Spiced caramelized cauliflower


This cauliflower is like gold, but more precious.

That is an inside joke between me and a long-ago college boyfriend. When I was 18 the two of us traveled from France to Greece and Italy and Denmark (!) on EuroRail passes and change we found on the floor of the trains. Or so it seemed. We couldn’t have had that little money, though, because I managed to gain about ten pounds in two weeks in Italy. I had never had gelato. It was a revelation. I ate it several times every day. But I digress….

So we were traveling on a shoestring, as the saying goes, and we were terribly young and had pretty much no idea what the hell we were doing half the time. So we did things like not pay the extra few bucks for reserved seats. For the majority of our travels, this was fine. For the packed overnight train from Zurich to Zagreb, it was less fun. Every seat was taken. Plenty of other people in the corridor. And tons and tons of Yugoslavians (because that’s what they were then, we knew not yet of Serbs and Croats and the horror that would come soon enough) heading home armed to the teeth with the bright and shiny goods of Western Europe. All those televisions and boom boxes had to go somewhere – somewheres we could have been sitting. We ended up squished into a corner of the vestibule at the front of the car next to the bathroom that could have been working better.

That would never happen to me now, of course. Not only would I reserve a seat because I would do a teensy bit of research – ask the station attendant, even – about the need to do such a thing, but even if I didn’t have a seat there is no way on this green earth that I would let someone put their crap on a seat I could sit in and even if I ended up sitting in the corridor, when the pushing and jostling started I would push right back and refuse to huddle in the creaking, rattling, drafty vestibule next to the leaky toilet. But, as I said, we were young. We were midwestern. We were polite. We didn’t make a fuss.

We arrived in Zagreb sleepless and a bit worse for wear. We were planning on staying a day or two, maybe going to some other Yugoslavian cities. We exchanged whatever pittance we thought would see us through that first day and were handed several inches of bill-size paper that we could only assume was their terribly deflated money. We then spent the day witnessing what seemed like never-ending incidents of people kicking and spitting at “gypsies” (I didn’t know then that “gypsy” is derogatory and that they are called Roma).

It was all quite upsetting to a nice, sleep-deprived girl from Minnesota, raised among so many nice, restrained, liberal people. We decided to catch the night train south, this time snagging floor space away from the toilet. It was another long, sleepless night – with lots of stops and noise and confusion for us. We saw a group of people literally kick an old Roma woman off the train. At another juncture a group of passengers physically blocked a Roma family from boarding the train.

We didn’t speak the language or have any understanding of the culture, so we sat – wide-eyed and horrified – as we rode the train south to Greece.

When we finally disembarked in Thessaloniki, the fresh ocean air hit us like a tonic.

We soon bought the cheapest phrase book we could find and were delighted to find it filled with such useful gems as “you dance like a fairy,” “will you marry me,” and “your hair is like gold, but more precious.”

From then on we described everything good, everything lovely, everything that helped us forget about that train ride as “like gold, but more precious.”

This cauliflower gets its golden hue from a bit of turmeric. It works fine without the turmeric if you don’t have any on hand, but look at that color! Why leave it out?

Spiced caramelized cauliflower

The wee bit of sugar in the spice mix helps the whole thing brown and caramelize and crisp up ever so slightly. I tried making this dish with just 2 tablespoons of butter, and it worked fine just perfectly fine but was significantly less like gold.

1 head cauliflower

3 Tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon hot paprika

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Heat the oven up to 450. Cut cauliflower into florets. I like to try and keep things fairly bite-sized so I further divide the larger pieces, but I’m sure you know how you like your cauliflower cut up.

Melt the butter and then mix it in a large bowl (big enough to hold all the cauliflower) with the sugar, salt, and all the spices. Add the cauliflower and toss to coat the cauliflower as evenly as possible with the spicy butter.

Lay the cauliflower pieces in a single layer in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet. Cook them in the oven until browned, sizzling, and tender with crispy bits forming on the edges – mine took about 25 minutes.

Serve hot or warm. I think they’d be rather nice as a little appetizer – with toothpicks – with drinks.


We liked it with rice and brown butter dal, with a little fresh green chile and red onion relish (seasoned to taste with salt and lemon juice) for freshness and color. This dinner? It wasn’t just golden. It was like gold, but more precious.