Tales of a Cauliflower Convert

I blame it all on the crudites platter.

For years, I eschewed cauliflower. I found it odd smelling, awkward in my mouth and too big to store in my fridge. I tried to like it, really I did, particularly after learning of its all-powerful, cancer-resistant antioxidants.

Cauliflower: A produce beauty queen. (Kim O'Donnel)

But its regular appearance on party platters, served as a companion for a bowlful of dip, threw me over the edge. Who decided that raw bulbous hunks of funky-smelling cauliflower tasted good? Yuck.

Still, even when I ate it cooked, it never wowed me. Boiled white florets topped with a nondescript cheese sauce just didn't move this palate.

Once I realized that the cooking method, not the vegetable itself, was responsible for my cauli-aversion, I changed my tune. Through roasting, I have learned to love cauliflower, particularly now, when it's in season and locally available. (I got a gorgeous head last week at Clarendon farmers' market.)

When it's party time, I am happy to serve cauliflower -- my way. Florets get lathered up in olive oil or melted butter, then coated with a zesty spice mixture before a short stint in a hot oven. The result is tender, flavorful and dare I say, addictive. You can serve these babies with toothpicks at your next soiree. (Recipe details at the bottom of this page.)

Last year, I had another cauliflower epiphany, this time in a Seattle restaurant called La Medusa, where chef Julie Andres serves a Sicilian style roasted cauli that will send you to the moon. The dish, redolent with raisins, pine nuts, garlic, anchovies and bread crumbs, was dancing on my tongue, inspiring me to recreate the dish at home (includes recipe how-to details).

Readers who participated in my recent vegetarian chat shared lots of great ways to enjoy cauliflower. I just came across an interesting recipe for cauliflower pie (with a mashed potato crust, spinach and gruyere), which sounds intriguing. I'll keep you posted on this goodie found in Farmer John's Cookbook: The Real Dirt on Vegetables.

Before I go, here are a few interesting cauli tidbits: One cup of cooked cauliflower has 91 percent of your daily requirement for Vitamin C. Whoa! It's also high in fiber and folate. As for calories, a mere 28.

Did you know . . . the head of a cauliflower is a called a "curd"? Share your cauli tales in the comments area below!

Spiced Roasted Cauliflower
Adapted from December 2002 issue of Food and Wine

1 large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds), cut into florets
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (Alternatively: Use same amount of olive oil)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander
Coarse salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, toss cauliflower with butter or oil, coating evenly. In a small bowl, combine sugar, salt and spices and mix cauliflower with hands, ensuring that spice mixture has been evenly distributed.

Spread florets on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast in oven until fork tender, at least 15 minutes. Serve in a bowl as a side dish or with toothpicks, as a party snack.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 1, 2006; 12:21 PM ET Fall Produce , Vegetarian/Vegan
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I love it paired with potatoes and spices in the Indian dish aloo gobi. Yum!

Posted by: happy vegan | November 1, 2006 2:15 PM

Here's a quick & eay way to enjoy cauliflower--based on a recipe in the "Betty" (Betty Crocker cookbook that is):
Boil 1 whole head of cauliflower till almost tender.
Drain & place in greased baking dish.
Spread dijonaise mustard (or half mayo & half dijon mustard mixed together) all over cauliflower head. Take your favorite grated cheese (about 1 cup or enough to coat head) & pat all over.
Broil in oven about 5 minutes until cheese is nicely browned & bubbly. Enjoy!
P.S. This will impress your guests as it looks fabulous right out of the broiler.

Posted by: cem | November 1, 2006 2:51 PM

Best way we've found, through the emailed Menu Mailer (savingdinner.com):

Steam the head until done (not soggy)
Spread thin layer of Dijon mustard on top
Grate sharp (white) cheddar over top and serve.
Nuke to melt if not fully melted when serving.

I never like cauli before, now it's a favorite.

Posted by: kls in EC | November 1, 2006 2:52 PM

I love cauliflower in all its iterations, even covered in terrible cheese or raw. But man does it make me gassy.

Posted by: Chris | November 1, 2006 4:07 PM

Lebanese Taverna did/does a lovely cauliflower, which I thought was pan fried with olive oil, and served with tahini as a dip. I've made it several times though it does stink up the house a bit. Maybe I'll try roasting it and still use the tahini as a dip.

Posted by: Vermont | November 1, 2006 4:37 PM

Cut up and steamed in chicken broth, with a peeled parsnip thrown in. Puree or mash, stir in an equal weight of onions that have been sliced and caramelized, and a chiffonade of fresh sage to taste.

Very good as a side to meat, esp steak -- this satisfies the way mashed potatoes do!

