Coaxing the flavor from cauliflower

Chicago TribuneOctober 16, 2012 

  • Cauliflower with Ginger, Garlic and Green Chilies Adapted from “Quick & Easy Indian Cooking,” by Madhur Jaffrey. 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1-inch piece fresh ginger, finely sliced 4 cups cauliflower florets 1-3 fresh hot green chilies 3/4 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon garam masala 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper Freshly ground black pepper, to taste 1/4 cup water HEAT oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add cumin and mustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop (a few seconds), add garlic, ginger, cauliflower and chilies. STIR-FRY until cauliflower is lightly browned, 5-7 minutes. ADD salt, garam masala, cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper. Toss gently, then add water, cover the wok and cook 2 minutes. Yield: 3 to 4 servings
  • Cauliflower and Almond Puree Adapted from “Flavor Exposed,” by chef Angelo Sosa. He suggests serving it with lamb or any red meat or Middle Eastern flavors. The almonds accentuate the nuttiness and “are a beautiful texture and contrast for the puree.” 2 pounds cauliflower, cut into florets 1 1/2 cups whole milk 1/4 to 1/2 cup water 1 cup blanched whole almonds 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon kosher salt COMBINE the cauliflower, milk, water and almonds in a large saucepan. Heat to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to medium. Cover; simmer, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender, 10 minutes. TRANSFER mixture to a blender or food processor, working in batches if necessary; puree. Add butter, sugar and salt; blend until very smooth. Reheat if necessary before serving. Yield: 6 servings PER SERVING: 245 calories, 19 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 15 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein, 369 mg sodium, 4 g fiber.

You consider yourself a vegetable aficionado, buying Brussels sprouts by the stalk, munching beets of every stripe and crunching roasted kale chips with abandon.

But sometimes cauliflower confounds you.

You drench it with hollandaise or cheese sauce or ignore it completely, invoking Mark Twain’s quip, “Cauliflower is nothing more than cabbage with a college education.”

Too bad. You’re missing out on some good eating.

“I love cooking cauliflower. I think it’s multidimensional,” said Angelo Sosa, “Top Chef” contestant and author of the new “Flavor Exposed: 100 Global Recipes From Sweet to Salty, Earthy to Spicy” (Kyle Books).

“The texture is beautiful, very silky and smooth, so white and so earthy. And that beautiful cauliflower flavor is just magical,” he added. “After you cook it, you get a lot of nutty flavor and nutty aromas coming through.”

Keeping the earthiness

So how does he coax flavor from cauliflower?

He’ll roast cauliflower or cook it in milk (sometimes soy milk so the nuttiness of both comes through) or turn it into a playful “couscous” by breaking cauliflower into florets, pulsing in a food processor until it breaks down into couscous-like pieces, then cooking in a splash of water until just tender and dry. “You could add pine nuts, sliced almonds, dates,” Sosa said. Just don’t overcook it. “The goal is to retain its color.”

And its flavor. “When I think about (cauliflower), I think earthy, but I wouldn’t say that it’s equivalent to something like coffee, which is extremely earthy. On the other side of the pendulum, it would be in the realm of a parsnip, very light, very earthy, very sweet.”

Learning about flavors

Sosa’s attention to flavors (his book tackles sweet, salty, smoky, bitter, sour, spicy, earthy, nutty, umami in all sorts of pairings) was nurtured first in the kitchen of his late Aunt Carmen, then during his work with renowned chefs Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He understands the challenge of combining flavors, especially when a cook wants to amp up the flavor profile of mild vegetables, from cauliflower to carrots.

When people are hungry, they “tend to say, ‘I’m in the mood for something sour,’ ‘I’m in the mood for something spicy,’” Sosa said. “Home cooks need to figure out what kind of flavor they like.”

His suggestion for learning what flavors meld well and how to balance them?

Begin with an unseasoned carrot soup and divide it into three portions. “With one, I would take sweet, sour, salty. The carrot could be the sweet, the salty could be prosciutto and the sour could be Meyer lemon. The next one could be earthy, nutty, maybe I add some sesame,” he said. “See what your palate gravitates to.” And play with flavors.

For a printable copy of the recipes, click the links:

Cauliflower with Ginger, Garlic and Green Chilies

Cauliflower and Almond Puree

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