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 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, which had roasted curried cauliflower on its 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.
Now my budding love for cauliflower has sparked a cooking binge. I have boiled it, roasted it and sauteed it. I have served it with pasta, prepared 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.)
I started seeing cauliflower on menus. A cauliflower steak is served on a biscuit with red pepper ragout and goat cheese. 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, N.C. 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. Award-winning cookbook author Martha Rose Shulman offered 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," she 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, including her favorite: a French preparation where it's marinated with olive oil, lemon, vinegar, coriander seeds and other spices and herbs.
It seems my cruciferous conversion is only bound to grow.
Roasted Curried Cauliflower
• 12 cups cauliflower florets (from about 4 pounds cauliflower)
• 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
• 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
• 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
• 3/4 cup olive oil
• 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
• 3 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
• 1 tablespoon paprika or Hungarian hot paprika
• 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place cauliflower florets in large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers; add to cauliflower.
Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium heat until slightly darkened, about 5 minutes. Crush coarsely in mortar with pestle. Place seeds in medium bowl. Whisk in oil, vinegar, curry powder, paprika and salt. Pour dressing over vegetables; toss to coat. Spread vegetables in single layer. Sprinkle with pepper.
Roast vegetables until tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 450-degree oven for 10 minutes, if desired.)
Sprinkle with fresh cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cauliflower Steaks With Olive Relish and Tomato Sauce
• 1 large head of cauliflower
• 1/2 cup pitted oil-packed black olives, finely chopped
• 3 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced, soaked for 4 minutes for warm water
• 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more
• 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
• 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
• Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 3 garlic cloves
• 2 plum tomatoes, cored, quartered
Remove leaves and trim stem end of cauliflower, leaving core intact. Place cauliflower core-side-down on a work surface. Using a large knife, slice cauliflower into four 1/2-inch "steaks" from center of cauliflower (some florets will break loose; reserve).
Finely chop enough loose florets to measure 1/2 cup. Transfer chopped florets to a small bowl and mix with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, parsley and lemon juice. Season relish with salt and pepper.
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy, oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook cauliflower steaks until golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes per side, adding 1 tablespoon oil to pan between batches. Transfer steaks to a large rimmed baking sheet. Roast cauliflower until tender, about 15-18 minutes, turning halfway through.
Return skillet to medium-high heat and add garlic cloves and tomatoes, one cut side down. Cook until tomatoes are browned; turn tomatoes over and transfer skillet to oven with cauliflower. Roast garlic and tomatoes until tender, about 12 minutes.
Transfer garlic, tomatoes, and 1/2 tablespoon oil to a blender; puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Divide tomato sauce among plates. Place 1 cauliflower steak on each plate; spoon relish over. Serve warm or at room temperature.
From Bon Appetit magazine, January 2012.