January 18th, 2015

Roasted Cauliflower Za’atar


Happy 2015, friends! I have begun this year in focused down-sizing mode. After living in a wonderful old–and large– house for fifteen years, Bill and I have decided that it is time for a change. Simplify. This calls for a smaller home, more efficient living, in space that better meets our needs.

Before we can make that kind of move, we must start where we are. When you live in the same place for many years, stuff accumulates. You don’t even see it! (so much crammed into drawers and closets!) And if you are planning to live in a third less space—-well—it’s easy to figure out. A third of your things gotta go–at the very least.

It’s imperative to adopt a detached point of view. I find myself in this sort of mental dialogue: Is this something that I have used in the past year? 2 years? More? Probably don’t need it, right? Is this something that I want to pack up and move to the next place? No? The response is simple: Say bye-bye.

It is a gratifying process, this letting go of stuff. Home furnishings, kitchen goods, books, clothing, electronics. We have made countless trips already to the Goodwill and recycling centers. We’re not into selling the stuff–just give it away, right now. (Except for a tandem ocean touring kayak. I know, beyond ironic for life in land-locked middle Tennessee —Bill needs to find a buyer for it!)

With the lightening of our home comes a lightening of spirit. What an uplift. Shedding these often unseen, all unused items also sheds psychic dead weight.


And now, for a lightening of another kind. After such fun feast-filled holidays, my body could use a little down-sizing too! Today’s recipe fits the bill, for just about anyone. With cauliflower as its centerpiece, it’s vegan, gluten-free, yet meaty and satisfying.

In recent years, cauliflower has demonstrated its versatility, in soups and purees, mimicking chicken piccata, egg salad, rice… This preparation uses just three ingredients. But what fantastic, complex flavors, thanks to za’atar.

Do you know about this seasoning, used throughout the Middle East?


The word za’atar is Arabic for wild thyme.
But that’s just one of the elements. Crushed sumac, toasted sesame seeds, oregano, salt, and sometimes cumin combine to make a beguiling blend that you can stir into plain yogurt, (terrific dip or marinade) or extend with olive oil to brush onto grilled flatbread.

I read here that some consider Za’atar brain food. In which case, it seems all the more fitting to have it roasted onto the brainlike round of cauliflower.


I’ve made this dish twice this year–to rave reviews. The rumpled curd becomes crispy, the za’atar mixture caramelizes onto the cauliflower as it roasts. Redolent spices fill the kitchen!

The first time, I served it as a side dish. Another time, I cut the roasted head into florets and cast them over a salad, dressed with citrus fruits and pistachios. Lovely.

If you cannot find za’atar at your global market or specialty spice shop, you can make it yourself. Here’s the recipe.

Here’s to being lighter.


2 tablespoons Za’atar
4 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 head cauliflower, washed, leaves removed, head left intact

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, place the za’atar spice blend. Add the olive oil and stir. Let it sit for about five minutes.

Place the cleaned head of cauliflower onto a baking sheet.
Brush the entire surface with the za’atar-olive oil mixture.

Place into the oven and roast for an hour.

Makes 4-6 servings

Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes

20 Responses to “Roasted Cauliflower Za’atar”
  1. Denise Says:

    I have two heads of cauliflower waiting to be eaten. Perfect timing!

  2. Teresa Blackburn Says:

    How funny Nancy….I just posted a cauliflower soup and was inspired by your New Year’s Eve cauliflower roasted with za’atar so I added it to my soup when I made it a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing as was your roasted cauliflower. I have become quite obsessed with za’atar and have been putting it on everything! Almost! I even added it to a pizza the other night and it was delicious.
    I was adding a link to your blog and telling about your use of za’atar and came over to link and found this! We must have been posting at the same time! Isn’t life fun like that at times.
    Moving…cleaning out drawers, closets after years of just ignoring it all is a lot of work, but I always find it cleansing in both mind and body. Can’t wait to see the ground breaking…maybe we should have a bottle of bubbly for the moment?

