Cauliflower “Couscous”

Cauliflower couscous might just be the dish to convert those of you that don’t already adore those lovely little florets. Chopped finely and flavored with red onion, loads of basil, maple syrup, and a gorgeous lemon sauce, get ready to rethink cauliflower.

Cauliflower couscous in a yellow bowl, garnished with sliced basil.

For the longest time, I fought cauliflower. I usually prepared it Indian style, heavily spiced and cooked whole, but shied away from the floret stir-fry or other recipes with whole florets. Here, the cauliflower is finely chopped so it resembles couscous and will absorb other flavors. Try this excellent version, but also try replacing the sauce with different combos, like tamarind or pomegranate dressing for a sweet-tart rendition, or add some chipotle for a hot and smoky version. Great with a glass of unoaked Chardonnay.–Eric Gower

LC Game Changer Note

This recipe is a game-changer for those reticent to try cauliflower. Seriously. They—or you—won’t even recognize it.

☞ Contents

Cauliflower Couscous

Cauliflower couscous in a yellow bowl, garnished with sliced basil.
Cauliflower couscous is a terrific side dish that makes the best of this gorgeous veggie. Filled with tons of flavor, it might just become a favorite at home.

Prep 5 mins
Cook 30 mins
Total 35 mins
8 servings
180 kcal
5 / 5 votes
Print RecipeBuy the The Breakaway Cook cookbook

Want it? Click it.


For the lemon sauce

  • 10 large (about 1 cup loosely packed) basil leaves
  • Zest and juice of 2 lemons preferably Meyer
  • 1/2 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

For the cauliflower couscous

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion finely diced
  • 1 medium head cauliflower stalks and stems discarded, florets finely diced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup lemon sauce
  • 2 tablespoons basil chiffonade


Make the lemon sauce

  • Combine the basil, lemon zest and juice, oil, and maple syrup in a blender and purée. (You can keep the sauce in a jar with a tight-fitting lid in the refrigerator for up to 7 to 10 days.)

Make the cauliflower couscous

  • Reach for a skillet or wok large that’s enough to hold all the cauliflower, place it over medium-high heat, and melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the onion and saute until the onion softens, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the cauliflower, stir thoroughly, salt and pepper liberally, and cook until the cauliflower softens, about 10 minutes.
  • Add 2 tablespoons lemon sauce and cook until the cauliflower is tender and fragrant, another 10 minutes. Adjust the salt, add the remaining 2 tablespoons sauce, mix thoroughly, and transfer to a serving bowl. Top with the basil chiffonade.
Print RecipeBuy the The Breakaway Cook cookbook

Want it? Click it.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 180kcal (9%)Carbohydrates: 7g (2%)Protein: 2g (4%)Fat: 17g (26%)Saturated Fat: 3g (19%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 2gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 4mg (1%)Sodium: 23mg (1%)Potassium: 255mg (7%)Fiber: 2g (8%)Sugar: 4g (4%)Vitamin A: 138IU (3%)Vitamin C: 39mg (47%)Calcium: 27mg (3%)Iron: 1mg (6%)

#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Absolutely fabulous! This recipe really challenged my idea of cauliflower—the chopped cauliflower was such a departure from the typical use of the floret. I admit that I was also a little skeptical using maple syrup, but it just tempers the lemon juice, making everything pop. A delicious, delicious way to serve cauliflower.

I had never considered cooking cauliflower this way before and was very impressed by the result. I liked the simplicity, texture, and flavor of this dish and the leftover dressing is delicious with romaine and grilled chicken.

A fast, easy dish that tastes really bright and flavorful. I used it as a topping for whole-wheat pasta, grated some fresh Parmesan on top, and it was a lovely meal.

I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. It takes some time to chop up all the cauliflower florets, but it really makes a great-tasting dish! It’s a preparation I never would have thought of for this vegetable, but I’m going to keep it in mind now that I see how it really does absorb all the other flavors in the dish. The lemon is a little subtle in the dressing and you need to taste often to get the salt level right, but it’s a great dish and the leftovers make a perfect lunch.

This was simple, clean, tasty, and freshly flavored, a bright light in the gray of February. Happily it is now Meyer

lemon season, but I am sure this would work as well with regular lemons. As a vegetable-loving vegetarian, I try to share dishes with friends to solicit their opinions as well. One friend, when asked to taste it, took a small careful forkful at first, then proceeded to eat substantially more. It has plenty of room for adaptation, too. While the basil and lemon were delicious, my friend suggested the addition of some chipotle to add depth and substance.

Originally published March 16, 2010


#leitesculinaria on Instagram If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


  1. 5 stars
    I loved this dish, as well as the concept of the recipe, and am anxious to try it with other variations. At first, I was a little bit disappointed, as I didn’t think it packed a fabulous flavor punch, but it was sublime the following day. I think this is one dish that benefits from standing awhile before serving and then being reheated, or even served at room temperature. All in all, a lovely, healthful recipe.

  2. 5 stars
    Absolutely delicious! As I started out, I thought the lemon would be too lemony and tart and I wondered, how could this possibly come together? Surprise, surprise—in the end, my husband and I ate the entire dish. The combination of flavors was just great. The sauce blended and balanced so well to perk up the cauliflower, and the red onion was just perfect in bringing everything together. I served this with a simple sautéed perch filet and used some of the sauce over the fish as well, which was great.

  3. 5 stars
    I really enjoyed this recipe. The texture is nice and it’s a wonderful way to serve cauliflower. I made it for my eldest daughter, who is a vegetarian; she also thought it was very good. She liked the hint of maple flavor in the sauce, which paired beautifully with the maple-glazed salmon I prepared.

  4. 5 stars
    I made this a couple of weeks ago and it was a huge hit! I’m making it again tonight. The only way I have ever been able to include cauliflower in meals was by masking it with heavy Asian sauces, which are yummy but you wouldn’t know there was cauliflower in it. This was so much simpler and tastier. I bought a couple of basil plants so I have fresh leaves on hand now whenever I want to make this. Thank you so much for this!

  5. I brought home a head of cauliflower this evening with no idea on how I would prepare it. I looked at this site and recipe and took a chance. Three people demolished the entire thing in one sitting.

    This then got me thinking: what a great surprise vegetable to serve at a holiday gathering. A lot of the labor can be done in advance; once the sauce and vegetable cutting are done, it goes together quickly. Taste for salt as you cook: it really needs to be seasoned well.

    1. Sally, that’s wonderful! Sounds like it will be making a reappearance on your table come the holidays. I was never a great fan of cauliflower until recently, but dishes like this remind me that it’s actually quite a nice neutral palette for all sorts of flavors.

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Attach it below. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

Rate this recipe!

Have you tried this recipe? Let us know what you think.

Upload a picture of your dish