Posts Tagged ‘cauliflower’

When I was growing up, my mother never cooked cauliflower. What we knew of it, we didn’t like. When I’d encountered it at other people’s homes, it was boiled long enough to bring out the sulfur smell and was drenched with a sauce of Velveeta cheese. It took many years for me to realize cauliflower didn’t have to be like that.

It was when I started doing some Indian cooking, and discovered the many interesting ways that cuisine uses cauliflower, that I became curious about the vegetable. I now know that, when not overcooked, it has a wonderful ability to bond with all kinds of other flavors. I still don’t serve it often, because an average-sized whole cauliflower is a lot for a two-person household to get through. But I do choose it occasionally. Here are the simple ways I dealt with the head that I brought home this week.


Day 1: Warm cauliflower salad

I took about a third of the florets off the head, steamed them for seven minutes, until they were just tender. I also chopped ½ cup of celery, ¼ cup of onion, and ⅛ cup of Tuscan pickled peppers.

While the florets were still warm, I tossed them gently in a bowl with the chopped vegetables, extra-virgin olive oil, my own wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I had to be careful with the vinegar because my Tuscan peppers were very strongly pickled.

The mixture made a pleasant, light vegetable starter for a weekday dinner. In spring or summer, I also add a few thinly sliced radishes and some of their tiny leaves to this salad; but I never buy radishes in November.


Day 2: Cavolfiore fritto

In principle, I follow Marcella Hazan’s recipe for breaded and fried cauliflower, though it’s such an easy process that it hardly needs a recipe. This evening I took off half the remaining florets from my head of cauliflower, steamed them for only five minutes (since they’d be getting more cooking later), and let them cool. I dipped them first in an egg beaten with salt, then in dry breadcrumbs.

Beloved Spouse then stepped up and fried them for me, in half an inch of very hot olive oil. It took only about a minute on each side for them to turn richly golden.

While the steaming and breading can be done an hour or more in advance, once the florets are fried, they need to be eaten right away to be at their best.

This time they were, as always, crisp, crunchy, and delicious – an excellent accompaniment to broiled lamb chops. Actually, they would work well with almost any un-sauced meat or fowl.


Day 3: Cauliflower soup

I dedicated the rest of my cauliflower to a favorite soup. The original recipe is from Alfred Portale’s Twelve Seasons Cookbook. There it’s called a vichyssoise, to be served cold. I make just the basic soup, leaving out several of the recipe’s garnishes, and I like to serve it hot.

To make a small enough soup for the amount of cauliflower florets I had left this week, I chopped ¼ cup of onions and thinly sliced ⅓ cup of leeks.

I sauteed those two vegetables in a tablespoon of olive oil, then added the florets and a cup of chicken broth from a bouillon cube.

This cooked, covered, for 20 minutes, until the florets were tender. Then I pureed everything in a blender. I tasted and added salt and pepper, and the soup was ready to reheat at dinner time.

This simple soup is just amazingly good. In a blind tasting, you probably wouldn’t guess it was cauliflower; you’d distinguish only a generic vegetal sweetness. And it’s such a rich puree you’d think it must be at least half butter and cream. I’m sure the dressed-up version – with sauteed cauliflower slices, a dose of olive oil, and a sprinkling of chopped chives – would be excellent too, but I’ve never felt the need to try it.


There’s nothing complex in these cauliflower dishes, especially compared to those in typical Indian recipes, but each is very tasty, and together they show the versatility of the vegetable I once disliked. We live and learn, eh?

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I’m very fond of Indian food, but I don’t cook it often. The recipes are usually quite complex, and the flavors seem to want to be matched with others of their kind. Thus, making a full Indian meal is a lengthy, fairly hectic procedure, with many steps to be taken at almost the same time.

In an attempt to break out of that rut, I decided, the other day, to put just one Indian dish on an otherwise-familiar American-style dinner plate: a vegetable to accompany a veal chop. Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India gave me a trove of recipes to choose from, including one that’s the simplest Indian dish I’ve ever seen: Aloo Gobi, or stir-fried cauliflower with potatoes. Granted, it calls for 10 ingredients, but there are really only a few cooking steps. It seemed ideal.

