That’s right. We’re teaching you how to steam a whole head of cauliflower. It couldn’t be simpler. And it couldn’t be more stunning at the table. As author Magnus Nilsson explains, “it could be a side dish, but also a shared dish in the middle of the table…a lump of salty butter to dip it in and perhaps a wedge of lemon is about as good as it gets for me.” Especially given the price of cauliflower lately—have you noticed how pricey it’s gotten? All the more reason we really want to taste our cauliflower rather than bury it under all manner of goo as if it was mystery meat at our elementary school cafeteria. It’s little wonder we consider Nilsson’s The Nordic Cookbook one of the best cookbooks of the year.Renee Schettler Rossi

How To Bring Some Bling To Steamed Cauliflower

This whole steamed cauliflower is the best thing ever for vegetable purists. And for those who can’t quite muster enthusiasm over straight up steamed brassica, here’s how to fancy steamed cauliflower up a little:
Dust with paprika.
Drown with melted butter, a generous squeeze of lemon, and freshly cracked black pepper.
Sprinkle with hot sauce.
Dollop with aioli or homemade mayo.
Dunk in pickle juice from a jar of homemade or store-bought pickles.
Dribble with chimichurri.
Slather with sage brown butter.

A head of steamed cauliflower in a white bowl on a gray surface.

Steamed Cauliflower

5 from 1 vote
This recipe explains how to make steamed cauliflower according to a simple technique that will have even veggie haters proclaiming it to be the best.
David Leite
Servings2 to 4 servings
Calories115 kcal
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time25 minutes
Total Time30 minutes


  • 1 large cauliflower, leaves still attached
  • Salt, to taste
  • 4 lemon wedges, (optional)
  • Salted butter, (optional)


  • Place the cauliflower in a steamer basket set over a deep pot of simmering water and cover. Steam the cauliflower until it is just tender, about 15 minutes. Stick the tip of a sharp paring knife in the thickest part of the stem of the cauliflower to check for doneness. The timing depends on the size of the cauliflower and how soft you want it to be. You may need to steam it for about 5 more minutes.
  • Sprinkle with some salt before serving if you want to. Place the entire head of cauliflower on a platter or plate and serve alongside lemon wedges and butter, if desired.

Adapted From

The Nordic Cookbook

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 115 kcalCarbohydrates: 24 gProtein: 8 gFat: 1 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gSodium: 127 mgFiber: 9 gSugar: 9 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2015 Magnus Nilsson. Photo © 2015 Erik Olsson. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is more of a method than recipe, but most importantly, it works perfectly, and the extra flavor you get by steaming the cauliflower instead of boiling it is worth bragging about. As part of a larger meal, it could easily serve 4, although in all honestly, as a side to a meat dish we ate the whole thing between 2 people. Sharing a head of roasted cauliflower is something we used to order at a favorite restaurant, so it wasn’t a stretch to serve it at home to a receptive partner! We drizzled it with a bit of aioli and chopped briny olives. I will watch for those tiny perfect cauliflowers to serve as individual heads, as this is such a nice presentation and so simple. The cauliflower would also be perfect and totally guilt-free with just lemon and a grind of pepper.

A very healthful and super easy way to prepare cauliflower. In just 15 minutes, you’ll have a perfectly cooked vegetable dish that can be served simply with a sprinkling of salt or more dressed up with a drizzle of olive oil or a few melted pats of butter, some freshly squeezed lemon juice, chopped fresh herbs, and/or some grated cheese. My cauliflower took 15 minutes to cook. This size of cauliflower made 4 nice servings. I used a pasta pot with the strainer insert serving as a steamer. The covered pot with a few inches of water simmering in the bottom made the perfect cooking vessel for this dish.

This is one of the easiest recipes I’ve made in a long time. I just salted the finished cauliflower and served it with melted butter. The cauliflower tasted good without the butter and even better with the butter.