Posted by: Springfield, VA | November 1, 2006 4:39 PM

I like to utterly rule out any health benefits and just eat it fried. It takes out some of that stinky flavor, and you're sure to ramp up the calories.

Posted by: neil | November 1, 2006 5:12 PM

I love cauli any way, but raw is my favorite. Keep the dip, keep the cheese, just give me plain raw cauliflower florets and I am a happy woman.

Posted by: Judi Hershel | November 2, 2006 9:47 AM

Made this last night exactly as directed. Delicious! My boyfriend and I loved it. Thanks for another great recipe.

Posted by: Cheryl | November 2, 2006 11:28 AM

Just steam until tender, puree in food processor and season with butter, salt and pepper and it's "mashed potatoes" with a little pep. Delicious and so low carb.

Posted by: Marilyn | November 2, 2006 12:51 PM

Is there something I can substitute for pine nuts? I am allergic to nuts but not to seeds like sunflower and pumpkin or is it better to just leave the pine nuts out? Thank you!

Posted by: Meg | November 2, 2006 1:57 PM

Meg, I would just leave out the nuts. Don't worry, be happy and nonallergenic.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | November 2, 2006 2:40 PM

Ever since I noticed an earwig city in the cauliflower in my garden, I've been off the stuff. Don't like earwigs. How much poison do you have to spray on the stuff to keep them out of there?

Posted by: Cordelia | November 2, 2006 3:05 PM

I, too, loathed cauliflower throughout my childhood and most of my adult life. Didn't like it undercooked (even though I prefer most of my veggies that way), and overcooked it smelled atrocious.

Then I discovered that cauliflower is practically custom-made for Indian cooking. Chopped and briefly steamed, it can be added to dals, curries, sambars, etc., and it just sucks up the wonderful flavors of the spices.

Posted by: Another Kim | November 2, 2006 3:25 PM

RE the earwigs in cauliflower. Look for a Bt or pyrethrin-based pesticide. Both of these are naturally occurring pesticides, and don't have a withhold time (you can harvest the next day with no problem, if need be). Alternatively, find out which bugs eat earwigs (or earwig larvae), and companion plant those with your cauliflowers. That way you don't have to use any chemicals at all!

Posted by: OrganicGal | November 3, 2006 3:38 PM

I am checking the blog while dinner cooks -cauliflower paprikash. This is a liberated from one of the Moosewood cookbooks long ago -
Saute some onions in abt 1 Tbsp oil
Add a chopped red opepper
Add 2-3 tbs paprika (some smoked if you have it)
cook for several minutes and then add sliced mushrooms - cook until they give up their H2O. Add 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sherry, some salt and pepper Simmer 5 minutes.
Add one cauliflower - cut into flowerettes
lower heat to medium. Simmer for about 10-12 minutes until caulflower is done.
Add 1 cup sour cream (OK to use low fat)
Heat through (don't boil it will curdle) and serve. Yum

Posted by: Newton Mom | November 3, 2006 7:01 PM

I tried the recipe for Sicilian style roasted cauli -- OH MY GOODNESS this was so delicious. I am a cauliflower convert.

Posted by: Rachel | November 7, 2006 1:19 PM

Another easy, delish recipe for cauli from Marcella Hazan: boil, then toss w/ olive oil, red wine vinegar and season w/ salt. Don't think there was much else to this receipe, but boy, it's terrific!

Posted by: Grace | November 9, 2006 6:31 PM

We cook cauliflower on the BBQ grill. Often.

Preheat the grill to a moderate heat.

Rub the whole cauliflower head with butter. Either sprinkle with seasoned salt or firmly pack coarsely grated parmesan onto the head.

Wrap tightly with heavy-duty foil.

Grill with lid closed, turning occasionally, for about 25 minutes.

Posted by: CJumper | November 10, 2006 2:10 PM

You can make a lot of Indian dishes using cauliflower. Here is a simple one without having to do a lot of Indian Grocery shopping.

Cut the cauliflower into small florets. Dice some onions. Add some cumin seeds (you can get them in even safeway these days) saute the onions in a little bit of oil add the cauliflower florets. Add salt and some masala powder. Sprinkle some water and cover the pan and steam cook till the cauliflower is cooked. You can eat even have this as a side in thanksgiving dinner.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 13, 2006 7:31 PM

Cauliflower with lightly salted breadcrumbs (fried in butter/oil) is very good and fast. Goes well with cheese souffle as your entire dinner is very light and also good for vegetarians.

Posted by: lilia | November 13, 2006 8:31 PM

i bought sicilian style cauliflower once and it was gooooooooood! Simply cauliflower sauteed in a pan with olive oil, garlic and bread crumbs...served cold. Mmmm Mmmm.

Posted by: kai dekassian | November 19, 2006 5:31 PM

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