Cauliflower with Saffron and Coriander

Saffron has the reputation of a luxurious spice. Use it in tiny quantities for the most delicate of preparations like custards and seafood bisques, advises many a cookbook. Certainly, unless you live in saffron producing areas like Iran, Turkey or Kashmir, you’ll pay more for saffron than other spices in your collection, but its flavor is so dramatic that it’s worth a splurge. What I don’t agree with is using saffron only in special occasion dishes. Life is too short for that.


Saffron has a medicinal-leathery scent, with a hint of apricot and floral notes. Its fragrance will entice on its own, but it’s bold enough to stand up next to strong flavors. Today’s recipe is a good example. It’s a cold cauliflower dish, and it’s a good vehicle for saffron. The combination of coriander, saffron and white wine is the right blend of spice and acidity, and it gives cauliflower elegance that one doesn’t usually expect from cruciferous vegetables.

The recipe comes via a chef friend who studied at the French Culinary Institute in New York, and I have made a few modifications to the original. Occasionally, I add basil instead of parsley or use chili pepper to give the dish a fiery bite. Although it’s called Cauliflower Greek style (Choux-Fleur à la Grecque), the recipe is classically French. The Greek part comes from cauliflower being cooked in olive oil, a common way with vegetables across the Mediterranean.


I’ve successfully used the same principle to make other variations with artichokes, green beans, eggplants or zucchini. Lighter colored vegetables are best, because they will allow you to enjoy another aspect of saffron–its vivid orange-yellow color.


Saffron is not a difficult spice to use, but I’ll offer two tips to fully unlock its flavor — precook it and add it to the dish at the last moment. By the first tip I mean tossing saffron filaments in a dry hot pan for a few seconds to warm them up and dry them out. Then you can grinding them in a mortar and pestle or crush the fragile threads with the tips of your fingers.  Your fingers will smell heavenly, another bonus point of cooking with saffron.

Cauliflower à la Grecque is a great picnic food. It makes for an adaptable side dish, but my favorite way to eat it on a hot day is straight out of the fridge. A glass of wine as an accompaniment also doesn’t hurt.


Shopping for saffron: 99% of powdered saffron is adulterated with safflower or who knows what else. Don’t waste your money on it and instead buy the whole filaments. They should be evenly red (yellow roots indicate low quality). In Belgium I buy saffron from a local Iranian store or order it from Thiercelin, an excellent Paris-based spice shop. In the US, I prefer Penzeys Spice, especially their spectacular Kashmiri saffron. The availability of this spice is subject to politics. With the current tensions in Kashmir, I don’t expect to see much stock from the region, but with the lifting of sanctions, the price of Iranian saffron is likely to drop. Sanctions or not, most of the so-called Spanish saffron on the market comes from Iran which is the best you can find.

Cauliflower with Saffron and Coriander (Choux-Fleur à la Grecque)

You can also use artichokes, green beans, bell peppers, eggplants or zucchini. Adjust spices and cooking times accordingly. I added Cava when I recently made this recipe. Another light wine will do. If you’d rather skip wine, use water and increase the amount of lemon juice.

The color of the finished dish will depend on the freshness of your saffron. Saffron loses its color faster than its bold perfume, so if you find that yours doesn’t give you the vibrant yellow shade, don’t worry–the flavor will still be there.

1 head cauliflower, about 1 lb (454g)
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped into small cubes
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds (or 1/4 teaspoon coriander-cumin powder)
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1 cup white wine
salt and lemon juice to taste, 1 hot chili pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon minced parsley

Separate cauliflower into florets. Set aside.

Heat a small pan on medium heat and add saffron filaments. Toss for a few seconds, but don’t let them darken. Immediately transfer to a mortar and pestle and let them cool. Grind to fine powder. Add a few tablespoons of white wine to dissolve the powder and set aside.

Heat olive oil on med-high heat in a large saute pan. Add coriander seeds, toss them in hot oil for a minute and add onion and garlic (and an optional chili pepper). Turn the heat down to medium and stir until onion is translucent. Add cauliflower and toss the florets well in oil. Add white wine and cover the pan with a lid.

Giving an occasional stir, cook cauliflower until it’s tender but still crunchy (7-10 minutes is my preferred time, but do follow your preferences; some people prefer their vegetables à la Grecque melting soft). If using coriander-cumin powder instead of whole coriander seeds, add it now. Also add salt and lemon juice to taste. Once the flavor is to your liking, add the saffron liquid and mix well. Take off the heat and add parsley.

