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beautiful purple cauliflower with a golden caramelization from being pan-seared in the cast iron skillet with sesame seeds

Pan-Seared Purple Cauliflower Sesame Steaks

In just 10 minutes you’ll be eating this delicious, perfectly cooked crispy-edged sesame-speckled purple cauliflower. We eat a lot of veggies around here and one of our favorite ways to cook them is a good old-fashioned pan-sear because it’s not only super quick, but it’s a great way to concentrate the natural sugars in vegetables. Sesame seeds add a whole new flavor and texture to this purple cauliflower recipe with a mix of golden brown roasty-toasty crunchy goodness in every bite. 

If you love freshly toasted sesame seeds, and oven-roasted vegetables but don’t want to turn on your oven, this is the recipe to make — Beautiful, healthy, delicious cauliflower steaks. And for anyone new to cooking, I’ve included step-by-step recipe photos at the end of the post. 

What is Purple Cauliflower and What Does it Taste Like?

Purple cauliflower is a beautiful and super delicious variety of cauliflower botanically classified as Brassica oleracea var. botrytis. It’s a cool-season hybrid developed throughout many years of traditional crossbreeding between heirloom varieties crossed with natural mutations in the growing fields. It comes in an array of purple hues from deep violet (pictured left below) to lilac, and even a rosy magenta color. It’s a bit sweet, nutty, and has a great texture when pan-seared, oven-roasted, or steamed. The flavors of the golden-brown tops of the florets just after pan-searing is probably my favorite, but from the stem to the leaves, every bite of this vegetable is delicious.

What’s the difference between regular cauliflower, purple cauliflower, and orange cauliflower?

  • The color. Obviously, the color is different since purple cauliflower varieties have an antioxidant in them called “anthocyanins” (which is also found in things like red wine, plum skins, eggplant skins, etc.) that white cauliflower does not have. The orange cauliflower has high levels of beta keratine which gives them their orange color.
  • The taste. The purple cauliflower tastes similar and is sometimes just a bit milder, sweet, and a little nuttier than its white counterpart, but most people can’t tell the difference. It’s not bitter as sometimes white cauliflower can taste and generally looks really pretty when cooked correctly to retain its purple hue.  Orange cauliflower tastes very similar to regular cauliflower in my experience.
  • The consistency. The consistency of white cauliflower, purple cauliflower, and orange cauliflower are all the same.
  • Nutritional value: Purple and orange cauliflower are slightly healthier than white cauliflower for the simple fact the purple variety has higher antioxidant levels because of the naturally occurring anthocyanins and the orange has approximately 25 times more beta keratine in them than regular cauliflower.

Pan-Seared Purple Cauliflower Sesame Steaks Ingredients

You only need 3 ingredients for this recipe (not including salt and pepper), which make it a no-brainer for healthy weeknight sides (or as a main dish for those who don’t eat meat , or are choosing to eat less meat.

  • purple cauliflower “steaks” cut from a washed whole cauliflower (or more as desired)
  • raw sesame seeds
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

How to Get Oven-Roasted Flavor by Pan-Searing Purple Cauliflower

Use these steps to make pan-seared cauliflower taste even better than oven-roasted cauliflower (which we also love around here). It’s hard to beat how quick and easy it is to make this nourishing side dish (or vegan main dish). 

  • Get the skillet hot. Make sure the skillet is nice and hot but not smoking before you add the oil and then the veggies to it.
  • Dry vegetables. No wet veggies here. It’s best to have veggies that are fairly dry so that when they hit the hot oil, they will start to brown and not sweat. If the cut vegetables are really moist or have excess water on them pat them dry with a paper towel before adding to the hot pan with oil so they sear instead of steam.
  • Have patience. Once you place the veggies into the skillet, do not move them around. Let them have constant contact with the hot pan and the oil so that the browning and caramelization can take place. If you move them around or flip them over too much (or too soon), you’ll miss out on all that good extra flavor. Patience is key.  Peek at the underside of the veggies every once in a while with a pair of tongs.  This is how to know when it’s a good time to flip them over.
  • Use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or a stainless steel heavy-bottomed skilletIt helps to use a heavy-bottomed pan with good even heat distribution (cast-iron or carbon steel, 7-ply stainless steel like All-Clad, or even heavy-duty aluminum with multiple layers).
  • Use vegetables with a medium to high natural sugar content. Because sugar caramelizes, if the vegetables you’re searing have a little more natural sugar, you’re all but guaranteed a nice color and flavor. Purple carrots, red bell peppers, onions, shallots, etc. yield a naturally sweeter and sometimes darker colored sear. but you can sear any veggies, even carrots or delicious zucchini.

What Texture Should My Sesame Cauliflower Steaks Be When Cooked?

This cauliflower should be tender with a little “bite” to it and should have a slight crunch from the toasted sesame seeds and the proper golden brown pan-sear. The “steaks” should be easy to cut using a knife and fork.  But if you’d like them cooked even further to mimic an oven-roasted cauliflower, then, by all means, cook it just a little longer!  We really love texture and crunch and the super fresh roasty-toasty flavor of the sesame seeds here, but if you can’t eat seeds or, sesame seeds just aren’t your thing, omit them – no biggie!

What Should I Eat With Pan-Seared Cauliflower Steaks?

Here are a few of our favorite delicious ideas for what to pair with cauliflower steaks and to get your creative juices flowing.

Pan-Seared Purple Cauliflower Sesame Steaks tips + tricks + FAQ’s

  • Don’t over-cook purple cauliflower. Some purple varieties will turn green if you overcook them.
  • Best ways to cook purple cauliflower to maintain its purple color? We love to use this recipe to pan-sear purple cauliflower to maintain its beautiful color, but you can also steam, simmer and roast purple cauliflower and it will maintain its color. Some people splash on a little lemon or lime juice (or even vinegar) to ensure they stay purple.
  • Are purple cauliflower and orange cauliflower varieties genetically modified?  No, purple and orange cauliflower has been hand-bred by farmers to achieve their beautiful colors and slightly more nutritious varieties. In fact, it all happened by accident, In 1970 a Canadian farmer found a small, less flavorful orange cauliflower in his field of white cauliflower.  It was a mutant and freak of nature. And the rest is history! Dr. Michael Dickson of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Utica, New York, began crossing that dwarf mutant orange cauliflower with standard cauliflower and by 2003, we had the first commercially available orange cauliflower in a store near you in the fall of 2003.

Let’s get started!

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beautifully golden brown and lavender purple cauliflower with toasty sesame seeds on it ready to be eaten

Pan-Seared Purple Cauliflower Sesame “Steaks”

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  • Author: Kelly
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


This roasty toasty pan-seared purple cauliflower recipe is for any time of year (or as long as you can find purple cauliflower)!  This quick and easy recipe allows you to say goodbye to oven roasting forever.  It takes way less time to get the same delicious results and you never even have to turn on your oven. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVE oven-roasted cauliflower around here and it’s still a great option for larger crowds or to make Lunchbox-Leftovers, but there’s something so easy about a good pan-seared cauliflower steak that can be ready in 10 minutes or less. Bonus, this recipe only has 5 ingredients (and that includes olive oil, salt, and pepper)!


  • 2 purple cauliflower “steaks” cut from a washed whole cauliflower (or more as desired)
  • raw sesame seeds
  • olive oil
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste


  1. Cut the cauliflower steaks. Cut as many or few cauliflower steaks as possible (or desired), leaving each steak’s stem intact.
  2. Season the cauliflower steaks. Lay the steaks on a cutting board or platter, and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  3. Cook the steaks.  Heat a cast-iron skillet or another heavy-bottomed skillet to high heat and add a drizzle of olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.  When the skillet is very hot, but not smoking, sprinkle some raw sesame seeds onto the bottom of the pan and immediately add the cauliflower “steaks to the pan making sure the seasoned side is touching the hot skillet. Reduce the heat to medium-high and drizzle the tops with a little more olive oil and season the top sides with a little more salt and pepper. Do not move the steaks once they hit the skillet until they have turned golden brown on the bottoms (after approximately 5 minutes of cooking).
  4. Flip the steaks and finish them. Flip the steaks over and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes, or until they turn golden brown and the florets start to crisp up. Check the underside of the steaks periodically lifting a corner only slightly with a pair of tongs to check for color. When they’re ready, the steaks should be tender but still have a slight firmness to them and easily edible with a knife and fork. Remove the “steaks” to a platter and serve immediately, or at room temperature.  If you’re cooking more than two “steaks”, wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining “steaks” until all have been cooked and Enjoy!


  • If you want an even softer cauliflower “steak” cook as directed. After they’ve been seared on both sides (for approximately 4 to 5 minutes on each side,) place a lid on top of the skillet to steam them a bit. It’s super easy and yields an oven-roasted flavor and texture without heating up the kitchen.
  • I use raw sesame seeds in this recipe because they roast in the skillet along with the cauliflower and create a really nice flavor and texture. I don’t use pre-toasted sesame seeds because toasting your own always tastes better and the texture is better. If you do use pre-toasted sesame seeds, let us know how it turns out!  For a lot of busy families, having pre-toasted sesame seeds versus the raw ones is a must because let’s be honest, working and raising a family is hard work and time-consuming.
  • If you want to add more sesame seeds, by all means, use them
  • If you want to add a little spice, go for it! These “steaks” are great with a little added smoked paprika and/or a little cayenne.
  • I don’t measure the olive oil for this recipe. Simply drizzle lightly and add more if the pan or the veggies start looking dry.
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Side Dishes
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American


  • Serving Size: 1 steak
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Pan-Seared Purple Sesame Cauliflower Steaks step-by-step recipe instructions + photos

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