KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Mark Twain once said, “Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”
I’m not sure the humble cauliflower has quite that pedigree but perhaps there is something about its supposed Ivory Tower aloofness that made me keep my distance from it as a kid.
Perhaps it was one too many overcooked dish of boiled cauliflower. Perhaps it was its less than vibrant colour (or lack of colour); its close cousin, the broccoli, seemed more vivacious and welcoming with its confidently deep green.
Little wonder it was so hard to get me to eat cauliflower back then.
Fortunately age changes the way we view things. If in the past I avoided cauliflower like it was the plague, now I adore it with an almost manic passion. I like it as Cantonese stir-fry, raw in a salad tossed with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil; even the Paleo Diet approved recipe of cauliflower “rice” (basically florets broken into “grains” inside a food processor to mimic the real thing) has my vote — provided it’s cauliflower fried rice.
Used to be only the florets of the cauliflower head were eaten. These are called “curds” — due to their similarity in appearance to cheese curds, one assumes. What a waste though.
I’d save the cauliflower stem and use it too. Cut into smaller pieces, they can be as juicy-crunchy as the florets, especially in a quick stir-fry, or hoarded away in the freezer to use with root vegetables to make stock at a later date.
My favourite way to cook cauliflower is with Cheddar cheese (recently, at any rate; I’m sure I’ll discover new, delicious methods to enjoy this snow-white brassica in the future). A surprising ingredient, perhaps, but this hard and sharp-tasting cheese is a perfect foil for the relatively bland — and thus a blank canvas for the infusion of interesting flavours — cauliflower.
Indeed, classic Cheddar has a pungent and almost earthy flavour, which I find works really well with the caramelised bits of cauliflower that have been browned in a hot oven. Making this as a one-dish bake also means there are very few ingredients and cooking steps. (One less excuse not to cook at home, too.)
And once the aroma of the Cheddar melting on cauliflower wafts from the oven, you’d realise — as I certainly did — that this pairing is definitely a match made in culinary heaven!
CHEDDAR CHEESE CAULIFLOWER
Be playful. There can be plenty of variations with the right substitution. Use broccoli or a mix of broccoli and cauliflower instead of cauliflower alone. Cheddar cheese can be replaced with Gruyère or Gouda cheese. (You’d want any hard cheese that melts well.)
Not a fan of protein-rich Greek yoghurt? Try sour cream or crème fraîche for more tartness. Walnuts make a great garnish if you’re not into almonds. And so on.
The beauty of this dish is its simplicity and that’s what makes it perfect for your own adaptation. Again, be playful — and enjoy your results!
1 medium-sized cauliflower
6 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
250g Greek yoghurt
125g Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Handful of toasted almonds
Extra virgin olive oil
Break the cauliflower head into florets — preferably bite-size chunks — either with a sharp knife or your hands. Chop the cauliflower stem into similar bite-size chunks; don’t throw the stem away unless it is severely damaged. There’s no need to carve away bruised parts as the cauliflower will be baked and browned in parts.
Spread the cauliflower chunks into a baking tray. Add the chopped garlic. Pour the Greek yoghurt over the cauliflower and toss the mixture gently. Make sure the yoghurt coats the cauliflower evenly, instead of pooling in one corner.
Finally cover the mixture with a layer of grated Cheddar cheese and place the baking tray into a preheated oven. Bake at 180C for about half an hour or until the cheese has melted and the cauliflower has turned a golden brown in parts.
Remove tray from oven and transfer to a warm serving dish. Sprinkle toasted almonds over the cheesy cauliflower. Drizzle generously with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with a fresh salad for a main meal, or as a side dish with slices of medium-rare steak.
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