Transfer to a lidded container and chill in the fridge for at least an hour before eating.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Labro: Excellent greek saffron for à la Grecque cooking CROCΟS KOZANI. Just google it and buy on line A perfect treasure from west mountain Greece..much better and bio because it’s collected under european laws… so much safer…. July 22, 2016 at 7:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Thanks to a Greek reader, I sampled some delicious tea with Greek saffron. July 22, 2016 at 10:36am Reply

  • Austenfan: I seem to remember that saffron is also grown in Northern Africa (Atlas mountains) but I may be entirely mistaken. Do you happen to know if that is true, Victoria?

    It looks gorgeous by the way, and “rather” different from cauliflower cheese, or the way I used to have to eat it. Smothered in a white sauce made with flour, water and god knows what else. July 22, 2016 at 8:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, in Morocco there are saffron fields. The trouble is that with the climate change and frequent droughts, the farmers are affected. Saffron needs lots of water.

      I also love cauliflower in bechamel sauce with cheese. A touch of saffron and nutmeg in the sauce improves things even more. July 22, 2016 at 10:42am Reply

  • Michaela: It looks and sounds yummy, I like everything about this recipe! I like cauliflower with turmeric very much, so I have to try it with saffron, too.
    Thank you for the recipe, for the pictures and for the tips. July 22, 2016 at 9:31am Reply

    • Victoria: By the way, if you don’t have saffron, this recipe is great without it. Instead, I’d use a little turmeric for color and orange zest to highlight the flavor of coriander. July 22, 2016 at 10:43am Reply

  • spe: This dish looks almost too beautiful to eat! I love cauliflower and cannot wait to try this recipe. Thank you! July 22, 2016 at 9:35am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s also good to keep in the fridge during these hot summer days. Hope that you like it. July 22, 2016 at 10:44am Reply

  • AndreaR: Love the taste and smell of saffron in food, but not in perfume. My maternal grandmother, from western Ukraine, used to put a tiny bit of saffron in her Easter paska. July 22, 2016 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Do you also make cheese paska at home? Two years ago I made it with saffron, candied orange and pistachio, and it was such a luscious combination. July 22, 2016 at 10:45am Reply

      • AndreaR: Neither of my grandmothers made the cheese paska. I don’t think it’s as prevalent in the western part of Ukraine. I have had it before. It’s so beautiful on the Easter table and must not only be delicious with the hint of saffron, but beautiful as well. Must try to make it next year. July 22, 2016 at 10:51am Reply

        • Victoria: We didn’t make it either home, and I don’t know many others who did. But I found some recipes in old books and started experimenting myself. I also made a variety out of strained yogurt, our favorite. July 22, 2016 at 11:08am Reply

          • AndreaR: The variety with strained yogurt sounds tempting. The texture must be very smooth and creamy. I found two recipes for cheese paska in Traditional Ukrainian Cooking, by Savella Stechishin. One recipe is for a cooked cheese paska a using a double boiler. The other is uncooked. Both use dry cottage cheese.
            Now I’m craving the taste of saffron and will make your cauliflower recipe for dinner tonight. Fortunately we have a Penzey’s right up the street. July 22, 2016 at 11:48am Reply

            • Victoria: I love Savella’s book, and I regret I didn’t pack it with me to Belgium. I always thought that I had a large Ukrainian repertoire, but whenever I browsed through her book, I found something new. The idea of wrapping golubtsy in Swiss chard leaves is genius, for instance, and I prefer this version to the traditional cabbage one.

              I made a cooked paska too, and it was delicious. The downside is that it’s much heavier. The uncooked paska is lighter, but it doesn’t keep as well. July 23, 2016 at 6:49am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Dutch people are fond of cauliflower. I cooke it and eat it as a salad with black kalamara olives, olive oil, lemon juice and majoraam. Or I put it in the oven with olive oil, taggia olives and shaved pecorino.
    I love the smell of saffron, in perfume and in food (my cooking fantasy goes not further than saffron in risotto). So I will certainly try this glorious dish, thank you for sharing! July 22, 2016 at 12:08pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Kalamata olives, sorry! July 22, 2016 at 12:42pm Reply

      • Victoria: I bought some yesterday, inspired by your mention. July 23, 2016 at 6:59am Reply

        • Cornelia Blimber: The best olives in the world! July 23, 2016 at 8:06am Reply

          • Victoria: In my old company we had a Kalamata olive accord. Smelled amazing but it was hard to use it in a perfume. July 23, 2016 at 8:43am Reply

    • Victoria: When I was growing up, the only way we ate cauliflower was boiled, then battered and fried. It’s very good, of course, but a little boring. I discovered how good cauliflower can be roasted in the oven. I usually do it with some cumin, garlic and olive oil. Olives and pecorino will be great too, and I will try this version next. July 23, 2016 at 6:51am Reply

  • Eric: Oooo, I can’t wait to try this. I love cauliflower (at least here in Texas, it seems much maligned) and the metallic bit of saffron. That said, I would probably cook my florets to very tender, as you noted. I love that silky texture, especially when straight from the fridge.

