Cauliflower Popcorn

by Maria Theresa Maggi on June 22, 2016

Cauliflower Popcorn

When I was growing up, my Dad didn’t do a lot of cooking. And when he did cook, he tended to burn things. I can remember a few rather mournful weekends sitting at the kitchen booth in the house I grew up in on Fernandez Drive, while my mother was away on a Catholic retreat, trying to choke down blackened toast. It must have been breakfast. Or maybe it was burned fish sticks for dinner. Or maybe both. My poor Dad even tended toward burning things on the barbecue.

But there were two preparations he excelled at, no matter what. Pancakes and popcorn. Pancakes were more of a special Saturday morning occasion, or vacation mornings, when he had time to wait at the griddle (to be honest he burned these a little too, but nobody seemed to mind). I remember one summer morning up at our neighbor’s cabin at Lake Tahoe when one of my aunts attempted to cook the pancakes out on the porch in our electric frying pan. She had a terrible time getting them to flip properly, and my Dad laughingly said it was because she couldn’t wait for them to be ready to flip, and instead kept “irritating the pancakes.” The directive not to “irritate the pancakes” became a family joke we never got tired of.

Like pancakes, popcorn was usually a Saturday event. Sometimes Friday night. Whatever night something like Hootenanny used to be on was the night my Dad would make us all popcorn. Of course it was the kind fried in oil in a large pan, with a little butter melted to go over it in a very small pan. And of course lots of salt. Since my Mom had individual wooden salad bowls,  we each got our own little “bowl” of popcorn. It was quite a treat.

As I got older and began babysitting, popcorn followed me into those weekend evenings. I remember one night striking 19 matches before I successfully lit a gas stove burner (we had electric at our house) in order to pop Jiffypop (which my Mom always refused to buy) for three little tykes eagerly waiting and cheering me on.

Of course in the 80’s there came air popped corn and microwaved popcorn–and still, today, in the low fat plant-based world, air-popped corn is considered a healthy treat. So why, oh why, am I not celebrating the so-called real thing here in this blog post?

Well, to wax philosophical, as is my want, I AM celebrating the real thing. It’s just that over the years, it’s come to my attention that eating a big bowl of air popped corn hurts my teeth. And those of you who follow me know how committed I am to my own idiosyncratic happy tooth plan. That means only a handful of popped corn here and there.

But, luckily for me, I believe the nature of reality is metaphorical. The whole universe is one big complex poem where equivalences are made between things that are seemingly separate and distinct. In addition to that paradox, all things shaped popcorn make me very happy–like these popcorn clouds I watched above my patio a couple of weeks ago, grateful for the passing of a heat wave.

popcorn clouds

The magic of the metaphorical nature of reality is that I didn’t start out attempting to replace popcorn with cauliflower. Instead, as with most things I love, it was a happy accident, the result of a conversation with a dear friend in which we talked about beer battered cauliflower tacos, and all the special treatments folks give to cauliflower these days, and my friend said, “Honestly? My favorite way to eat cauliflower is to bake it at 400 tossed with just a little salt and nothing more. It doesn’t need anything else.”

And boy, as far as I’m concerned, was she ever right. Now I know there’s other amazing treatments for cauliflower out there–you can do just about anything to it, and I’ve happily marched in that parade to the tune of cauliflower steaks, cauliflower tacos, alfredo sauce made from cauliflower, cauliflower wings, and more. It’s all good.

My new year’s resolution was a simple gastronomic one: to eat more cauliflower. Just because. Partly I like to poke fun at making resolutions, but partly I wanted to give myself permission to eat more cauliflower and not cheap-skate myself out of buying it when I’d really like some, even if it’s expensive. I’ve read that one of the many nutrients cauliflower boasts is vitamin K, and that’s good for people like me with slow moving platelets, as Dr. Swank has written about in The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book. At least I figure it can’t hurt.

When I made this resolution I was enjoying Kelly’s version of a Fork’s Over Knives cookbook recipe of cauliflower wings. I did make those a few times, and enjoy every bite. And years ago I used to make a cauliflower mash with millet and cauliflower that I laughingly called my “cauliflower baby food.” But it wasn’t long before I returned to this simple, elegant treatment. And now, almost every time I buy a head of cauliflower, no matter what lovely recipe I’ve recently seen and think I might like to try, I always end up breaking it into florets, tossing it with a smidge of salt and baking it at 400 for about 20 minutes. That’s pretty much cauliflower heaven for me.

Of course you can roast cauliflower without the touch of salt, but for me this little bit makes the sweetness and natural flavor of this vegetable pop, and become almost extraordinary. I often add these to a bowl I’m constructing for lunch or dinner, but I always end up popping them into my mouth, too, hot, right out of the oven. Like popcorn.

The shape of the florets and their snackable nature once roasted made me see the equal sign. Also the fact that I have been known to eat a whole bowl of this, like I used to do with popcorn, reinforced this playful equation. An added bonus for me is it doesn’t get stuck on my teeth or make them ache, and I feel much better being full from cauliflower than I do being full from popcorn.

But that’s just me. You can have your popcorn AND you can have this cauliflower. You don’t have to choose. Either way, you’ve got a tasty bowl of toasty white clouds to sit back with and much while you watch “the show,” whether it is a beautiful sky or that movie you’ve seen 20 times but still love.