For my half recipe, I first had to boil a potato. (Jaffrey says day-old leftovers do fine in the dish, but I didn’t have any.) When it had cooled, I cut it into ¾ inch dice. And I cut up half a small head of cauliflower to make a heaping two cups’ worth of florets. Then I stirred up a fragrant spice mixture: ground cumin, coriander, and turmeric; grated fresh ginger root. red chili powder, salt, and water. Those were all the ingredients.

I heated my ancient, disreputable looking (but well-seasoned) wok on a stove burner, quickly sizzled some whole cumin seeds in oil, and added the cauliflower and potatoes.

These were to be stir-fried for 10 minutes “or until the vegetables are well browned in spots.” Mine took almost twice that long to brown even minimally. I poured on the spice mixture, kept stir-frying for 1 minute, added some more water, and continued cooking gently. Per the recipe, the vegetables should have absorbed all their liquid and been tender in 2 to 5 minutes. Mine were not. Again, they took about twice that long, and the potato was mushy before the cauliflower was soft. Maybe it was supposed to be that way, since the potato had been fully cooked to begin with?

Meanwhile I’d also been cooking the veal chops, using a technique that Tom Colicchio, in Think Like a Chef, calls pan-roasting. I browned them slowly in a little butter for 3 minutes on each side, cooked for 5 more minutes on each side; dropped in a big lump of butter and cooked for a final 10 minutes, turning and basting the chops with the butter. Very restaurantish, all that butter!

The chops then had to sit off the heat at the back of the stove for 10 minutes, to draw their juices back in. That rest period made it easier to finish the vegetables and have them ready to serve when the chops were.

Then came the taste test: inspired combination or culture clash? More like the latter, I’m sorry to say. The aloo gobi and the chop shared a plate amicably enough, and both were good of their kind, but on the palate they didn’t do anything for each other. The veal wasn’t enhanced by the spiciness of the vegetables, and the aloo gobi hardly seemed to recognize the flavor of the meat. Both would have been more pleasing with accompaniments in their own style. (Jaffrey suggests rice, a dal, and a raita alongside aloo gobi.) Beloved Spouse thinks the vegetables would have worked better with a moist braised meat – say, lamb or goat.

Well, it was a learning experience for me – to save Indian cooking for days when I have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, and perhaps when I have a few extra helping hands. However, there’s one potential benefit to the experiment: Since we didn’t finish all the aloo gobi, I’m saving the rest of it to try as a samosa filling.

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Even a confirmed carnivore sometimes needs a big vegetable fix. It’s easy in summer: So many things from the vegetable garden can simply go, alone or with others, into a sauté pan with olive oil and make a totally satisfying meal, with only a chunk of crusty country bread. In mid-winter, a vegetarian dinner takes more effort, but the results can be proprotionately rewarding.

Sahni vegetarianToday’s recipe is a case in point: Sabzi Korma from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. Her English name for this dish is Cauliflower, Eggplant, and Potatoes in Herb Sauce, which is a fair rendition – as long as you understand that when an Indian cook talks about herbs, she means something other than the usual Western notion of a few chopped leafy things, or even the French complex of fines herbes.

This is a Moghul recipe, a dish of the korma type, which Sahni says are among the most elegant preparations in vegetarian cooking. Beyond the three main vegetables, it calls for 13 flavoring ingredients, not many of them herbs. One of the reasons I chose it was because – to my astonishment – I had most of them in my pantry. I had to buy only a cauliflower, an eggplant, a piece of fresh ginger, and a bunch of cilantro. Here’s everything it needed.

korma ingredients

The cauliflower was the mainstay of the dish. I was making half the recipe, which meant I needed a pound of cauliflower florets, one medium potato, a generous amount of onion, and a mere quarter-pound of eggplant. (I was charmed to find that perfect-sized tiny eggplant in my local market.)

Then there were the flavoring ingredients, which Sahni warned it was essential to measure out and have handy before starting any of the cooking. She’s right: I know how easily I can confuse myself with many tiny quantities of herbs and spices, especially when reducing the size of a recipe, so I spent a fair amount of preparation time getting them all set up in little dishes, organized alphabetically, and labeled:


Yes, doing this was terribly compulsive – but I had all those little glass dishes and plenty of time to play with them, and I just enjoyed doing it! Besides, this system made sure nothing would be mismeasured or omitted. (I am somewhat notorious in my own household for forgetting the salt in recipes.)