    I always enjoy your recipe posts. I’ll report back when I make it. July 22, 2016 at 12:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I often hear the same thing about cauliflower. I think that when overgrown it doesn’t have a very good flavor, but it’s versatile enough to be made into something interesting.

      Another cauliflower recipe l like, which is probably much closer to the real à la Grecque and other Mediterranean cooking, is to saute the onion and garlic as described above and then add cauliflower (or green beans, okra, etc). Saute a little bit more to coat vegetables with oil and then add crushed tomatoes. Spices, herbs, etc. In Turkey, for instance, they cook vegetables till very soft, and then serve these kind of dishes cold. If I ever plan well enough in advance, I make three such dishes at the same time–say, green beans, small onions, and eggplant. They keep well. July 23, 2016 at 6:57am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Great idea! I saw okra’s at Albert Heijn, will cook them that way. July 23, 2016 at 8:10am Reply

        • Victoria: I use them whole, especially if I can get small okras, and this way they don’t become gummy.

          Another delicious way with okra is to roast it. I cut it in half and toss with spices and oil. The crisp bits are the most delicious part. July 23, 2016 at 8:45am Reply

  • Jillie: Yum yum!

    Can’t wait to try it.

    My brother-in-law is Greek, and I have been introduced to wonderful dishes like marinated mushrooms with mustard, garlic and parsley, and also a salad with tomatoes, olives, shallots and honey. And lots of lovely olive oil. Perfect for the hot weather with mountains of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

    I love saffron in Ormonde Jayne’s Ta’if. It gives it an edge – I’m not sure what sort of edge, but it’s there! July 22, 2016 at 12:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also saffron in Ta’if, and also in L’Artisans’s Safran Troublant.

      Are mushrooms marinated raw or cooked? July 23, 2016 at 6:59am Reply

      • Jillie: The mushrooms are raw. The best sort are the tiny button mushrooms which are used whole, but I found that larger ones work if they are really firm – I just cut them in half or slice them. If I have it, I like using truffle mustard as it complements and boosts the mushroomy flavour. July 23, 2016 at 8:29am Reply

        • Victoria: This sounds very good. I usually marinate mushrooms after blanching them, but since button mushrooms have so little taste as it is, your technique is much better. July 23, 2016 at 8:46am Reply

          • Jillie: The mushrooms are like blotting paper and absorb the tasty juices. There is also red wine vinegar in the recipe; you whisk it into the olive oil and other ingredients to make the marinade. July 23, 2016 at 8:54am Reply

            • Victoria: Do you use prepared mustard or crushed mustard seeds? July 23, 2016 at 10:13am Reply

              • Jillie: I use the prepared mustard in a jar – about a dessertspoon (but sometimes sprinkle some crushed seeds over the top). If you can find a truffle mustard it really is worth trying. I order from a lovely little company in the UK called Truffle Hunter – they sell all sorts of truffle-related goodies, including real truffle tubers which are too expensive for me to buy! July 23, 2016 at 10:45am Reply

                • Victoria: Oops, sorry, you did mention truffle mustard, but I somehow missed it. So, yes, of course, prepared. I do like your tip of adding seeds on top for an extra bite.
                  Thank you for the recommendation! July 23, 2016 at 11:08am Reply

                  • Jillie: It’s a pleasure. Bon appetite – or kali orexi! July 23, 2016 at 11:28am Reply

                    • Victoria: I tried it last night, and we liked it very much. The mushrooms had some crunch and lots of flavor. I already imagine many variations. Thank you for another great recipe, Jillie. July 24, 2016 at 6:32am

  • Kat: Historical trivia – since saffron was so expensive some people couldn’t resist the temptation to mix it with other substances or downright ‘fake’ it (curcuma seems to have been a favorite). Medieval sources tell of gruesome punishments for the perpetrators including the death penalty. July 22, 2016 at 1:52pm Reply

    • Victoria: I recall that some of these punishments were sadistically inventive, especially considering the offence. But I was reading recently an article that mentioned the food adulteration is the main business for some of the mafia groups that used to deal in drugs. Saffron still gets adulterated a lot, so it’s best to buy from a trusted source and whole pistils instead of powder. July 23, 2016 at 7:02am Reply

  • Mer: I love saffron and use it with abandon when I cook rice on the pan. I bring boxes of filaments every time I come back from Spain, but I actually don’t know where these are cultivated.

