Are you a convert to cauliflower? And before you answer that, dismiss all thoughts of the mushy florets you might remember from your school days, because this vegetable has had a serious makeover.
From cauliflower rice to seared cauli steaks, roasted cauliflower popcorn and cruciferous pizza bases, you may well have already noticed that restaurants, cafes and cookbook authors have been utilising the ingredient like never before.
Understand the appeal
Cauliflower happens to tick more than a few of the boxes that characterise eating in 2019: it's gluten-free, low in calories and carbs, and also works well as a meat substitute. In addition, the vegetable offers a hefty dose of fibre, it's inexpensive, quick to cook and is versatile. While cauliflower's mild taste and pallid colour once worked against it, with the vegetable dismissed as boring, now this mellowness is considered to be a bonus – cauliflower takes on the flavour of other ingredients and doesn't really change their overall taste.
How you can use it
There are myriad ways to utilise the vegetable in cooking, with one of the most common being as a low-carb alternative to rice or couscous. All you need to do is blitz the florets in a blender to create small, grain-like pieces, then microwave, saute or roast that in the oven, and serve it with curries and stews, use it to fill tacos or enchiladas, or make homemade sushi rolls or bowls.
When kept raw, cauli rice is great for adding depth and texture to salads. The thing to remember is to go bold with your flavours, as the rice needs a bit of a kick to bring it to life, so season generously with salt and pepper, be a bit more liberal with spices, and don't be afraid to add plenty of fresh herbs or citrus. If blending or grating your cauliflower seems like too much fuss, you can also buy fresh cauliflower rice at supermarkets across the UAE.
For an easy but interesting vegan main course, cauliflower steaks should be your go-to. Remove the leaves from a whole head of cauliflower and, keeping the stalk intact, slice into individual steaks that are about two centimetres thick. Brush all over with olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and dust with smoked paprika (if you like). Cook in a searing-hot griddle pan or over a barbecue for 10 minutes on each side, until the steaks are tender with some bite. To finish the dish, we like serving ours scattered with chunks of crumbled feta, capers and chopped parsley.
A whole roast cauliflower, meanwhile, provides a talking point at dinner. Trim away the outer leaves and remove the base of the stalk so that the cauliflower sits flat. Boil it in a large pan of salted water for eight to 10 minutes, then drain carefully. Add your flavourings – you can cover it with garlic butter, keep it simple with olive oil, salt and pepper, brush with curry paste or drizzle with sumac-infused oil. Place on a baking tray and roast in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 minutes, then serve the cauliflower whole at the table, for people to help themselves.
You could also stream or boil the vegetable until soft to make a mash that's lighter and less carb-heavy than the traditional potato version, or prepare cauliflower popcorn by roasting olive-oil-drizzled florets in the oven until golden and crunchy. Boiled-then-cooled florets that are blitzed in a blender with creme fraiche, cream cheese and rosemary also make a lovely dip.
Where to get your cauliflower fix
Some of our favourite cauliflower-focused dishes include the gluten, sugar, dairy and additive-free Rawiflower Super Bowl at Wild & the Moon in Dubai, which also features nut cheese, pomegranate, cucumber, almonds, chickpeas and chives, and is available at both the original Alserkal Avenue location and the new outlet on Emaar Boulevard.
Delivery service Freedom Pizza deserves a shout-out for its cauliflower pizza bases, particularly as they’ve managed to ensure that not only are the crusts vegan and gluten-free, but they’re also notable for their light and crispy texture.
For a dine-in option in Dubai, Heat Restaurant on Jumeirah Beach Road serves up low-carb pizzas, with bases made from a mix of cauliflower, cheese and egg.
Argentinean steak restaurant Gaucho in DIFC, might be famous for its meat, but those in the know will recommend you try its grilled cauliflower wedges with anchovy butter and tahini dip as a side dish. In the capital, meanwhile, hole-in-the-wall Mexican takeaway spot Burro Blanco offers cauliflower rice as a standard alternative to the traditional white variety in its burritos and bowls, while the Slim Trim bowl, in particular, offers a great mix of textures and flavours, thanks to the roasted pumpkin, smooth cilantro cream, crunchy lettuce, earthy cauli rice and Mexican-inspired falafel.