You can base a meal around a cauliflower. Although there’s nothing wrong with a bubbling cauldron of cheesy gorgeousness (more on cauliflower cheese in a moment), there’s a whole host of other ideas to titillate the taste buds.
Back in the day, cauliflower never saw the inside of an oven unless it was smothered in sauce. Fancy missing out on roasted cauliflower! Massage florets with extra virgin olive oil, season well with sea salt, sprinkle with lemon zest and your favourite spices, and roast on high until golden, turning the florets once or twice. Florets can also be added to a vegetable tray bake but use a shallow roasting tin and place near the edges of the tin; if they are tumbled on top of one another they will steam.
Not that there’s anything wrong with steamed cauliflower. A quick steam and served with a spicy peanut sauce and sprinkle of crisp golden shallots and you have a scrumptious accompaniment to lamb cutlets or satay.
Then there’s fried cauliflower – which may just be my current peccadillo. Florets, or thick cross-cut ‘steaks’, egged, coated in panko crumbs, fried until crunchy, then smothered in parmesan… I look for any excuse to make it. And think about fritters, and Indian pakoras. Cauliflower plus crunchy coating just works. Of course, you can go raw. Cauli’s got a good peppery bite and sliced thinly adds crunch to a salad.
Make a slaw with thinly shaved red cabbage, carrot and cauliflower. Toss with a pungent dressing of chilli-infused oil, lime zest and juice, fish sauce, garlic, shredded mint leaves and Asian basil. Top with crushed peanuts and a dusting of sea salt and chilli powder. Stuff it into bread rolls with roasted or slow-cooked pork belly, or serve as a side with fish. Or you grate cauli and make it into a crunchy couscous look-alike. Or turn it into a quick pickle.
Whatever you make, the starting point has to be freshness. Cauliflower should be white – it goes cream as it ages – with no pin-prick brown spots, and it should smell fresh. If it’s got a sulphury pong, move on. If it starts to smell when cooking in water, add a couple of bay leaves to the pot – and open the window!
Four ways with: Cauliflower
1. ENTRÉE: Swirl blanched florets through a garlicky oil cooked down briefly with cumin and tomato. Top with drained yoghurt, drizzle with pomegranate molasses and scatter with toasted pine nuts.
2. CURRY: Cauliflower is the perfect ingredient for a curry because it absorbs flavours well and holds its shape during cooking. Base a curry on onion, garlic, ginger and chilli and add in turmeric, cumin, coriander, fennel seeds, cauliflower and vegetables of your choice. Keep cauli florets large, and don’t waste the stalks – they will cook down to toothsome tenderness.
3. SOUP: Make a chunky soup based on softened shallot, garlic and ginger, masses of cauliflower, and good stock. Cook cauli until squishable, then mash roughly, or, to give body but keep texture, whizz half in a food processor and blend back into the soup. Finish with cream or crème fraîche and serve with cheesy crusts or garlicky bruschetta, or top with crumbled blue cheese.
4. STIR-FRY: Cauliflower doesn’t need much liquid for cooking, if any. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and add cauliflower florets and ½ cup white wine. Season well, add oregano and stir-fry for about 12 minutes. Finish with olives, capers and parsley. For a hot, tangy version, swap verjuice for wine and add golden sultanas, marjoram if you have it and chilli flakes.