Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that kind of gets a bad name when you’re a kid, after all it’s not the most flavourful vegetable out there and besides loading it with heaps of gooey cheese sauce (ok – maybe now we’re on to something) it’s a vegetable that’s generally treated like a bit of an afterthought, or worse yet, subjected to abuse through over-cooking. Admittedly, I was one of those who fell into the trap of throwing a big old chunk of this white flowering vegetable into a steamer when it was the last vegetable kicking around the crisper in the fridge. But after a bit of research and exploration, I quickly discovered that there’s a wide range of ways to elevate and showcase this beautiful fall vegetable using creative cooking methods and big bold flavourful spices.
Pick A Good One
Choosing the best and freshest produce can sometimes be a bit tricky, so when looking for the perfect head of cauliflower keep an eye out for three key indicators: (i) small, dense and tightly packed florets, (ii) heads that feel heavier than they look, and (iii) bright white colour – rather than a creamy shade of beige or grey. I also find that Cauliflower that still has its base of leaves, which should appear fresh and succulent, tend to stay fresher longer than those whose leaves have been removed. We’re just coming into the heart of the local season for this hearty veg, so now’s a great time to keep your eye out for beautiful fresh cauliflower at farm markets.
Beyond the steamer
So I realize that it’s just so easy to toss a few florets in the steamer and “fuggedaboutit”, but opening your mind to a broader range of possibilities will certainly open the door to a much tastier existence. These days I find myself going back, time and again, to giving cauliflower a quick blanch and then tossing it with some oil and bold flavouring agents – everything from a bit of curry to parmesan cheese or fresh herbs – and then spreading it evenly on a pan before giving it a good old fashioned him temperature roast in the oven. Not only to the bold flavours add to the magic of the dish, but the cooking process itself adds awesome flavours and textures. But why stop there? After you’ve blanched these little chunks of cauliflower (to ensure they retain all-important moisture) you could toss them in some hot oil for a flash/deep fry with our without a light dusting or breading. Given cauliflower’s hearty and firm texture, it’s also a durable choice to include in slow cooked braised dishes, or even soups and stews. Lately there also seem to be an increasing number of dishes that use cauliflower as a veggie-friendly alternative to different meats as the star attraction – like replacing the chicken in a curry dish with hunks of cauliflower, or even cutting a big old thick wedge of veg and grilling, roasting or pan-searing it up in place of a steak or chop. Finally, I’ve grown particularly fond of using cauliflower in place of starches like rice or pasta, or as an alternative to potatoes in a variety of different dishes and recipes. One recent success was found in replacing about half the pasta in a big hearty mac ‘n cheese bake with cauliflower – the veg took the place of the pasta reducing carb counts and adding some vitamins and nutrients to the mix.
For me, cauliflower’s hearty texture and mild flavour make it a great flavour delivery vehicle – especially with fall and winter spices, seasonings and ingredients. Playing off some traditional recipes and food concepts is one of my favourite ways to cook. For example, I love replacing the more traditional gooey cheese sauce that might typically accompany cauliflower with a light crumble of boldly flavoured blue cheese, like Gorgonzola or Stilton. You can add the cheese to hot cauliflower shortly after cooking and allow it to reach a beautiful state of melty goodness, or even toss it in the oven under the broiler for a few moments to get that ridiculous intensity and those crispy bits that only come from exposing cheese to intense heat. Blue cheese not your thing? That’s ok… try replacing the cheese with a drizzle of good quality balsamic vinegar before putting your pan under the broiler. I’ve also come to adore hot cauliflower salads, dressed and tossed with some melted butter, fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice – or chives and homemade mayonnaise and you’ve got a terrific play on a traditional creamy potato salad. As I’ve quickly realized, delicate and mild veg like this offer limitless opportunities to show off one’s culinary creativity.
[ Recipes ]
Individual Cauliflower + Manchego Tarts: RECIPE
Wine Match: Lighter dry whites like Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc
Cauliflower + Potato Curry w/ Homemade Parathas: RECIPE
Wine Match: Off-dry aromatic whites like Riesling or Chenin Blanc
Caul-do Verde Portugese Stew w/ Sausage, Cauliflower + Kale: RECIPE
Wine Match: Grenache/Garnacha based reds from Priorat or Languedoc
Crispy Fried Cauliflower w/ Sheep Milk Feta Fondue: RECIPE
Wine Match: Lighter reds like Beaujolais or Cabernet Franc from Loire Valley
Spicy Cauliflower + Chickpea Tacos: RECIPE
Wine Match: Off-dry Gewurztraminer from Germany or New Zealand