I’m hard pressed to call this a recipe; nevertheless, here it is.


Maria (moonwatcher)

Leave a Comment

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peggy Bean June 23, 2016 at 3:43 pm

Thank you so much for your blog. I look forward to them and relish each and every one! Someday, I’d love to meet you. I have a monthly vegan radio show, and maybe you would like to tell your story on air one of these days. Here is a link to my last show. Click in to about 6 minutes. – Peggy Bean


2 Maria Theresa Maggi June 23, 2016 at 5:16 pm

You’re welcome, Peggy! It makes me so happy to know you relish each and every post! I REALLY enjoyed your radio show–the interview was great, and I laughed out loud each time I heard the song. Also wonderful you are having such vegan super stars in the Sacramento area. I was born there. Thanks for thinking of me, and sure, let’s talk about a possible interview. It is so nice of you to consider that. I am so blessed to have wonderful readers like you.


3 Veronica June 24, 2016 at 3:25 pm

mmm, I love roasted cauliflower!! Plain, seasoned, all the ways. 🙂 It’s the miracle vegetable! I like how you compared it to popcorn – it totally is! You can end up eating a whole bowl of either before you even realize what you’ve done. The story of your dad burning everything made me chuckle – my dad wasn’t much better in the kitchen! Though he did grill a good steak. It’s nice how small things trigger big memories. xo


4 Maria Theresa Maggi June 24, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Thanks Veronica–I love how you name cauliflower the miracle vegetable. 🙂 I’m glad you got a chuckle out of my Dad’s tendencies in the kitchen, and yes so very very nice that small things can trigger “big” memories. xo


5 Lee June 29, 2016 at 7:43 am

Hi Maria, I love this post! I’m a huge popcorn fan (although I do watch out carefully for those un-popped kernels; they’re tooth-crackers). And even though I was a child of the 80s, I never once made Jiffy Pop. I guess we moved straight to microwave popcorn–were we cutting-edge or what? 😉

And at least your dad mastered popcorn and pancakes! I love my dad, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him turn on a stove. When Dad was “cooking” lunch, it was PB&J and carrot sticks, lol!

Also–embarrassing given that my blog is Veggie Quest–I’ve never roasted cauliflower. (I know, right?) Anyhow, I printed out your recipe (has ingredients and steps; totally counts!) and I’m going to make it tonight with a head of cauliflower that’s been languishing in the back of my fridge without a purpose. Will let you know how it goes!


6 Maria Theresa Maggi June 29, 2016 at 7:55 am

Thanks Lee! I am so excited to be the one to introduce you to this simple method of roasting cauliflower! I truly hope you enjoy it even a bit as much as I do. And I’m glad you enjoyed the rest of the post. Yes, the 80’s certainly brought in the rise of microwave popcorn–and you made me smile about your Dad’s “cooking” repertoire. 🙂 xo


7 Gena July 13, 2016 at 4:05 am

I love this! While I enjoy baked cauliflower that is heavily salted, I also sometimes take it easy with the salt because I agree that it allows the slight sweetness of the cauliflower to shine. And yes, it’s fine to do all sorts of really fancy stuff with cauliflower, but sometimes the best preparations are the simplest ones, and this recipe is certainly proof of that.

More importantly, I’m struck by your note about the metaphorical nature of things, especially as it relates to food. For me, part of the vegan journey has meant surrendering a very literal idea of what a particular food or dish is, and instead embracing an interpretation that hinges on texture, taste, or overall effect. I can think of so many foods — banana “ice cream,” tofu “feta,” and my own cauliflower huevos rancheros — that fit the bill. In many ways, thinking about food metaphorically often leads me to an interpretation that is (I think) more close to the original than one of the store-bought versions–which are ostensibly close replicas–would be (even though I like to buy those, too).



8 Maria Theresa Maggi July 13, 2016 at 7:48 am

Thanks Gena! I consider you an expert at the gamut of possibilities when it comes to preparing cauliflower, so I’m especially happy that you appreciate my tribute to this simple one. I especially appreciate your insights about how part of the vegan journey means learning to appreciate an interpretation of an old standard based on texture–it does invite as to be creative cooks. One of your creations that stands out to me in this regard is the quinoa chickpea Caesar salad. I ate a lot of them back in the day, and while there’s no anchovies and no egg and no bread croutons even in your version, the texture, the feel and even the taste is unmistakably evocative of a traditional Caesar salad! Lucky we are to enjoy each other’s kitchen poetry! 🙂 xo


9 Peggy Bean August 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Hi Maria,
Are you available on Wednesday, August 24th to be on my vegan radio show on KVMR? As you may recall, the subject would be how your diet ameliorated some of you m.s. symptoms, and other pertinent plant based subjects! It’s during the noon hour California time.
Please let me know if their is an email I can use for you instead of this comment section. Blessings, P


10 Maria Theresa Maggi August 4, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Hi Peggy–Just e-mailed you to accept. 🙂 Thank you, that sounds like fun. If it doesn’t go through, you can reach me at with any other questions you have, etc. as well as logistical details — looking forward to it! 🙂


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