At the stove, here’s what I did, stirring all the while:

  • Browned many minced onions in oil (10 minutes)
  • Added chopped garlic and grated ginger (2 minutes)
  • Added chopped cilantro leaves and ground almonds (2 minutes)
  • Added ground coriander, fennel, cayenne, and turmeric (a few seconds)
  • Added tomato puree and paprika (2 minutes)
  • Added cauliflower florets, cubed potatoes, cubed eggplant, and water
  • Covered the pan and simmered it all until the cauliflower was just tender (20 minutes)
  • Off heat, stirred in salt and ground roasted cumin seeds and let everything get well acquainted (30 minutes)
  • Reheated it briefly, put it in a serving dish, and sprinkled it with toasted sesame seeds.

Moghul vegetables

I found it an unexpectedly harmonious preparation. Despite all those strong seasonings, it was not too assertively flavored: Each vegetable piece tasted attractively of itself and of the symphony of seasonings. You really wouldn’t have been able to tell what all those were because they blended together so well. In a way, that was a negative for me, because I like the flavors of most of them individually, and in this dish you couldn’t appreciate them for themselves. But it was certainly different from my usual ways with vegetables, even other Indian vegetable dishes.

Other feelings about the dish:

  • The cauliflower was so dominant that if I do this again, I’ll think I’ll cut its quantity and use more potato and eggplant, which – though all the vegetables were quite mild tasting – made a pleasing flavor and texture contrast.
  • I’d never cooked fresh cilantro for such a long time as this. It’s hard to tell what if anything it contributed to the dish, but trusting Sahni, I assume it must have done something.
  •  It’s not easy to grate ginger. On any of my graters, it tended to squish into juice and leave behind little spicules of dry fiber.
  • It’s not too easy to toast sesame seeds, either – as soon as the pan gets hot they tend to pop out and jump all over the stove.
  •  The dish got even better after it had cooled down somewhat.

Finally, I have to give apologies to the Moghul emperors (and to my friend Teresa) because I didn’t make a truly vegetarian meal with this dish: I served lamb chops alongside it. They went together very well.

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Food photos in cookbooks are always improbably glamorous. I know that the tricks food stylists use to make a dish look beautiful also render it inedible, but I can’t help falling in love with some food photos. When the reality tastes good – even if it no way resembles its published portrait – I don’t resent the imposture. If it ever does come out looking anything like the picture, that’s just a little bonus. My latest heartthrob was Curried Cauliflower with Scallions and Golden Raisins, from Alfred Portale’s book Simple Pleasures.

Here’s the picture from the book:

Note the artistic placement of the beautifully slivered scallions and the feathery cilantro leaves over the golden cauliflowerets and shapely pieces of tomato. Somebody with a pair of tweezers spent a lot of time assembling that elegant presentation.

Well, I’m happy to say that the recipe is more than just a pretty face. It’s very easy, quite quick – as long as you spend a little time in advance cutting up onions, garlic, scallions, and cilantro – and extremely tasty. It starts with making a sauce base of sautéed onions and garlic, curry powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes and a little tomato. Add the cauliflower and chicken broth, stir the florets around to gild them with the sauce, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove them to a serving dish, leaving a few to mash into the sauce to thicken it. Squeeze in lime juice, pour the sauce over the cauliflower, and garnish the dish with raisins, scallions and cilantro.

I have to admit that my dish bore only a family resemblance to the published picture. The florets broke up too much (I’m sure the food stylist used them nearly raw for the photo shoot), and there was a lot more garnish than the book showed; but the bright, cheerful colors were there, and the aroma was lovely. It made a delicious vegetarian meal accompanied by plain rice. It would’ve gone well with a grilled chop, too.

Incidentally, there’s a wonderful cauliflower soup recipe in Alfred Portale’s Twelve Seasons Cookbook. I don’t own that book, but my friend Hope sent me a copy of the recipe several years ago, and I loved it. The other half of the huge cauliflower I bought for this week’s recipe is earmarked for that soup.

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