Cauliflower’s moment in the sun as a food fad came to an abrupt halt a few years ago when someone sliced it crosswise and called it a cauliflower steak.
Cauliflower is not a steak. There is nothing steaklike about cauliflower. And while we’re at it, you know those cauliflower-based pizza crusts that they say don’t taste like cauliflower? They taste like cauliflower.
That said, I love cauliflower, except in its steak and pizza applications.
One friend of mine calls cauliflower the tofu of vegetables, because it soaks up and takes on the flavor of anything it is with. And that is true when it is served
with a cheesy or spicy sauce. But when it is served by itself, unadorned, it has a mildly nutty flavor all its own.
To sample the many different aspects of cauliflower, I made it four ways. One was in a highly flavorful chilled salad, one was a traditional Indian presentation and one was in an amazing savory pie.
All three of those took some time and effort to make, with terrific results. But the fourth way could not have been simpler; it is the method that, to me, allows the pure, warm flavor of cauliflower to come through.
I roasted it. All I needed was a little olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, a dash of pepper and an oven.
The result was basic, elemental cauliflower, cauliflower at its most essential. It was perfection, and you can’t improve on perfection.
Yield: 4 servings
1 pound cauliflower, about 1 medium-large head, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarsely ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower in a large mixing bowl. Pour on just enough olive oil to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss gently until evenly coated.
Lay cauliflower pieces out on a baking sheet. Drizzle any remaining oil from the bowl on top. Bake, turning once, until caramelized on edges and tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, as a side dish. You can also sprinkle it with a very good aged vinegar. Or, cut florets into smaller pieces and add to salads.
PER SERVING: 60 calories; 4 g fat; 1 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2 g protein; 6 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 514 mg sodium; 28 mg calcium
– Adapted from The New York Times
CAULIFLOWER CHEESE PIE
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
FOR THE CRUST
2 cups (packed) grated raw potato
¼ cup grated onion
½ teaspoon salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon oil
FOR THE FILLING
1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
1 cup chopped onion
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets
1 cup (packed) grated cheddar
¼ cup milk
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For the crust: Combine grated potato, onion, salt and egg white in a small bowl, and mix well. Transfer to a pie pan and pat into place with lightly floured fingers, building up the sides into a handsome edge.
Bake for 30 minutes, then brush crust with 1 tablespoon of oil (or less) and bake it 10 more minutes. Remove from oven and lower temperature to 375 degrees.
For the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter in a large skillet. Add onion, garlic, salt, pepper, basil and thyme, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower, stir and cover. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Spread half the cheese onto the baked crust. Spoon the sautéed vegetables on top, then sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Beat the eggs and milk together and pour over the top. Dust lightly with paprika.
Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until set. Serve hot or warm.
PER SERVING (based on 5): 271 calories; 16 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 97 mg cholesterol; 13 g protein; 22 g carbohydrate; 5 g sugar; 5 g fiber; 698 mg sodium; 235 mg calcium
– Recipe from “Moosewood Cookbook,” 40th Anniversary Edition, by Mollie Katzen
CAULIFLOWER WITH POTATOES (GOBI ALOO)
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 large cauliflower
2 to 3 medium potatoes, peeled
8 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into very fine slices and then into very fine slivers
2 medium tomatoes, grated or finely chopped
¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 to 1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon garam masala
Break the cauliflower into medium-sized florets. Cut the potatoes lengthwise into halves and then cut each half lengthwise into roughly 3 pieces to get chunky fries.
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat. When oil starts to shimmer, add the potatoes and fry until they are medium-brown and just barely cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Put the florets in the same oil and fry until just barely cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of the oil from the wok or pan.
Add the onions and stir until they are light brown. Add the ginger and continue to stir and fry until the onions are medium-brown. Add the tomatoes and keep frying until they turn soft and darker, and the oil seems to separate from the sauce. Add the cayenne pepper, turmeric, coriander, cumin and salt. Stir and fry for 1 minute.
Return the potatoes and florets to the pan. Stir to mix gently. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over the vegetables. Cover. Reduce heat to low and cook gently for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garam masala. Stir gently to mix, and serve.
PER SERVING (based on 4): 420 calories; 28 g fat; 23 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 8 g protein; 40 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; 9 g fiber; 671 mg sodium; 89 mg calcium
– Adapted from “Flavors of India” by Madhur Jaffrey
MARINATED CHICKPEA AND CAULIFLOWER SALAD
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 head cauliflower (2 pounds), cored and cut into 1-inch florets
Salt and pepper
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
10 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
¼ cup sherry vinegar
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 lemon, sliced thin
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Bring 2 quarts water to boil in a large saucepan. Add cauliflower and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until florets begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Drain florets and transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
Combine ½ cup hot water and saffron in a bowl; set aside. Heat oil and garlic in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until fragrant and beginning to sizzle, but not browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in sugar, paprika and rosemary, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Off heat, stir in saffron mixture, vinegar, 2 teaspoons salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
In a large bowl, combine florets, saffron mixture, chickpeas and lemon. Transfer mixture to a gallon-size resealable bag and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 3 days, flipping bag occasionally. To serve, transfer cauliflower and chickpeas to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon and sprinkle with parsley.
PER SERVING (based on 6): 377 calories; 30 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 7 g protein; 27 g carbohydrate; 11 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 527 mg sodium; 71 mg calcium
– Recipe from “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook” by America’s Test Kitchen