For a long time, I wouldn’t touch cauliflower.
I blame vegetable trays at Fourth of July picnics and graduation parties during my childhood. Raw cauliflower just doesn’t intrigue a child like a crunchy carrot, a celery brimming with flavored cream cheese or those black olives that fit on the end of your fingers.
To me, raw cauliflower was a hunk of dense blandness.
My cauliflower conversion started at a local Mediterranean deli. There was roasted curried cauliflower on the buffet. Despite my negative cruciferous history, I was intrigued enough to try it. It was delicious. That tender cauliflower had soaked up every bit of those flavors.
This winter, I started craving that roasted curried cauliflower and found a recipe online that perfectly replicated it. (Check it out on page 4D.)
Now my budding love for cauliflower has sparked a cooking binge. I have boiled it, roasted it and even sautéed it. I have served it with pasta, served it as steaks and even enjoyed it finely diced and raw in a relish.
Once I started looking, cauliflower was everywhere. Epicurious.com named it one of the top food trends of 2013: “This cruciferous friend is finally taking center plate.” Then New York magazine cited the popularity of cauliflower steaks, writing: “Now it’s cauliflower in the role of Vegetable Most Likely to Be Mistaken for a Piece of Meat.” (The cauliflower is cut in 1/2-inch slices retaining some of the core so it holds together.)
Locally, I started seeing cauliflower on menus. A cauliflower steak is served on a biscuit with red pepper ragu and goat cheese at Durham’s Rise bakery. Cauliflower in Easter colors of mint green, purple and a pale orange appeared in course after course at Herons restaurant at The Umstead Hotel & Spa in Cary. There cauliflower is served as a chowder with bacon, capers and golden raisins, as a salad, thinly sliced and drizzled with hazelnuts, almonds and parmesan cheese, and as a side dish, blanched, tossed with brown butter and topped with an aged cheddar cheese.
Herons chef Scott Crawford is a cauliflower fan, citing its versatility as an entree, a side or an accent on a dish. “It can be the star, or the texture, or the vehicle,” he said.
When I started poring over cookbooks, I was surprised to see so many dishes from the Mediterranean included cauliflower. I reached out to award-winning cookbook author Martha Rose Shulman for an explanation.
“We do think of other vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant when we think of Mediterranean food, but that’s probably because most people travel from the United States to the Mediterranean in the summer, when those vegetables are in season,” Shulman wrote in an email. “Cauliflower is popular everywhere in the Mediterranean, not just in the winter but year-round.”
Shulman reeled off a litany of dishes: deep-fried cauliflower served with a tahini sauce in the Middle East, simmered cauliflower tagine served with couscous in Tunisia, cauliflower with olives and feta in a hearty Greek stew, pasta with cauliflower, anchovies and saffron in Italy. And then Shulman’s favorite: a French preparation where it’s marinated à la Grecque, with olive oil, lemon, vinegar, coriander seeds and other spices and herbs.
It seems my cruciferous conversion is only bound to grow.
To see printable versions of the recipes, click on the links below: