Some food, some drink.
Brassica Better when Browned: Curry Roasted Cauliflower.
Of all the cruciferous vegetables, I reckon cauliflower might be the most polarizing with respect to people's palates. Every other member of the cabbage family is blessed with hues of rich green and even purple, but poor ol' cauliflower is white. By outward appearances, we're talking about a pale visage of a vegetable. By my reckoning, cauliflower is a blank canvas; an up-front kind of veggie that can take a whole mess of seasoning graciously and still be identifiable in taste and texture. This recipe for curry roasted cauliflower works because we're applying generous amounts of heat and maximizing the surface area that's in contact with the cooking surface, which in this case happens to be the bottom of a cast iron skillet. Likewise, the up-front flavors of curry paired with sweet, browned bits of onion and the fresh finish of lime make for a dish that's just as comfortable being a side to a slab of grilled meat as it is playing the leading role as a vegan main course.
Y'know they sell alotta fancy grilling pans nowadays; but personally, I've got a problem paying for something that's inherently broken; I mean have you seen those things? They've got holes all over them! Seriously though, folks have been trying to improve on the grilling pan/basket for as long as there have been big box retail home stores, and imho they all stink. When I want to cook stuff on the grill that would otherwise fall thru the grates, I reach for the O.G. grill pan: my trusty cast iron skillet. You get what you pay for in weight, it maintains nonstick qualities beautifully when properly cared for, and the surface area isn't riddled with holes so contact browning is guaranteed (not just implied).
I love to cook in cast iron; it's a fantastic medium for cooking when you need to retain heat and/or really put the Maillard to whatever your cooking. In the case of cauliflower, cast iron becomes an almost necessary component to a recipe as the browning of the vegetable changes the flavor profile quite a bit, and not many other cooking vessels are near as effective at providing the kind of browning that cast iron provides (just ask the folks that like to cook a steak indoors.) This roasted cauliflower dish can be made anywhere high heat is available. In the winter months, I'll do 'er in my convection oven, while in the summer, a charcoal or gas grill keeps the high, dry heat outside where it belongs.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Preheat your oven or BBQ grill to 425F (if you're cooking indoors and have a convection oven, now is the time to use that setting).
Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to a cold 12 inch cast iron skillet, Put cauliflower slices in skillet and add the diced onion over the top. Mix together the salt, curry powder and cayenne/chile flake. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil over the cauliflower+onion mix in the skillet and sprinkle all of the salt and curry over the veggies. Roast for 25 - 30 minutes or untill the desired amount of browned vegetable goodness is achieved. Finish with some lime wedges and a little mo' salt (if you deem it necessary).
- Time to practice your knife skills, folks. You'll need to tear down approximately a half head of cauliflower here. Cut the florets off the trunk in big bundles and slice 'em pretty thick; around 5/8 of an inch. you need those broad, flat surfaces to come in contact with your hot pan and maximize browning.
- That big cast iron skillet is really not even an option here. I've done a whole head on a half sheet pan, and while it's OK, you just never achieve that level of deep mahogany brown goodness that cast iron'll give ya, while ensuring that the innards get done before the outside gets burnt.
- In this iteration, I used my gas grill, but if you're cooking indoors and your oven has a convection setting, now is the time to use it. Normally, I would say to lower the roasting temperature for convection by 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but I think cauliflower can take it; besides, that additional hot air whipping past your veggies will promote the creation of even more brownness on the top.
- Not a fan of curry? Y'know you can still season this recipe with equal parts Kosher salt and some of that salt-free seasoning blend, and it'll turn out fantastic (go for the garlic and herb variety).
- On the topic of curry powder: Color alone probably won't tell you what you've got. I've got two bottles of "yellow" curry powder: One is labeled "madras", and the other "maharajah". As a white boy raised in the middle of of rural USA, this means absolutely nothing to me. Procure what you can, taste it in a few applications (stir fry and yogurt dip are good) and decide what needs to be adjusted. Usually, it's a preference of heat, and ground red chile flake or cayenne can take care of that.
- Also regarding the substitutions, you don't have to use lime, but I do think you need some sort of acid to brighten this dish immediately before serving. Any type of vinegar (seasoned or otherwise) would likely suffice. I've got a lemon-infused white balsamic that's particularly up for the task, and malt vinegar would be good too.
The finished product here has an aroma not unlike that of popcorn (and curry), and while the taste and texture of the cooked cauliflower are certainly there, it's balanced and complimented at the same time by its slightly crisp outside, the sweetness of those browned bits of onion, the kick of the curry, and the brightness of that finishing shot of lime juice. Suffice to say, there's a lot going on here, but that's alright as cauliflower can take it. You'll want to serve this one ASAP so all those browned crisp edges don't get soggy on you; so plan your accompanying dishes accordingly. This is a fantastic side to serve with a delicate main course such as a parchment-steamed fish, and likewise I think it'll hold up sitting on a plate next to a grilled ribeye (my personal preference). If you're looking for a recipe to test on cauliflower initiates, I think this is a really good place to start as this is a preparation that employs our Brassicace in a role amidst complex, yet balanced flavors. Cheese sauce? Bah! Who needs it? The best vegan food is the unpretentious stuff; and as involved as this tastes, this is a simple preparation that works without a lot of fuss.