The first time I encountered caulilini on a menu, I thought it was a typo. Who would deliberately construct such a lilting, twee word and expect it to be taken seriously?
No matter what you want to call it, caulilini has earned its place at the table. Long, slender green stems end in delicate white florets that are surprisingly airy, in contrast to the density of conventional cauliflower.
Caulilini: Ancient or Avant Garde?
Curiously, very little information exists about the history of this curious baby brassica. Most point to Mann Packing as the origin of caulilini in the US as we know it, first packaging it for retail consumers in 2019. The truth is, they didn’t invent the vegetable, but they do have one hell of a marketing team.
What Is Caulilini?
Otherwise known as Chinese cauliflower, these elegant stalks have been popular in Asian cuisine for centuries. They developed as the result of natural plant breeding, not genetic engineering or hybridization. It may also go by the name of karifuore, fioretto cauliflower, sprouting cauliflower, and flowering cauliflower, depending on who you ask.
Though still somewhat uncommon in North America, awareness is spreading thanks in large part to Trader Joe’s, who began selling “baby cauliflower” in the produce section about a year ago, making it more accessible than ever before.
Recipe Ideas and Serving Suggestions
Anything cauliflower can do, caulilini can do better. Those might be fighting words, but I’ve personally found it to be true. In raw form, flowering cauliflower has a mildly sweet flavor that’s not as pungent as the common heads. That makes it an excellent crudité to serve with hummus, or tossed into salads and slaws as is.
What’s more, the elegant stalks can easily be swapped in anywhere that broccoli rabe or asparagus is called for. Caulilini’s tender stems and elegant florets are blank canvases that can be painted with any flavors you crave. Beyond herbs and spices, they’re suitable for every single cooking technique under the sun. That means grilling, steaming, sauteing, searing, baking, roasting, deep frying, stir frying, air frying, pickling, even boiling are all fair game.
Caulilini Nutritional Benefits
Like other cruciferous vegetables, it has naturally occurring antioxidants that help fight inflammation and protect against cancer. Notably high in potassium and calcium in particular, as well as dietary fiber and antioxidants, this vegetable can bolster your immune system and support overall well being. Low in calories just like conventional cauliflower, it’s a volume-eater’s dream come true.
Caulilini? Caul It Delicious
While you could do all the same tricks with caulilini as cauliflower, like ricing or mashing, it seems a waste to lose its original beauty. Caulilini is available in stores throughout the summer and into early autumn, so you when you find it, stock up. Happily, it freezes beautifully for year-round enjoyment. Good taste should never go out of season.