  3. ernestine Says:

    First, I so relate to downscaling which has been going on for a number of years. Once in the upscale part of Nashville, very large home and finally have arrived
    in my simple cottage at the edge of the woods.
    Kept so little but at this time it stills seems like a lot and continuing – at my age – of passing on to my children. A little painful that much I treasure does not have some same appeal to them :)
    I must try your special cauliflower recipe.
    Good luck in your downscaling…

  4. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Denise–Serendipity! I think that you’ll enjoy this simple and flavorful preparation.

    Hi Terese–I first had za’atar on a pizza at Bella Nashville, wood-fired, brushed with oil, sprinkled with za’atar and topped with hummus, and roasted nuts. So good!

    Hi Ernestine–Thank you! I thought about you while writing this post, knowing that you knew well this down-sizing experience.

  5. Patsy Says:

    This looks so fabulous, and the photo is so good that I can almost SMELL it! I can’t wait to try this!

    I down-sized about 8 years ago from 2800+ sq ft to just over 800. Since then I have down-sized twice more! Doing this has been the single most liberating experience of my life, getting better each time! I hope you all have the same experience!

    I hope to join the gang at Second Harvest soon. Progress is slow but steady.

    Glad that Mark has finally seen the light –

  6. Tammy Says:

    Cauliflower and her disguises are a favorite on my table. I have also recently become acquainted with za’atar and love it on middle eastern breads. This dish looks lovely and will soon grace our dinner plates. Happy New Year~ here’s to lightening!

  7. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Patsy–Liberating–yes. Perfect word. Thank you!

    Hi Tammy–all the best to you in 2015. Lightening in every way!

  8. Emily Passino Says:

    So where do I look for this wonderful, new-to- me spice here in Nashville?

  9. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Emily
    I bought za’atar at The Savory Spice Shop (very cool store!) in downtown Franklin but you can find it in any number of Middle Eastern markets on Nolensville Rd
    I shall look up some addresses for you.

  10. Joyti Says:

    Oh, this sounds delicious! And congrats on downsizing :)

    Yes, we should definitely meet up if you come to Berkeley :)

  11. heather Says:

    This is SO GOOD! Highly recommended!

  12. Barbara Says:

    Nancy, I’m so glad you made this! I’ve been looking at similar recipes, also one that roasts cauliflower slices. Can’t wait to try this, now that you’ve cleared a nice path. :)

  13. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    i didn’t know they made Zaatar seasoning. I will have to get me some for sure. I love cauliflower but my husband doesn’t so the only way I get him to eat it is by doing something like this where i mask it almost completely! Love this recipe and the richness and flavor

  14. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Nancy, having downsized within the last year and a half, I surely know what you are going through. Letting go was both stressful and liberating. We continue to be happy with our decision and have never looked back. All rhe best to you and Bill.

  15. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hi Joyti–I will stay in touch about Berkeley spring plans.

    Thank you Heather!

    I think that you’ll enjoy this recipe, Barbara. It would work in slices, too, But I love the look (sort of mysterious) of roasting the whole cauliflower head.

    Try the za’atar on flatbreads or in yogurt dip—or rubbed onto chicken to roast, Jess. It’s really versatile.

    Hi Michele—yes, you have experienced a journey that we are now starting. Already there have been a few stressful moments—but they pass.It’s a big change, and a good change, so I must remind myself to enjoy the process. Thank you, and best wishes to you as well.

  16. Beth Says:

    I’ve just started cooking with Za’atar. I love it, and would love to try this recipe. So easy, and so good!

  17. Dana Says:

    Hey Nan: I don’t cook alot using the oven, but had a head of cauliflower and some Za’atar so decided to try this! I followed the recipe but after an hour, then an hour and a half of baking still too hard. Ended up putting some liquid in bottom of pan and covering and cooked for 10 more min then it was done. Where did I go wrong? It is a fairly new oven, so I am hoping it is not the thermostat.

  18. Juliana Says:

    So interesting the combination of ingredients in Za’atar, which by the way, is the first time I heard of it…well, I like what I see and the cauliflower must taste delicious coated with Za’atar and olive oil.
    Thanks for the recipe Nancy!

  19. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Hey Dana–sorry for the trouble. I don’t know what went wrong for you. A stubborn head of cauli! They say that every oven is different, and to monitor cooking times—but 30-40 more minutes is drastic.

  20. Sabrina Says:

    Love that zaatar spice blend! This cauliflower looks great.

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