Cauliflower Is Suddenly Becoming Cool

The shy, pale cruciferous cousin to the much-heralded kale is a budding star these days.


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One Twenty One’s charred cauliflower appetizer is a bestseller

Forget what all those richly hued runway fashions taught you. When it comes to fashionable food, white is the new green: Cauliflower is in. 

“Finally, omnipresent kale may have some usurpers on the horizon,” says Emily Crowe in her report “Trend Watch 2015” for the Specialty Food Association. “Cauliflower is gaining acceptance in upscale restaurants, being used in everything from pizza crusts to bold sauces, and in retail products like cauliflower vegetable mousse.”

New York is the third-largest producer of cauliflower in the nation, according to the New York State Department of Agriculture. And fall is a great time to pluck cauliflower, which is blossoming with antioxidants, fiber, and vitamins B6, C, and K. Besides the most common white cloud variety, cauliflower comes in orange, purple, and lime green (called cheddar, graffiti, and Romanesco, respectively). That last one takes on a spiraled, pointed pinnacle shape.

Cauliflower is a more unusual and creative vegetarian taco filling than beans, potatoes, or kale, she says; it’s hearty without being too heavy. Cauliflower’s mild flavor and sturdy texture hold up well to a variety of preparations.Recipe writer Jennifer Spaide helped research, test, create, and write the cauliflower taco recipe for bartaco, the industrial-chic taco eatery in Port Chester and seven other locations. The final recipe calls for roasting the cauliflower with just salt and pepper, to maintain the integrity of the vegetable’s natural, sweet nuttiness. The taco is finished with a smoky sauce that uses Spanish piquillo red peppers, paprika, and chipotle peppers. Almonds add a satisfying crunch. 

Fig & Olive's seared Riviera organic salmon, grilled asparagus, and braised endive with puréed cauliflower

“I think people are just starting to realize how versatile cauliflower really is,” Spaide says. “Aside from use in tacos, it can be roasted whole, mashed like potatoes, fried tempura-style, puréed into soup, or even minced into a vegetable tabbouleh.”

Cauliflower is also cropping up on appetizer and entrée menus in fine-dining establishments, such as One Twenty One in North Salem, which is helmed by Executive Chef Beck Bolender, a veteran chef of a couple of  Jean-Georges restaurants in Manhattan.

His charred cauliflower appetizer is created by first poaching the whole head before blackening it in a wood-fired pizza oven. It’s delivered to the table in dramatic style: on a skillet, with a steak knife, amid a creamy pool of goat cheese sauce dappled with sherry vinegar.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s summer, spring, fall, or winter, the charred cauliflower sells all year long,” says General Manager Rob McKelvey. “It hasn’t come off the menu since Bolender put it on there almost three years ago.” 

Another hue has a say too. Sautéed purple florets accompany One Twenty One’s pan-seared diver scallops entrée, served with a fennel purée and truffle bacon vinaigrette.

In Scarsdale, Fig & Olive serves puréed cauliflower to accompany its seared Riviera organic salmon with grilled asparagus, braised endive, and basil-infused oil. And Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro in Rye offers a Buffalo cauliflower appetizer with blue cheese dipping sauce.

Cauliflower tacos at bartaco; photo by Manny Vargas

You can steak it, bake it, sauté it, purée it, fry it, mash it, substitute bread with it, and diet with it (even if you’re on a Paleo or gluten-free diet). Cauliflower’s not too overpowering to play a supporting role, but it’s meaty enough to get front-and-center treatment, satisfying vegetarians and meat lovers.

Indian cuisine has long used cauliflower in its traditional dishes, such as the aloo gobi (cauliflower, potatoes, and spices) at Raasa Fine Indian Cuisine in Elmsford. The potatoes and cauliflower are tinted golden yellow by turmeric.

When Ashok Salian and his wife, Priya Kapoor-Salian, took ownership of the restaurant in March, they added a more modern element to the cuisine, such as the lasoni gobi (garlic cauliflower) appetizer. “It’s a take on an Indo-Chinese dish,” Kapoor-Salian says. “It’s flash-fried so you get that crunch, and then it’s creamy with the sauce.”

Guests often go for these cauliflower crisps infused with garlic, jalapeno, and black pepper, tossed in tangy sauce. “I think it’s very versatile,” Kapoor-Salian says. If you cook cauliflower soft, she says, it “just melts in your mouth.”

Crunchy, melty, smooth, savory, tangy, creamy, or spicy—cauliflower is a blank canvas that can assume any personality. But its natural, nutty sweetness can be appreciated too—just roast it in the oven with kosher salt, ground black pepper, and olive oil.

 

 

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