About 15 years ago, I went to an engagement party with the most unusual platter of vegetables and dips I had ever seen. None of the vegetables you expect to see, and they had all been blanched, from haricot verts and asparagus to pea pods and the first broccolini I had ever encountered. They were served with equally unique dips, and I remember the tomato horseradish standing out. To this day, I duplicate this, even just as a snack or a side dish for dinner, and I like to include cauliflower. I would never have thought to steam the entire head of cauliflower. I love roasting the whole head but have only steamed the florets. Cutting up the head makes such a mess, and I end up with tiny fragments of cauliflower all over my cutting board. This technique made it all so easy! The leaves of the head just fell back away from the freshly cooked head, allowing easy, mess-free division of the florets, which were perfect for dipping in butter or dip. The results of this recipe are not any different than if you’d cut up a fresh head of cauliflower and steamed it, but it’s so much easier this way. I will use this technique again, and it’s great for making cauliflower purée to add to mashed potatoes or soup for added healthy creaminess.

I rated this recipe a “10” not only for the result itself, but also for the ease of preparation. I’m all about easy and uncomplicated methods of getting a great result. This one fits the bill perfectly. I’ve been microwaving cauliflower for years, and it’s a no-brainer for flavorful cauliflower that isn’t soggy and sad. I like this method almost as much because you can put in on the stovetop in your steamer for 20 minutes or so, and that’s it! No poking, prodding, lid-lifting, or microwave door opening. Now about the results: the cauliflower that I used was a little over 2 pounds, and I checked it at 15 minutes, and it was still pretty rock-solid at the base. I gave it another 5 minutes, and it was “perfection at the poke,” as the author put it. I let each tester decide how they wanted to proceed with eating this beautiful result—some opted for salt (kosher and smoked sea salt seemed to get the biggest thumbs up), butter, or just plain. I slathered some ghee on mine, and it was great, then some peppery salad dressing, and it was even better, and then I jumped the shark and sprinkled some red pepper flakes over it, and the setting sun exploded! That was the bomb for sure. I have since snacked on this heated, at room temperature, and cold from the fridge. And really? Sprinkle a little smoked salt on a floret, and some of that pickle brine from another recipe or out of the jar, or even from the Pickled Jalapeños on the site—you will love it all over again! And when I set that beautiful head of cauliflower on a platter, I thought to myself, “That looks too beautiful to eat, but wouldn’t it be neat on the children’s table at Thanksgiving because they COULD eat the centerpiece?”

I love this cooking method for cauliflower. It was so quick and simple and resulted in cauliflower that was tender and full of flavor. I only had a pasta pot with a vegetable steamer insert, but that was perfect for my 2-pound head of cauliflower. I brought the water to a simmer, placed the cauliflower in the steamer, and set the timer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes I checked the cauliflower with a knife. It still offered resistance at its core, so I gave it another 5 minutes. I checked it again and thought it could use a little more time. 3 minutes later, it was perfect. There really is no need to peel off the leaves at the base of cauliflower, as they slide right off after the cauliflower is cooked. They also make for a lovely presentation. I pulled the basket out of the pot (with potholders) and sliced the cauliflower. I topped it with a touch of butter, salt, and hot sauce (a Portland, OR brand called Secret Aardvark). I’m currently practicing a vegetarian lifestyle, so this whole head of cauliflower only made for 2 servings. 1 for me for dinner, and 1 for me for lunch the next day. If I was serving it as a side, I think it would only serve 3 people maximum. This cauliflower looks elegant, tastes wonderful, and only takes a couple of minutes to put together, which makes this recipe a keeper.

What a simple yet brilliant way to elevate the humble cauliflower to a simple yet elegant presentation! I was happy to spot a special type of cauliflower at my farmers’ market, romanesco, and it enhanced the specialness of this idea. I personally love the flexibility of this recipe and that it acknowledges the multiple factors of the size/weight of the cauliflower and the desired softness. I actually did end up steaming it for +/- 15 minutes. At that time, it was what I would describe as crisp-tender, cooked but barely so, and just perfect to my taste. It was also picture-perfect served with just salt and nothing more. Sure, it would be good with butter, or butter and lemon, or other enhancements, but this, for me, needed nothing more! It looked super beautiful and impressive served as a shared dish in the middle of the table, with everyone able to take their own slice or wedge as a side.

We love new ways to enjoy vegetables and were eager to try this technique. In less than 20 minutes, you will have an unexpected and beautiful addition to your table. We topped the cauliflower with salted butter, mild paprika, and good salt. The presentation was dramatic and delightful. Next time, we will steam the cauliflower in stock and salt the whole head of cauliflower first.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. I love this method of cooking cauliflower… Salt and lemon is great, but if you want to go rich, drizzle with hollandaise sauce and a few cracks of pepper… 🙂