what the dish would taste like? Does the taste of the leaves change when cooking? Do they need to be pre-prepared for cooking?
Cindy F. January 29, 2016
I save the leaves and the cores, brocolli stems, carrot peels and freeze them, and when I have enough, I make a broth.
Karon S. January 26, 2016
Lindsay thank you! I bought a Romanesco Cauliflower from the Farmers Market yesterday and would have discarded the leaves without a thought. Now I will use them!
Sarah J. January 24, 2016
How can we use olive pits, LJ??
Melissa @. January 24, 2016
Tamar Adler's really excellent An Everlasting Meal contains a recipe for "A Pesto of Cores and Stems," and this is one of my favourite uses for cauliflower leaves. Cooked, they're soft and mild. Raw, they're mustardy and pungent. Really excellent on pasta or roasted vegetables either way.
Posie (. January 24, 2016
Amazing, I love this! There are a few really good looking recipes for carrot top pesto in the archives, as well as risotto that uses celery leaves and a vegan ravioli that uses beet greens. All things I'd love your opinion on!!
Lindsay-Jean H. January 25, 2016
Thanks for the tips Posie! Adding them to my to-make list.
Karina R. January 24, 2016
I just either eat them raw-its very crisp and yummy-or roast them whenever i put somethinf else in the oven.