Cauliflower is such an underrated vegetable. So frequently found unfairly buried beneath a smothering blanket of cheese sauce, this tragic brassica is often maligned for being watery, mushy and grey. We hide it away under a covering of fat as if we’re embarrassed by it, offering our apologies by way of a hefty dose of mitigating cheese. Its vibrant cousin, broccoli, suffers no such fate. Perhaps the anaemic whiteness of the cauliflower does it a disservice: after all, these days we are bullied by the health police into thinking ill of most white foods, be it sugar, your supermarket sliced loaf or refined rice.
It’s time you gave cauliflower a chance to shine in your kitchen. Instead of boiling it to grey mush, the trick is to roast it with lots of salt, spices and olive oil. The result is gorgeously nutty, tender and aromatic, and makes a fantastic substantial base for a salad. The edges of the florets turn nutty and crispy, while the inside becomes tender and fudgy. Like tofu and aubergine, cauliflower has a useful sponge-like ability to absorb flavour, meaning you can throw a powerhouse of spices at it, varying them to suit your mood and appetite. I find Indian spices work best with cauliflower: the Indians know how to truly appreciate this vegetable, using it as the base for delicious curries that need no help from meat.
Here, I’ve roasted some cauliflower florets (and the stalk, too – don’t waste it, simply cut into bite-size chunks and roast along with the florets; it’s actually the best bit in terms of texture) with garam masala, turmeric, salt, paprika and cumin until slightly charred and crunchy. It’s the basis for a hearty and beautiful salad with shredded carrot, peppery rocket leaves and gorgeous jewel-like pomegranate seeds, bound together with a zingy lemon and mustard dressing. I think this may be one of the most aesthetically appealing creations to emerge from my kitchen recently, and you can’t help but feel wonderful when you eat it. It’s very simple to make, but delivers a medley of different textures and flavours with every bite.
This is an excellent side dish (I served it with some pan-fried hake fillets and a coconut curry sauce) but you could also make it into a hearty main course by adding some quinoa, brown rice or lentils to the mix. You could also add some toasted almonds or seeds to make it even healthier, or some more veg – maybe chunks of sweet potato, some green beans or roast beetroot.
Now, isn’t this better than a bland bowl of cheese sauce?
Indian-spiced roast cauliflower and pomegranate salad (serves 4 as a side):
- 1 cauliflower, broken into florets and stalk chopped into bite-size chunks
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 shallot
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 50ml olive oil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper
- 2 carrots
- 100g rocket
- Seeds of half a pomegranate
- 4 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Put the cauliflower in a baking dish and toss with the olive oil, spices and salt to coat. Roast for 30-40 minutes until tender and slightly charred.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Finely chop the shallot and mix with the mustard, olive oil, lemon juice and some salt and pepper to taste. Grate the carrots and put in a large serving bowl. Add the cauliflower and rocket leaves, then pour over the dressing and mix gently. Finally, add the pomegranate seeds and coriander, mix again, then serve.