Simple Pickled Cauliflower

The first time I tried pickled cauliflower I was in Lisbon, Portugal in the mid 90's. I had quit my job and taken 6 months to travel around Europe on my own. My mom had decided to meet up with me for a few weeks and we rented a car and travelled through Portugal and Spain together. It was a welcome respite from trains and buses, hostels and cheap meals.

We had heard about this restaurant from some locals that we had run into earlier in the day and I can tell you I was looking forward to a hearty meal. My chicken dish came with a side of pickled carrots and cauliflower. Now I am not a fan of cauliflower in general. I rarely make dishes that include it, much to my husband's disappointment. So when I first received my meal I had kind of shuffled them to the side and determined I would leave them on my plate.

But then I took my first bite of the carrots and the flavour was amazing. You could tell these pickles had not been made recently, that they have been allowed some time for all the flavours to come together before someone opened that jar. The vinegar was tangy but not overwhelming, they were slightly spicy yet through it all you got the subtle flavour of the carrots. I decided I needed to know what this amazing brine had done to the cauliflower. WOW! Was I ever in for a treat. Yes, you could still taste the cauliflower, yet somehow the marriage of the cauliflower with the vinegar and the spices used brought it to life.

My mom and I went back the next night so we could have the pickles once more - and that is no lie. We even ordered them as a side to our meal so we could have more. I raved to our waiter about how great they were and told him that my mom made pickles and I would love the recipe. He politely smiled and said thank you and at the same time managed to completely deflect my request for the recipe.

The following recipe is the closest I have come to replicating the flavour of the pickled cauliflower I had all those years ago. It comes pretty close in my estimation and after leaving the first jar sit for 8 weeks it was opened for the first time this weekend and my husband and I had to put the lid back on and physically push the jar out of arms reach or we would have finished it in one sitting.

Pickled Cauliflower


  • 4-5 medium to large heads of cauliflower, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 tsp crushed pepper flakes per jar
  • ½ tsp mustard seed per jar
  • ½ tsp dill seed per jar
  • 1 whole garlic per jar
  • 5 cups vinegar (1150 g)
  • 5 cups water (2520 g)
  • ½ cup salt (115g)


Wash and pat dry the cauliflower and cut it into bite size pieces. Place cauliflower pieces into your jars and fill tightly. Add spices and garlic.

Meantime, pour the vinegar and water into an 8 quart stainless steel pan over medium high heat. Add the salt and bring to a boil.

Ladle the hot syrup into the jars leaving ½” headspace. Using a spatula or plastic knife remove any air bubbles, and if necessary add more syrup. Wipe the jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth and cover with the hot lids and apply the screw rings.

Process 500ml jars in a 180-185F water bath for 30 minutes.

Yields – 5 to 6, 500ml jars

Finally - my cauliflower search is complete

I wouldn't even give cauliflower a second glance until about 1996 when I was travelling in Portugal and stopped in at this lovely little restaurant in Lisbon that my guide book raved about. I wish I could remember the name, but it escapes me.

My meal came with a side of pickled carrots and cauliflower. At first I pushed them both to the side of my plate and chose to ignore them, but then the waiter mentioned to me that their 'bite' would compliment the other food on my plate. Not one to let down my good looking Portuguese waiter I acquiesced and decided to give them a try. He was right! The carrots were sweet and spicy at the same time and the cauliflower was spicy, tart and crisp.

Since then, I have searched for the perfect pickled cauliflower. Several of the family recipes I tried the cauliflower ended up too soft at the end of the pickling process and none of them had the spice I was looking for. I bought it in stores and at farmer's markets and all of it just didn't stand up to the pickles of Lisbon. I began to think that perhaps the pickles had never really even tasted that great and that it was the fresh Lisbon air, the handsome waiter and the freedom of travel that had made my taste buds so hard to please now. But then I stumbled across this recipe online and with one or two changes my taste buds began to dance happily around in my mouth :). They had the perfect crunch, the right bite and just enough spice to transport me back to that little restaurant in Lisbon.

The small changes that I made to the above recipe are as follows:
- with the amount of water and vinegar used, I found that there was more than enough to do 2 heads of cauliflower if you packed them tightly into your 500ml jars
- instead of 4 dried chili's, I used 1 tbsp red pepper flakes per jar and toasted them with the other spices
- and because I used 500ml jars I boiled for 8 minutes and then turned off the heat and then let them sit in the water for another 5 minutes before removing
- I let them sit for at least 3 weeks before trying to let as much of the spice and flavour absorb into the cauliflower.