Cauliflower dares to trend onto the dining table

The Washington PostOctober 30, 2013 

If you dine out frequently, you might find that a chef's influence on what you eat extends beyond the restaurant. As evidence, I pose this question: Have mussels, charcuterie or flatbreads found their way onto your dining room table over the past year or two?

The truth is, chefs get bored easily and are always looking for an ingredient, whether never-heard-of or resurrected, that will become the next big thing that diners will revere and their peers will emulate. Even the side dish section of the menu, for years a rote addendum of asparagus, haricots verts and creamed spinach, is part of a trending phenomenon. If you don't think so, I have seven words for you: maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with applewood bacon.

If indications on restaurant menus all over Washington are accurate, cauliflower may well be the new Brussels sprouts.

I admit to a bit of bias. I adore Brussels sprouts, but I find cauliflower to be a much more visibly alluring vegetable, with its bold globes of cream-white curds and nests of vibrant greenery.

Those stocky outer leaves protect the head from sunlight, impeding chlorophyll development and accounting for the vegetable's color. Its nutritional characteristics are appealing -- low in fats and carbs, high in Vitamin C and a source of potassium, folate, Vitamin B6, fiber and protein -- and you can do just about anything to cauliflower in addition to eating it raw, including grating it for "risotto," as some chefs do.

Cauliflower has not escaped the chef's penchant for deep-frying. At Proof, Haidar Karoum mimics a dish he grew up with. His dad used to fry florets and serve the golden brown nuggets at family events with a tahini, lemon and garlic sauce.

"It's great for parties," Karoum says, "because it's a dish that actually gets better as it sits out, not worse."

Roasted cauliflower with pistachios, olives, raisins

1 large head (2 pounds) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), broken into 1- 1/2-inch florets

3 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup dry vermouth

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup shelled, roasted unsalted pistachios

1/3 cup cured pitted black olives, coarsely chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Coat the cauliflower florets with the oil and salt, then spread them on the baking sheet with any flat edges down. Bake on the lower rack for 20 minutes.

Preheat the broiler, then transfer the baking sheet to the top rack and broil for 10 minutes. The florets should be browned and tender.

Meanwhile, place the raisins in a small bowl. Warm the vermouth in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, then pour it over the raisins to plump them.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the butter stops foaming and its solids start to brown, turning the butter golden in color, stir in the pistachios, olives, crushed red pepper flakes and lemon zest and juice. Stir the plumped raisins and any remaining vermouth into the mix. Remove from the heat.

Transfer the broiled cauliflower to the saute pan, stirring to coat and incorporate.

Serve immediately.

Make ahead: The cauliflower can be prepared an hour in advance and held in a warming drawer, but it is best served just after it has been made.

Serves 6.

Nutrition per serving: 280 calories, 6 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar.

Peppery Gobi Matar

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 small head (1 pound) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), broken into 1- 1/2-inch florets

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon best-quality curry powder

12 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1-inch piece peeled fresh ginger root, minced (4 teaspoons)

1 serrano chili pepper, thinly sliced (unseeded)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup fresh peas (may substitute 1 cup frozen peas, plunged into hot water, then drained)

Heat the oil in large saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the cauliflower florets and salt; cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the florets are nicely browned on all sides.

Make a well in the center of the pan; add the butter there. Once it has melted, stir the curry powder into the butter; cook for several seconds, then add the garlic, ginger, serrano pepper, black pepper and peas. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently to coat and incorporate.

Serve immediately.

Make ahead: The dish can be prepared an hour in advance and held in a warm oven, but it is best when cooked just before serving. From Washington food writer David Hagedorn, co-author with chef Cathal Armstrong of "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve" (Ten Speed Press, March 2014).

Serves 6.

Nutrition per serving: 150 calories, 3 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 350 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar

Crisped Cauliflower With Lemon Tahini Sauce

Ingredients for the sauce:

1 cup tahini

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup water

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Dash hot sauce, such as Tabasco

For the cauliflower:

4 cups canola oil, for frying

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2-inch florets (4 cups)

Kosher salt

Leaves from 1/2 small bunch mint, minced

For the sauce: Combine the tahini, lemon juice, water, garlic, salt and hot sauce in a food processor or blender; puree until smooth.

For the cauliflower: Line a baking sheet with paper towels, then place a wire cooling rack over it.

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat to 350 degrees. Working in batches as needed, carefully add the florets and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the florets to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Season them with salt while still hot.

Transfer to a serving bowl; garnish with the mint. Serve with tahini sauce on the side.

Make ahead: The tahini sauce can be made a week in advance. From Washington food writer David Hagedorn, co-author with chef Cathal Armstrong of "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve" (Ten Speed Press, March 2014).

Serves 6.

Nutrition per serving (using half the sauce): 320 calories, 8 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 28 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 590 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.

Roasted Cauliflower Gratin

1 large head (2 pounds) cauliflower (outer leaves removed), broken into 1 1/2-inch florets

3 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the cauliflower florets, oil and salt in a mixing bowl to coat. Spread the florets on the baking sheet, flat edges down. (Wipe out the bowl; you'll use it again.) Bake on the lower rack for 20 minutes, then turn the oven on broil. Once it's preheated, transfer the cauliflower to the top rack and broil for 7 to 10 minutes, until nicely browned and tender. Keep the broiler on.

Transfer the florets to the same bowl you first used. Add the cream, garlic, Gruyere cheese, half of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and all the pepper and nutmeg. Stir to incorporate, then spoon the cauliflower into a large gratin dish. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and return to the broiler for 5 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.

Serve hot.

240 calories, 20 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 45 mg cholesterol, 370 mg sodium, 9 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar, 9 g protein.

-- Recipes from Washington food writer David Hagedorn, co-author with chef Cathal Armstrong of "My Irish Table: Recipes From the Homeland and Restaurant Eve" (Ten Speed Press, March 2014)

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