021: Cauliflower

Cauliflower’s scientific name is Brassica oleracea, the same as cabbage, brussels sprouts (little baby cabbage), kale, sprouts, and of course broccoli. They’re all different cultivars in the same species! Whilst learning about cauliflower, brassica, and mustard, I kind of freaked out realizing how obviously these plants are all related and how I never think about the biology of it. Cauliflower is a cultivar of the plant that’s been bred for a huge packed flower (Wikipedia says “inflorescence meristem” which is close enough to “flower” for me). Like broccoli, and most of the plants within the species, actually, it’s one of the vegetables that prototypical kids won’t touch, and it’s not super hard to see why. It looks like a broccoli’s ghost and has a very healthy, vegetable-y taste, even moreso than broccoli.  So it’s like twice as scary as broccoli and tastes even worse.
I like it, though! When it’s done right, it has a nice tenderness and a delicate flavor. I’ve also only had it in a couple different dishes, so I was excited to try to squeeze a menu out of it. It’s also a model example for fractals in nature, which is especially seen in Romanesco, a spiraled variant. And on top of all that, the plant is cultivated in several vibrant and gorgeous colors! I got one each of white, orange, green, and purple for this meal.

Menu (serves 3)
Marinated Cauliflower Salad
Twin Cauliflower Soups
Cauliflower Steak with Dubliner Cauliflower Mac and Mushroom Ragout

Marinated Cauliflower Salad
-4c cauliflower (white and orange)
-handful of fresh basil
-1 small bell pepper
-1/4c lemon juice
-1/4c olive oil
-1T mustard
-2 cloves garlic
-1/2t salt
-dash cayenne
-red wine vinegar

Cut the orange cauliflower in half, and cut an inch-thick slice from one half. Set aside.

Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, half white, half orange. Zest the lemons before you squeeze them for juice. Put the zest aside. Mince the garlic. Mix the juice, oil, mustard, garlic, salt, and cayenne til it emulsifies. Use the red wine vinegar to balance out flavors. I found it a little bland at first, but the vinegar fixed it. Pour the marinade over the cauliflower in a bowl. Cover and put it in the fridge for 4-6 hours.
An hour before you serve, dice the bell pepper and chiffonade the basil and toss with the cauliflower.

Twin Cauliflower Soups [Purple Cauliflower Soup and Curried Green Cauliflower Soup]
-1 purple cauliflower
-1 green cauliflower
-1 onion
-2 shallots
-2 cloves garlic
-2t curry powder
-2t cumin
-2t fresh ginger
-1qt chicken stock

Repeat the halve-then-slice process with the purple and green cauliflower. Set the slices aside.

Chop the rest of each cauliflower up into small pieces. Mince the garlic, ginger, and shallots; keep them in separate bowls or areas. Dice the onion.
Put two heavy pots on medium-high heat with a bit of olive oil in each. Saute half the onion with some salt in each one, then add half the garlic to each, and the ginger and shallots to the green soup pot. Add the cauliflower to their respective pots. Again, green goes with the ginger and shallots. Season the green cauliflower with the cumin and curry powder. You may also want to add turmeric; both for the flavor and a more intense yellow if the soup turns out a little brownish.
Pour 2c of the chicken stock into each pot, then 1-2c of water to fill it out. I only had one container of chicken stock; you could use all stock if you want. Lower the heat on both pots to low, and simmer for half an hour or so.

When the cauliflower is soft, pour each soup into the blender and puree. Strain it through a seive to make sure it’s smooth. Rinse the blender between batches to avoid tainting the colors of the soups. Season with salt, pepper, cayenne, chili powder.
When you’re ready to serve, fold a piece of paper so that it fits into the bottom of the bowl and makes a dividing wall. Pour purple soup in one side and green on the other. When the levels are right, gently pull the paper out. Drizzle with olive oil to garnish.

Cauliflower Steak with Dubliner Cauliflower Mac and Mushroom Ragout
-Remaining white and orange cauliflower
-1/2lb fontina cheese
-1/4lb dubliner cheese
-parmesan cheese
-1/2c milk
-3T panko breadcrumbs
-6oz Guinness
-2T butter
-2T flour

-3 caulifower slices
-2 shallots
-1/2lb mushrooms
-ancho chili powder
-lemon zest
-white wine
-1/2T tomato paste

Take the three cauliflower slices from before, and dust them with ancho, cayenne, salt, pepper, and other spices for a dry rub. Put them in a ziploc together and let them sit for a while.
Preheat the oven to 350.
Start a pot of salted water boiling. Chop up the white and orange cauliflower into small chunks, keeping them separate by color. Simmer them until tender. Remove the first batch to a 9×9 baking pan, spreading it into an (un)even layer. Save the other batch in a bowl.