    Not a fan of cauliflower unless young and raw, but I must try the artichoke variation! 😀 thanks for the recipe. July 22, 2016 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: There is definitely cultivation of saffron in Spain, but there is a vast discrepancy between the amount of Spanish saffron on the market and the amount it grows. Either way, Iranian saffron is excellent. As are pistachios and rosewater.

      The artichoke variation is great. I also made this dish with small salad potatoes, and it was delicious. The trick is to find the right kind of potato that won’t harden in the acidic liquid. July 23, 2016 at 7:05am Reply

  • Rita: i am going yo try the recipe thanks! July 22, 2016 at 4:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you enjoy it! July 23, 2016 at 7:06am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: I love “aloo gobhi”, i.e. a lovely turmeric yellow potato & cauliflower curry with a lot of spices—amongst them poppy seeds, which I find goes especially well with cauliflower. July 22, 2016 at 4:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: I also love aloo gobhi. That’s a dish with so many regional variations that one could have it every week in a different guise. I made a version with curry leaves and coconut milk not long ago, and we liked it very much.

      But if I feel lazy, I just throw potatoes and cauliflower with all of the spices in the oven and add a handful of curry leaves just as I’m about to take vegetables out. Not quite Indian but India inspired. July 23, 2016 at 7:08am Reply

  • Karen A: Always looking for new recipes, and since I rarely cook cauliflower, this will be a good choice! I have tried growing the crocus from which saffron is harvested, but not had any luck. But, I enjoy the strong saffron note in Rose Nacree du Désert! July 23, 2016 at 7:05am Reply

    • Victoria: Did it not bloom? My Iranian friend sent me photos of visiting a saffron field. Can you imagine how beautiful it looked, a vast expanse of lavender flowers. July 23, 2016 at 7:10am Reply

      • Karen A: I don’t think it flowered. It is a fall blooming crocus in this area (everywhere???) Perhaps I will try again! I can only imagine e how spectacular that would be! July 23, 2016 at 9:03am Reply

        • Victoria: I planted a whole bunch in my grandmother’s garden this year, so we will see if they bloom. July 23, 2016 at 10:15am Reply

          • Karen A: Fingers crossed!!! July 23, 2016 at 4:49pm Reply

  • Jillie: So pleased you liked the mushrooms Victoria! And of course experimenting till you get the “perfect” dish for your own taste is what makes cooking interesting. I’m getting cauliflower on Tuesday, so am looking forward to your recipe. July 24, 2016 at 6:42am Reply

  • Neva: Wonderful and easy recipe Victoria. I have bought cauliflower on the market today before I read this post. Now I have to try this one out asap. I have my saffron from the spice bazaar in Istanbul and I’m looking forward to my lunch tomorrow. July 24, 2016 at 5:13pm Reply

  • Surbhi: Victoria,

    I love saffron very very much. If I see saffron on the menu, I order that dish. I love the color and aroma.

    I Was walking in brussels near the square and the flea market had a perfume shop. I bought a saffron perfume from them. Its not the finest perfume but I love it for now, specially the first few minutes. It reminds of the Indian desserts with saffron and cardamom from kolkata. Le Parfumeur no 18. July 24, 2016 at 8:42pm Reply

  • Kari: I don’t know if I have ever tasted or experienced authentic saffron in food, simply because I live in the US and Iranian-produced saffron wasn’t available. I long to try it.

    I listened to a really interesting radio except about saffron earlier this year that intrigued me: July 24, 2016 at 8:49pm Reply

    • Surbhi: I am looking forward to rose and saffron based products from Iran now that sanctions are lifted. July 24, 2016 at 8:57pm Reply

      • Kari: I’m hoping for the same too, Surbhi! July 25, 2016 at 1:24am Reply

  • Surbhi: I am going to try this exact version of recipe and then try cooking it with milk as well. In Jodhpur ( known for gourmet style of cooking) they cook cauliflower in milk instead of water or broth and surprisingly it tasted really good. July 24, 2016 at 8:55pm Reply

  • Mia: A humble thank you Victoria. After a hectic phase and exhaustive days at work I finally found time and enegy to test. How yummy! August 16, 2016 at 4:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so happy that it turned out well. Enjoy it! August 17, 2016 at 12:32pm Reply

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