English poet and biographer Dr. Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Of all the flowers of the garden, commend me to the cauliflower.” While he was making a statement on the useful versus the aesthetic, he couldn’t have chosen a better vegetable to make his point.
Cauliflower is the Swiss Army Knife of the culinary world. It can be broiled, mashed, deep-fried, grilled or cut into steaks and barbecued. It can become a pizza crust or a substitute for fried rice or hash browns.
“Cauliflower has a really interesting flavour,” says chef Larry Stewart, owner of Hardware Grill and Tavern 1903. “It’s a rich, but somewhat kind of a neutral flavour because it adapts well to others. Most people think of a cauliflower and cheese sauce, but there’s so much more you can do with it.”
Cauliflower, part of the brassica family, is a close relative to broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage. The University of North Carolina lists 80 varieties of cauliflower currently in use in North America but, to the average consumer, the differences between these varieties are practically unnoticeable.
“Coloured ones have slight taste variations,” says Janelle Herbert, co-owner of Riverbend Gardens, “but, unless you are a cauliflower connoisseur, it’s hard to tell.” Aside from the standard white, the coloured varieties include vibrant greens, oranges, yellows and purples.
The most bizarre of the cauliflower variety is the romanesco. While smoother and a bit nuttier in flavour, its spiky-spiral appearance – due to the buds, composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in their own spirals – can be a little off-putting. “People will come up to our stall at the markets and say it looks like something that should live under the sea or comes from outer space,” says Herbert.
Here We Grow
According to Herbert, cauliflower grows well around Edmonton. The soil in the northeast part of the city is packed with nutrients and our summers are kind to the vegetable as it grows. While not invincible, cauliflower leaves can handle a tiny bit of frost. If you’ve planted it this year, follow some of tried-and-true tips to keep the cauliflower garden healthy:
1. Cauliflower is susceptible to root maggots, so periodically disturb the soil to kill any eggs laid near the roots at the base of the stem.
2. If you want your white cauliflower to stay as white as possible, don’t let the head be exposed to the sun. Commercial growers use an elastic band to keep the leaves tied over the vegetable.
3. Cauliflower bruises easily, especially the coloured varieties. If you want clean-looking cauliflower, don’t touch the head directly.
Cauliflower is well on its way to usurping kale as the new “it” vegetable. Bianca Osbourne, chef, holistic nutritionist and owner of The Vitality Kitchen, says that the proof is in the worldwide food experts and chefs taking notice.
Local chefs are also following the trend, with chef Larry Stewart making Hardware Grill’s cauliflower puree and grilled cauliflower steak, and Tavern 1903’s much talked about Korean Fried Cauliflower (a clever play on fried chicken and Korean barbecue sauce). The Parlour features a signature cauliflower appetizer on its menu: The cauliflower fritto (a breaded, deep-fried dish with truffle oil aioli, charred lemon and oregeno).
And, in her cooking class, Osbourne shares a cilantro-infused cauliflower rice dish of her own creation. In Osbourne’s opinion, the rise of cauliflower is, in part, because of the rise in gluten-free diet. Cauliflower can be used as a substitute for mashed potatoes, or fried rice. It can also be made into pizza crust.
Chef Bianca Osbourne says a high-quality food processor will go a long way in realizing the transformative power of this multi-use vegetable. Chop, slice, puree, whip and blend to transform this veggie into soups and dough, or use it to make finely chopped rice and
Dill Pickle Fried Cauliflower
1 head of cauliflower broken into medium
2 teaspoons milk
1 cup of dill pickle chip crumbs
1/2 cup flour
4 cups vegetable oil for deep frying
1. Place cauliflower into a pan of chicken stock. Cook for five to eight minutes, or until tender. Remove from heat, drain and cool.
2. Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 365 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and milk. Mix flour and chip crumbs in a shallow dish. Dip cauliflower in the egg mixture then roll in chip crumb mixture.
3. Fry coated cauliflower in the hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
OK, be honest, have you taken your Christmas decorations down, yet?