Grate the fontina and dubliner. Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. When it’s melted, pour the flour in and mix them into a roux. Add some milk and beer, and stir until it thickens. Add about half the cheese. Keep stirring, pour the rest of the liquids in and let it thicken. When it’s looking nice and thick, pour about half of it over the cauliflower in the baking dish. Try to be even about it, cause it’s pretty hard to fix. Sprinkle half the remaining cheese on top. Pour the other cauliflower on top, then the rest of the cheese sauce and cheese. Grate a bunch of parmesan on top, cover with panko, then put it in the oven for 35 minutes until browned.

Adjust the oven temperature up to 375.
Slice the mushrooms up. Mince the shallot, parsley, and garlic. Heat some butter in a pan, and saute the shallot mixture. When the shallots are starting to soften, add the mushrooms and lemon zest and cook until the mushrooms are softened. Add the tomato paste. Splash in some white wine. Cook until the mushrooms are done. Set the pan aside.

Heat oil in a large pan on high. Sear the outsides of the cauliflower steaks. If there’s not enough room in the pan for all three steaks, just set them aside when their color is right. When they’re all seared, put them on a metal baking tray and into the oven. After 15 minutes, check doneness with a fork. If it goes in with little effort, they’re ready.
To serve, place a steak near the top of the plate. Spoon out some of the mac on the bottom of the plate. Pour a third of the mushroom ragout (heated up if necessary) over the steak and mac.


Mixed results. The main problem I have with this menu is that only one dish really went anywhere special with the ingredient. Everything else was essentially a traditional preparation.

Salad: I enjoyed the salad. I was also the only one who didn’t finish my serving. The texture of raw cauliflower really turns me off. It was okay, here. The flavor was decent, but kind of boring. My parents said it needed something sweet. I think that adding the vinegar was appropriate, but I got comments that the salad was too acidic. I could have used apples or something in this. Very basic, pretty boring, taste was passable but nothing special.

Soups: One soup was great, the other soup was knocked way down for a thin texture. The purple soup was nice and thick, with a hearty flavor. Really nice. The curry soup was way too thin. I’m not sure what happened, since the soups were essentially the same. The recipe I used called for potatoes, which would definitely have helped. I had leftover roast potatoes in the fridge, which I would have used had I known about them. I like the presentation, and the soups generally stayed on their own sides. I stirred them together near the end, which was a mistake. It just made the purple soup all watery.
The green soup tasted pretty good, but the consistency really ruined it.

Mac: I tried too  many new things, here. I’d never made mac n cheese with beer before, I’d never made it with a mornay, and I’d never made it with cauliflower. This dish tasted pretty good, but didn’t turn out at all how I wanted. It was basically a big dish of cauliflower with cheese sauce, which is a pretty common serving. Usually, I make macaroni and cheese with bechamel and grated cheese. This yields a really stringy, gooey casserole, which is what I wanted out of this dish. So, I’m not sure why I didn’t just use that process.
The cauliflower was pretty soft, and overly watery because of the boiling. Roasting would have kept it much drier. I’m convinced the sauce was the key to this failure, but drier cauliflower wouldn’t have hurt. I should have just done it the way I usually do.

Steak: The steak was surprisingly good for how simple it was. The spices added a lot. I baked them for a bit longer than I should have, so they came out a little soft. I also burned them a bit in the pan, so they don’t look so good. It didn’t affect the flavor, though. The mushroom thing was fine. It was just good mushroom stuff.

Dessert: First menu with no dessert. Not proud of that. I found some cauliflower desserts, but for the most part they were all just baked goods like brownies and stuff, with cauliflower replacing some portion of the flour. I found this cauliflower cheesecake thing but it looked pretty lame so I didn’t even want to try it. I considered doing a plum or persimmon dessert, but I still hadn’t really thought of anything by the time we were buying groceries so it didn’t happen.

So, in the end, only one dish (green soup) was actually bad. Everything else was fine, generally tasted good, etc. The cauliflower was inescapable, though. I fell into the same trap I have several times before, where I focused in too hard on the ingredient and it got way too much of the food’s attention. Everything I ate, aside from the soup, was obviously cauliflower, and not in the good way, where I pass the Iron Chef test and all the food represents the ingredient well. Most of the meal was like eating plain cauliflower, dressed up a bit. And that’s basically what it was. Not cool. Also everything looked pretty lame, aside from the soup, which I liked a lot.

Next Time: Persimmon

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

     /  November 1, 2012

    Loved the purple cauliflower soup: it was smooth, velvety, rich and yummy. Also liked the cauliflower mac & cheese, as well as the mushroom ragu on the cauliflower steak.


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