Your friend, the cauliflower.

From M., 19 May 2010, cauliflower: a whiter shade of pale?

Q: I have recently tried to find ways to make cauliflower taste interesting, including making a version of an English cauliflower, but the result was a bit disappointing. All of the other ingredients tasted fine, but the cauliflower was bland. Can you suggest some ways of improving the flavour of cauliflower?

A: “The cauliflower was bland.” How many times have I heard that before?

Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables, and it gets a bad rap. I’m not totally surprised. My husband, who grew up with an English father, cultivated a pretty strong dislike of cauliflower, having grown up facing down bowls of waterlogged, cabbage-smelling white mush. And my favorite food writer, Calvin Trillin, once observed that, “[e]ven today, well-brought-up English girls are taught by their mothers to boil all veggies for at least a month and a half, just in case one of the dinner guests turns up without his teeth.”

But that’s a stereotype, and as much as it might be rooted in a certain truth about Anglo-Saxon attitudes toward cooking from an earlier time, like most stereotypes it bears little resemblance to the truth about cauliflower. Walk into any curry house in Britain and you will find cauliflower, cooked lightly to bring out its natural sweetness, enhanced with cumin and ginger and brightened with tomato. Fine dining restaurants pair cauliflower, puréed or in gratins, with the earthy flavor of black truffle. Even cauliflower cheese – the “English cauliflower” to which you allude, a British standby and tormentor of schoolchildren for generations – has gained new life as people have learned not to boil entire heads of cauliflower for hours.

And that’s the key. If you don’t overcook cauliflower, it’s one of the most complex vegetables. Less grassy than broccoli florets (and a little more like the stems), cauliflower possesses the slight pungency of cabbage, but is also sweet without being starchy. Don’t overcook it. I just said that, but it bears repeating. Don’t overcook it. Harold McGee, food scientist par excellence, puts it well. “Prolonged cooking makes members of the onion family more sweet and mellow, but the cabbage family gets more overbearing and unpleasant.”

I have written about cauliflower several times here, so take a look at some earlier recipes. For a modern take on cauliflower cheese, read my earlier post, “Gratin.” Feel free to crumble in some sharp Cheddar, or layer in some shards of the truffle-flecked Sottocenere, or try a Mimolette or nutty Dutch Roomano instead of the Parmigiano.

Cauliflower gratin.

For the delicious fried cauliflower, dressed with dill-inflected labneh, read the first recipe of this Mediterranean-inspired post.


Fried cauliflower, labneh, dill.

And for the creamy and mild cauliflower soup that totally turned my husband around on his cauliflower hate, see the Dinner Party post.

Roasted cauliflower

You can roast vegetables that have structure and natural sweetness. Roasting caramelizes the sugars in the vegetables, creating a whole new flavor profile. If you hate the blandness of cauliflower, you will be completely surprised.

This method works well on many vegetables. Roasted brussels sprouts and kale are delicious.

Cauliflower- sliced about 3/8″ (slightly thicker is fine, up to 1/2″)
olive oil
sea salt

Oven 400F/200C.

Toss the cauliflower with olive oil to coat lightly. Sprinkle with salt. Spread in an even layer on a baking dish.

Place in the oven and roast until the cauliflower begins to turn golden. This depends on thickness – it may take about 10-15 minutes. Turn with a wooden spoon, return to the oven, and roast until more evenly golden, perhaps another 10 minutes. Do not allow it to burn or it will be bitter. Taste and season again if necessary.


This dish, inspired by aloo gobi, the classic dish that spans Pakistan, northern India, and Burma, employs a refined technique.

1 small onion, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 medium potatoes, preferably yellow, peeled, small dice (about 3/8″ to 1/4″)
1 knob fresh turmeric, peeled, paste
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp ground paprika (preferably Hungarian)
1/2 head cauliflower, washed and small dice (about 3/8″ to 1/4″)
2/3 cup tomato purée or concassée
1/2 tsp garam masala
juice 1/2 lemon
minced parsley [you could substitute minced coriander/cilantro, but since I hate it, I never do]

Place a skillet over medium heat and, when hot, add oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add cumin seeds and sauté one minute. Add the diced potatoes. Toss well in oil to coat and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden. Add turmeric, cumin, paprika, cayenne, and salt and sauté a minute more.

Add cauliflower and tomato and stir. Cover and cook until cauliflower and potato are tender (about 5-6 minutes). Add garam masala and cook another minute. Season with lemon juice. Taste for seasoning; adjust as necessary. Garnish with minced parsley or coriander.

Cauliflower/Potato/Cumin/Turmeric II

The flavors of aloo gobi in a golden soup.

1 medium onion, minced
2 medium potatoes, preferably yellow, peeled and thinly sliced (very thinly, to facilitate cooking)
1/2 head cauliflower, washed and diced
1 knob fresh turmeric, peeled, paste
1 tsp ginger paste
4 cloves garlic confit
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 quart filtered water, plus a couple cups extra
1/2 cup cream

juice 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp garam masala
cumin seeds
curry leaves [optional but terrific]
1/4 cup whole milk yoghurt

Place a soup pot over medium heat and, when hot, add a small knob of butter. Add onion, and sauté until the onions begin to take on color. Add potatoes and cauliflower. Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, cayenne and sauté a minute more. Add water and simmer until vegetables are tender. Purée in Vitaprep or blender until completely smooth. Bring back to a simmer. Add cream and simmer another 5 minutes. Do not boil. Add salt. Enrich with 2 tbsp butter off heat.

While soup is simmering, flash fry curry leaves in hot oil (if using). Bring about 1 to 2 inches of oil to 350F in a pot at least 4 inches taller than the surface of the oil. Once the oil is hot, drop in the curry leaves, fry until just crisp – this will take less than a minute so do not walk away – and drain on paper towels.

Prepare brown butter with 6 tsp butter and cumin seeds. Place a small skillet over medium high heat and, when hot, add the cumin seeds. Toast until you just begin to smell their aroma. Add the butter. Melt until foamy and hazelnut colored; remove from heat, add lemon juice and large pinch of salt.

Finish soup with fried curry leaves, cumin brown butter, and a dollop of yoghurt.

2 thoughts on “Your friend, the cauliflower.

  1. Pingback: Bland no more. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Pingback: Page not found « The Upstart Kitchen

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