Sephardic-Style Breaded Cauliflower in Lemony Tomato Sauce – Recipe

Sephardic Eggplant
Sephardic-Style Breaded Cauliflower in Lemony Tomato Sauce

As I've mentioned before, I'm lucky enough to have married into a family of excellent cooks from the Sephardic Jewish tradition. This is another terrific dish I learned from Noni Sophie, my wife's grandmother. 

It might sound crazy to bread something, fry it until it is crispy, and then "ruin" that crispiness by soaking it in tomato sauce. I think if you had told me about this and I'd never had it before, I'd have thought it was a bad idea. But it totally works. The result is savory and toothsome and altogether satisfying.

Of course you can also skip the tomato sauce and serve just the crispy breaded cauliflower with a sprinkle of sea salt, that is delicious too.

I found a way to do the breading that is a little less trouble than the usual two- or three- pan dip method. For this dish, it works just fine to first toss the cauliflower with flour, then the egg wash, then more flour, all in the same bowl. The key is to use just the right amount of flour so it sticks without leaving a lot of excess. The bonus is much less mess to cleanup when you are done.

Noni serves this with a thin tomato sauce, a lot thinner than what you see in the picture above. It is great that way, but I wanted to serve it over polenta (and with arugula pesto) so I made a thicker sauce this time.

Take your pick, either way is good. I didn't think that it worked very well with polenta and pesto though; not enough textural variation. I think this cauliflower is best served as a side dish. It is also delicious eaten at midnight, direct from the tupperware in the refrigerator. 

Sephardic-Style Breaded Cauliflower in Lemony Tomato Sauce
Vegetarian / Serves 4 as a side dish / 30 minutes 

For the tomato sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 twenty-eight ounce can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (depending on the texture you want in the final dish, see above)
  • juice and zest of 1/2 to 1 lemon
  • pinch of sugar

For the cauliflower:

  • 1 medium-sized cauliflower broken into large-bite sized florets (discard or save stem for another use)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil for shallow frying
  • minced flat-leaf parsley
  1. To make the tomato sauce: in a large frying pan (big enough to hold the cauliflower later), heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Saute the onion, garlic and salt for about 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add the tomato, lemon juice and zest and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a simer, taste and adjust salt and lemon levels, and turn off heat. 
  2. To make the cauliflower: Put the cauliflower florets in a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Pierce wrap with a few holes. Microwave on high for about 4 minutes, until just slightly tenderized. Alternatively, boil in salted water for 1 minute, then drain well.
  3. Let the cauliflower cool to just warm. Add 1/2 cup of the flour, 1 teaspoon of Kosher salt, and a few grinds of pepper to the cauliflower and toss well to coat. Use your hands! Beat the eggs with 2 tablespoons of water, add them to the cauliflower, and again toss to coat. Add the remaining flour and toss again. The cauliflower should be well coated in most nooks and crannies with a thick paste of flour and egg, and there should be very little flour left on the bottom of the bowl.
  4. Put 1 cup of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is sizzling hot (test with a scrap of cauliflower), add 1/3 of the cauliflower in a single, well separated layer. Fry, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, then remove to paper towels. Adjust the heat as needed so that they brown reasonably expeditiously but don't burn. Repeat with two more batches of cauliflower.
  5. To finish the dish, bring the tomato sauce back to a simmer. Add the cauliflower and simmer for ten minutes. We'd like the breading to soften but not completely melt and float away! Add a little water if the sauce seems too thick. Serve immediately, garnished with the parsley.


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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, February 14th, 2011 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan or Modifiable.

19 Responses to “Sephardic-Style Breaded Cauliflower in Lemony Tomato Sauce – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    February 15, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    This sounds wonderful. I’ve been getting beautiful heads of cauliflower in my C.S.A delivery and am looking for recipes. Perfect timing.

  2. Reply
    February 16, 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    This looks very delicious. i have heard many stereotypes that vegetarian food is not tasty. People who say this perhaps have never looked for vegetarian recipes. Some of them must be more useful and delicious than meat or fish

  3. Reply
    February 18, 2011 at 10:26 am #

    this looks sooo good! thanks for all the amazing vegetarian recipes. It is soo needed out here in blog land!

  4. Reply
    February 18, 2011 at 11:24 am #

    This looks GREAT! I always welcome your posts on any Sephardic-related foods. Your recipe for Syrian Lentil soup turned me on to the “Aromas of Aleppo book” that you mentioned in that recipe’s post – a beautiful cookbook! And as for the lentil soup, it has become an easy and healthy staple in my kitchen.
    Can’t wait to try this one! Cheers!

  5. Reply
    February 20, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Michael- would love to re-post this on my site and link to you-let me know if its ok- Marlene M

  6. Reply
    February 20, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Yummy, yummy! 🙂 You know, I started cooking myself when I noticed my wife liked telly cook Jamie Oliver too much. I had to compete for her attention. )
    I always thought tomato sauce and mayo ruin the taste of any dish. It definitely doesn’t look like that here. OK, Michael with your help I’ll try to take tomato sauce on bail )

  7. Reply
    February 20, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    Cauliflower is a favorite dish in our home. Interestingly, Giuliano has recently been making some of his Sephardic grandmother’s dishes that he remembered having while he was growing up. They are delicious, I look forward to trying your version.

  8. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    February 20, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    Wow, I'd love to hear what Giuliano is pulling out of the Sephardic memory banks! It is a fascinating cuisine. If you haven't seen Poopa Dweck's book, Aromas of Aleppo (link to you should check it out – the Syrian Jewish style is very similar and the photos alone will make you drool. Good intro material too.

  9. Reply
    Ellie P.
    February 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    Thanks for the idea. I just made this for a light, late dinner, and it totally hits the spot. This might make it into my repertoire of (untraditional, of course) comfort food.

    I was also skeptical about putting perfectly crispy fried cauliflower in the sauce, but it really works.

  10. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    February 23, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    Nice! I think we have similar ideas of comfort food :). Oh, and I was reminded today of another dish that hits the fried and then sauced note: chile rellenos. 

  11. Reply
    April 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm #

    Yum! Reminds me of Eggplant parm, but with cauliflower and even tastier!

  12. Reply
    April 21, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Can’t wait to try this! It seems like a Mediterranean take on the amazingly delicious Indo-Chinese dish, Gobi Manchurian, which also has a crispy fried breading that is then “ruined” (not at all!) with a tart, tomato-based sauce. <

  13. Reply
    April 21, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    Gobi Manchurian, (link to
    which is a cauliflower dish that also has a crispy breading that is then “ruined” (just kidding– not at all!) by a tart, tomato-based sauce.

  14. Reply
    April 21, 2011 at 11:16 am #

    today is clearly not my techno day.

    here’s the link:

    link to

  15. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    April 21, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    I do love Gobi Manchurian! I'm guessing this is more of a case of simultaneous invention of a breaded/fried/softened cauliflower than it is any kind of direct transfer, but I could definitely be wrong. Food history has some interesting twists and turns.

  16. Reply
    May 23, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    I finally got around to making this tonight and it was fabulous. Thank you!

  17. Reply
    December 26, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    This is a great recipe! Thanks for introducing it to me. Did Noni Sophie tell you what it was called?

    • Reply
      December 27, 2012 at 5:53 am #

      I haven’t heard a name, but I’ll ask!

    • Reply
      December 29, 2012 at 7:50 am #

      Ok, all we came up with is “Comidas de Califlor” 🙂

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