I came to cauliflower late in life. Though my mother was a great cook (you can read all about her in my book, Sweet Survival: Tales of Cooking & Coping), when it came to cauliflower, Mom played it very plain. The steamed cauliflower arrived on the table, pale and very quiet, holding its head down, knowing it didn't have much flavor and couldn't compete with duck à l'orange, chocolate mousse and all the other delicious dishes making their way around our dining room.
After I had kids and we started taking them out for dinner, my older son discovered a delicious cauliflower dish at a local Italian restaurant in New Jersey. The dish did not have a special name but it came out something special: A big bowl of whole wheat fusilli, topped with roasted cauliflower, bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, olive oil and garlic. I've never tasted anything so sumptuous. We served it at my older son's pre-bar-mitzvah Shabbat dinner. It was divine.
But that was more than five years ago. Now we are gluten-free. Both my sons have wrestled and have had to keep their weight down, and we are all trying to avoid plates full of carbs. But we still pine for that cauliflower fusilli dish, which leaves me constantly on the hunt for new ways to make cauliflower, particularly the crunchy kind.
Cooking without gluten, while raising teenagers, can be complicated. Adding to the complication, last summer, I started the Whole Life Challenge. If you don't know what this is, it is a healthy approach to eating and exercising, with tips on how to keep yourself sane while you do so. You keep track of your good or bad behavior on a website, and you get points for being good. If this sounds hard, just know that the bottom line is you can't eat anything that might possibly be bad for you. That means: No soy, corn, cheese, milk, gluten or sugar. You are allowed such goodies as butter and yogurt, coconut oil and olive oil. And you can use spices to your heart's content.
I don't follow the challenge to the letter, as I often fall off the wagon and feel the need to make and eat chocolate pots de crème. But when I see a recipe that is "compliant," (meaning Whole Life Challenge devotees can eat it), I set to work. Imagine my excitement when one of my students posted this recipe for Spicy Whole Roasted Cauliflower by Ask Dr. Nandi on Facebook.
I know Facebook is the Devil's playground, where trouble goes to sit in the sun and all you have to do is tap it on the shoulder and ask it to come inside with you. That said, you can get links to good recipes there.
The original Dr. Nandi recipe said that you should cover an entire head of cauliflower with the yummy spice-infused yogurt sauce and serve it whole. While that might make a nice presentation at a dinner party, it isn't very practical. I know because I went to a dinner party once where a version of this cauliflower was served. The head of cauliflower sat there primly, looking a lot like a brain, waiting for a surgeon. No one had the heart to slice it up. Have you ever tried to hack off pieces of a whole head of cauliflower without looking like you're trying to cause it brain damage? You can't. If you try, it's messy. I suggest taking out your sharpest knife, cutting the cauliflower into small, thin slices, and then pouring the slices into the waiting bowl of spicy yogurt.
I made this cauliflower in the middle of the week, a few days before I was set to fly to Nashville and read from my book at Parnassus Books. I was excited to go: One of my oldest friends from childhood lives down there and I was going to stay with her in her new house. Plus, this is the bookstore owned by Ann Patchett. Ann Patchett! Then my publisher emailed and said they might not be able to send more books down there in time for the reading. I should add that when I received this piece of news, I had just finished spin class, and was ferociously hungry.
You know how you feel when you've just had a nice, sweaty workout, and as you towel off, you check your phone, and can't believe how much has gone wrong in just 45 minutes?
So, I did what I always do when I'm famished and/or freaking out: I raced home and looked for something to eat. There wasn't much in our fridge. Just some old steak and a container of three-day old microwaved broccoli. There were, however, two big heads of raw cauliflower and a container of Greek yogurt. I pulled up that lovely recipe from Facebook. I knew we had all the spices to go in the marinade, but did we have lime? Yes, we had two. One looked a little old and brown, the other looked fine. Then I glanced at the recipe again: You had to grate the lime.
Do you know how satisfying it is to grate a lime when you are angry?
Because we had so much cauliflower and I was in such a foul mood, I decided to double the recipe. This way, if I decided to eat my way through my rage and devour an entire pan of cauliflower (I knew I could), there would still be some left for my kids and husband to eat for dinner.
There are a slew of wonderful seasonings in this marinade, and they are all spices you probably have on hand: Cumin, curry powder, chile powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. My favorite spice, hands down, is cumin. The smell of it makes me high. This recipe calls for one tablespoon of cumin. Since I was doubling the recipe, I measured out two tablespoons of cumin, then stood there for a while and sniffed. I was almost sprawled out in an opium den by the time I was done. While the cauliflower roasted in the oven, I took a spatula and licked the leftover marinade out of the bowl. Forty minutes later, it was done. You are supposed to wait ten minutes for the cauliflower to cool before you dig in but I didn't bother with that.
The cauliflower was fiery and deeply satisfying, warm and covered with a lovely yogurt crust. Did I eat half a tray of spicy, roasted cauliflower in less than 20 minutes? You know I did.
Naturally, by the time I was done, the bookstore had emailed and said they did have enough books after all.
Spicy Roasted Cauliflower (Adapted from Dr. Nandi)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 head cauliflower
1½ cups plain Greek yogurt
1 lime, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons chile powder
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400° and lightly grease a small baking sheet with vegetable oil. Set aside.
2. Trim the base of the cauliflower to remove any green leaves and the woody stem.
3. In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt with the lime zest and juice, chile powder, cumin, garlic powder, curry powder, salt and pepper.
4. Slice cauliflower into small, thin slices. Toss cauliflower in bowl with marinade. (If you have extra marinade, save it an airtight container for up to three days and use it on chicken, fish or other vegetables.)
5. Place the cauliflower on the prepared baking sheet and roast until the surface is dry and lightly browned, about 40 minutes. The marinade will make a crust on the surface of the cauliflower.
6. Let the cauliflower cool for 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges and serving alongside a big green salad.