Obsessed by cauliflower

September 7, 2009 § Leave a comment


Obsessed by cauliflower?  I can hear the incredulity in your question but, yes, it’s true.I listened to Radio 4’s Food Programme back in August whilst on holiday and heard Yotam Ottolenghi, founder of London’s Ottolenghi restaurant group, singing the praises of the humble cauliflower.  This was one of a series of “Chef’s Choices” where 6 chefs picked their favourite ingredient.  I was delighted that cauliflower had been chosen by a chef with a middle eastern background who could have chosen any one of a thousand exotic ingredients.

I believe that every vegetable can taste fantastic if it is cooked sympathetically.  Cauliflower is a case in point.  My abiding childhood memory of cauliflower is seeing a whole head of cauliflower boiled soggily in the pan, complete with enormous white grub…. yuck.

Cauliflower is really not at its best plain boiled when its brassica flavour can become overpowering.  Easily overcooked, it can become mushy and unpleasant.  Cauliflower does however, as Ottolenghi reminded us, take brilliantly well to spices.  The spiced cauliflower fritters he prepared on the programme sounded absolutely mouthwatering.  I’ve dug out the recipe and list it below along with some more from my own repertoire: another middle eastern fritter recipe from Claudia Roden’s much quoted “A New Book of Middle Eastern Food” together with a cauliflower salad from the same source, and a recipe for cauliflower with potatoes from Madhur Jaffery’s first BBC book “Indian Cookery”.

The programme interspersed clips of Ottolenghi in the kitchen with factual and cultivation details from a Lincolnshire based cauliflower grower.  Cauliflower sales it seems are sadly in decline as cauliflower has been eclipsed by its sexier green cousin, broccoli.   It’s definitely time to support our home grown caulis and free them from their blankets of gloopy cheese sauce!

Recipe for cauliflower and cumin fritters with lime yoghurt

Ingredients for lime sauce
330g Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp chopped coriander
Grated zest 1 lime
2 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for cauliflower fritters
1 cauliflower
120g plain flour
3 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove crushed
2 shallots chopped
4 eggs
1.5 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1.5 tsp ground turmeric
1.5 tsp salt
1. tsp black pepper
550 ml vegetable oil for frying

1. Put all the sauce ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Taste – looking for a vibrant, tart, citrusy flavour – and adjust seasoning. Chill or leave out for up to half an hour.

2. Prepare the cauliflower, dividing it into florets. Add to a large pan of boiling salted water and simmer for 15 minutes or until very soft. Drain into a colander.
3. Put the flour, chopped parsley, garlic, shallots, eggs, spices, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk into a batter. When the mixture is smooth, add the warm cauliflower. Mix to break down cauliflower into the batter.
4. Pour vegetable oil into a sauté pan – 1.5cm depth – and heat. When hot, spoon in generous portions of the cauliflower mixture, 3 tablespoons per fritter. Fry in small batches, controlling oil temperature so the fritters cook but don’t burn. They should take 3-4 minutes on each side.
5. Remove from pan and drain on a kitchen paper. Serve with sauce on the side.

Recipe for deep fried cauliflower with walnut tarator sauce

Ingredients for walnut tarator sauce
2 thin slices bread, crusts removed
120 g (4 oz) roughly chopped walnuts
150ml (1/4 pint) olive oil
1-2 tbsp wine vinegar (start with 1, taste and add more if required)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper

Ingredients for deep fried cauliflower
1 cauliflower

EITHER batter made with the following ingredients
OR egg and breadcrumbs

4 oz plain flour
1/4 pint water
1 whole egg, beaten
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper

Prepare the tarator sauce.  Dip the bread in water and squeeze dry.  Place in the bowl of  a food processor with 1 tbsp of the vinegar, nuts, garlic and seasoning.   Process, gradually adding the olive oil, until smooth.  Taste, adding more vinegar and seasoning if required.

Wash the cauliflower and separate  into florets.  Boil in salted water until only just tender (5-10 minutes).  Drain and allow to dry well. If using batter rather than egg and breadcrumbs, make the batter by tipping flour into a bowl, breaking an egg into a well in the middle and gradually whisking in the water to the egg and flour.  Whisk in the spices, salt and pepper.

Dip the cooked florets in the above batter mixture (or egg and breadcrumbs) and deep-fry until golden, turning over once.  Drain well.  Serve with the  tarator sauce.

You can also serve the tarator sauce with plain boiled or steamed vegetables such as green beans or courgettes.  Hazelnuts can be substituted for walnuts but I think the walnuts work better with cauliflower.

Recipe for  fennel, celery and cauliflower salad

1 small cauliflower
1 bulb fennel
3 sticks celery
Olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp chopped fresh mint

Claudia Roden’s recipe suggests lightly cooking the vegetables to make an unusual salad but I prefer to use them raw.

Wash and prepare vegetables by cutting into bite-sized pieces.  Either use the vegetables raw (my preference) or cook them in boiling salted water for a few minutes until only slightly softened.

Dress with plenty of olive oil, lemon juice , salt and pepper and the chopped fresh mint.

Recipe for cauliflower Waldorf salad

I dreamed up this salad to make use of the tarator sauce  I had left over from the deep-fried cauliflower recipe.  Take the salad vegetables from the preceding fennel, celery and cauliflower salad recipe, add 2 sliced eating apples, skin-on (red skin looks good).  Dress with tarator sauce (from above deep fried cauliflower recipe) toss lightly and serve.  The walnuts required for a Waldorf salad are of course present, ground, in the sauce.

Recipe for Cauliflower with Potatoes Phool gobi aur aloo ki bhaji

Serves 4-6

1/2 lb (225 g potatoes)
1 medium cauliflower (you need 1 lb (450g) florets)
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2-1 fresh hot green chilli very finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground roasted cumin seeds
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Boil the potatoes in their skins and allow them to cool completely. (Day-old cooked potatoes that have been refrigerated work very well for this dish).  Peel the potatoes and cut them into 3/4 inch (2 cm) dice.

Break up the cauliflower into chunky florets, about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) across at the head and about 1 1/2 inches (4 cm) long.  Soak the florets in a bowl of water for 30 minutes.  Drain. (  I have frequently omitted this step and the recipe seems to work just the same without the faff of soaking and draining).

Heat the oil in a large, preferably non-stick frying pan over a medium flame.  When hot, put in the whole cumin seeds.  Let the seeds sizzle for 3-4 seconds.  Now put in the cauliflower and stir it about for 2 minutes.  Let the cauliflower brown in spots.  Cover, turn heat to low and simmer for about 4-6 minutes or until cauliflower is almost done but still has a hint of crispness left.  Put in the diced potatoes, ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, green chilli, ground roasted cumin, salt, and some black pepper.  Stir gently to mix.  Continue to cook uncovered on low heat for another 3 minutes or until potatoes are heated through.  Stir gently as you do so.

We eat this at home sometimes as an accompaniment to an Indian meal or more often as a midweek meal in itself along with brown rice and a cucumber raita.

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