One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: cauliflower

Think this white vegetable is old news? Think again, as chefs are moving beyond rice and pizza dough to find new ways to tap its texture, taste and nutrients.

31 October 2018
chefsingredientsmenunutritionrestaurantsvegetables
'KFC' (Krispy Fried Cauliflower)

The trend

  • Euromonitor analysts said earlier this year that cauliflower and broccoli are poised to take kale’s crown as kings of healthy vegetables.
  • Cauliflower is high in vitamin C and is also a good source of vitamin K, protein, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, fibre, vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, potassium and manganese.
  • While the cost of other crops has gone up due to weather, the price of cauliflower has dropped 15% over the last year, from 52p in October 2017 to 44p in October 2018, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. 

Once upon a time, cauliflower was most commonly found baked in a cheese sauce or steamed to flavourless oblivion. Its fortune changed soon after being given ‘superfood’ status, however, and this brilliant brassica is now appearing in more creative ways on menus. 

The vitamin-rich vegetable has stepped up as a carb-free alternative to rice and pizza dough, as well as being sold – to some derision – as plant-based steak.

Yet, as Alex Santoro, co-founder of vegan restaurant Genesis in London's Shoreditch says, cauliflower is capable of so much more. Its fairly neutral taste means it carries other flavours well, and it retains its shape and texture when roasted – hence why spiced whole-roasted cauliflower is appearing on more menus as a main dish.

Herb-crusted mooli with cauliflower, purple cauliflower and crispy capers

It is also used by chefs from around the world, from India to the Middle East, Europe to South America.

The 'meaty' texture makes it a great veggie alternative to actual meat, says contemporary Caribbean chef Shivi Ramoutar, who uses it for her meat-free, finger-lickin' good KFC, also known as Krispy Fried Cauliflower.

And yet, while it retains its texture when roasted or fried, it breaks down beautifully when boiled or steamed to create velvety purees and creamy soups, showing that cauliflower really has blossomed since its cheese sauce days.

 

The trailblazers

Shivi Ramoutar created 'KFC' (Krispy Fried Cauliflower) for the menu at The Rum Kitchen as part of a collaboration with the London restaurant group: “Cauliflower works so well with big flavours – and that’s what this dish is all about. The spice mix in the crispy outer casing is inspired by something my grandmother would use in vegetable fritters when I was a child back in Trinidad. To make the dish, I parboil the cauliflower, then batter and fry it, before serving on a puree of roasted garlic and sweet potato that has been drizzled with cayenne spiced agave syrup. Alongside, I place a tamarind aioli – simply aioli with tamarind and coriander – for dipping. With this dish, when you bite through the crispy casing you reach the mellow, soft cauliflower; you get a pleasing textural contrast as well as the meeting of the different flavours. Add onto this a creamy sweet garlic and roast potato puree and the cayenne spiced agave syrup to give lovely sweet and spicy notes. And finally, for a little sour and great 'dipability,' the tamarind aioli – one of my all-time favourite condiments.”

 

Alex Santoro, co-founder of Genesis in Shoreditch, describes his turmeric cauliflower dish: “Our turmeric cauliflower is inspired by the flavours of the Middle East and is one of our favourite dishes on the menu as it's so vibrant and fresh. The combination of the cauliflower, dried fruit, pomegranate and flaked almonds works so nicely together. To make it, we blanch the cauliflower in herbs and spices, including turmeric, which is what turns the cauliflower yellow. Once blanched, we let the cauliflower cool, then roast it in the Josper oven – the charcoal and the very high temperature give it that delicious chargrilled flavour we all love! Once ready, we drizzle the cauliflower with our green tahini sauce, then sprinkle over pomegranate, almonds and sultanas. The cauliflower is quite neutral in flavour and provides great texture, then there's a punch of flavour from the green tahini sauce, a nice crunch from the almonds, and the sweet sultanas and pomegranates take it into another dimension.”

 

Roberta Hall-McCarron, head chef at The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh, cooks herb-crusted mooli with cauliflower, purple cauliflower and crispy capers: “The dish is pieces of mooli (daikon) that are panned in a herb breadcrumb and then pan-fried and served with white cauliflower, purple cauliflower, Romaneso, cauliflower puree, sauteed baby spinach, crispy capers and lemon zest. To make it, I blanch all the vegetables in boiling salted water, then finish them in a frying pan until they are golden brown. The mooli is sliced into 2cm width pieces, coated in flour, then in egg, then in breadcrumbs and pan-fried. For the puree, I chop a cauliflower into small pieces and cook in a saucepan with a knob of butter, before blitzing in a blender until smooth. I enjoy using cauliflower in all of its different varieties and it’s very seasonal just now. Using Romanesco and purple cauliflower definitely enhances the visuals of the dish whilst also adding different textures and flavours again. Cauliflower makes a great puree; it brings a nutty, buttery flavour to the dish which combines all the different elements together beautifully.”

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