When roasting cauliflower, go whole or go home

By Joe Yonan
The Washington Post
Posted2/5/2019 9:59 AM
  • A mix of recipes went into creating Green Curry Roast Cauliflower.

    A mix of recipes went into creating Green Curry Roast Cauliflower. Photo by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post

The appeal of a whole roasted cauliflower is obvious, especially to plant-based cooks: It looks impressive, you can eat it with a knife and fork (rather than tucking it into yet another stew, stir-fry, salad or grain bowl), and roasting brings out the vegetable's nuttiness.

The first time I made one, it was for Thanksgiving, a way to satisfy the herbivores at the table with a centerpiece-worthy dish. I brushed it with oil, seasoned it with salt and basted it with oil from the pan from time to time, just as I used to do with a turkey. I slathered chimichurri on after it was done, sprinkled it with almonds and called it a day. Simple and good.

A few months later, I ordered the famous roasted cauliflower dish at Domenica in New Orleans, back when chef Alon Shaya was involved, and tried that recipe as soon as I could get my hands on it. Shaya first poaches the cauliflower in a wine-heavy broth that reminds me of the court bouillon used for traditional French fish cookery, getting it tender and infusing it with flavor. Then he roasts it and serves it on a bed of whipped feta and goat cheese. Super flavorful -- and a little involved for a weeknight dinner, to be honest.

When I revisited the idea more recently, I wanted an easier way to create something just as special. Cauliflower (like so many other vegetables) already has a high water content that could be employed in place of a poaching step: I covered it with foil for the first half of the roasting time. And then there's the sauce. Rather than discarding cooking liquid the way Shaya's recipe does, I wanted a sauce to add flavor during the roasting that I could also spoon on top for serving. Inspired by a recipe in a recent book by Lauren Toyota, I settled on a Thai-style green curry based on a store-bought paste and used the techniques and ingredients from a second recipe by London restaurateur Saiphin Moore to amp it up.

Sure, you could cut the cauliflower into florets, simmer them on the stove top with the green-curry broth (without its cornstarch thickener, perhaps) and it would be very nice. But this way, when it comes out of the oven so beautifully burnished and so aromatic from lemon grass, lime, coconut milk and more, it's a showstopper, whether you're having guests or not.

Serve on its own, or over brown rice or another grain.

Find makrut lime leaves in well-stocked Asian supermarkets.

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