This preparation was partly inspired by a chile-roasted cauliflower dish in Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, Flavor. It looked so good when I first flipped through the book that I hadn’t gotten it out of my mind. And yet I knew at first glance I needed a few more pantry items to make it, so I never looked at it again, being busy. Then recently I got it in my head to roast cauliflower steaks. I had a big head of cauliflower and I wanted to know once and for all if the stems would cook through in the oven before the florets turned to mush. So I cut one-inch slabs and rubbed them with oil and smoked paprika, roasted at high heat for a bit, and then smeared them with a mixture of tomato paste, olive oil, more smoked paprika and a bit of chile paste and garlic. Then I kept roasting until everything was quite toasty.

Aside from a very yummy result, the stems did cook through, and while the rest of the cauliflower is quite tender at that point, the texture is still pleasing because the edges and tips are crisped (aka oven-fried). So on balance, after now making this again (the first time with Fly By Jing chili crisp, the second time with Asian chili-garlic paste), we give it four thumbs up. Which means we loved it. That said, I welcome you to play around with this and see how it works for you — whether you want more chile, or less roasting time. I’m afraid some of you might want less olive oil, but we would have to fight about that.

For this I used a dark nonstick baking sheet (one I don’t normally use), thinking it might induce some further crisping, but I think any heavy-duty baking sheet would do. You can serve these straight off the sheet pan or arranged with a bit of yogurt and lime on top. These would make a wonderful side for lamb.

Serves 2 to 3 as a side dish

  • 1 very large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds)
  • ½ cup to 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon plus ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Asian chili-garlic paste (or 1 to 2 teaspoons chile crisp)


1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. (If your oven tends to run cool, turn it up to 450 degrees F. Higher heat is good in this recipe.) Trim the outer leaves from the cauliflower and trim just the bottom of the stem. Set the cauliflower stem-side-down on a cutting board and slice it crosswise into slabs (or steaks) about 1-inch thick. The cauliflower on the ends will not hold together; gather and reserve that to use another night. You should have 5 or 6 good slabs of cauliflower to roast.

2. Arrange the cauliflower on a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet (nonstick if you have it). (Don’t worry if some of the steaks fall apart, just piece them back together on the sheet tray.) Using a pastry brush, dab and brush about 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil (or enough to cover) over the top of the slabs. Combine the 1 teaspoon smoked paprika with 1 teaspoon salt and sprinkle half of that over the tops of the cauliflower slabs. Carefully turn the slabs over, brush the new topsides with 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, and season with the remaining smoked paprika-salt mix.

3. Roast for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the tomato paste, 3 tablespoons olive oil, the chopped garlic, the balsamic vinegar, the chile paste or chile crisp, ¼ teaspoon smoked paprika and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to make a loose paste. Remove the pan from the oven and spoon or brush the tomato mixture all over the tops of the cauliflower slabs.

4. Return the pan (rotating it so what was in the back will now be in front) to the oven and cook for about another 20 minutes, until the edges and tips of the cauliflower are dark brown (some smaller pieces will be very darkened). Serve warm right away. (Thec cauliflower is still good at room temperature, too!)

Susie Middleton