Despite Yotam Ottolenghi’s best efforts to raise the public profile of the humble cauliflower, the last decade has seen a clear and steady decline in its popularity. I was surprised to learn that sales in the UK have apparently gone down by as much as 35% over the past decade. Even Nigel Slater has stated that “cauliflower is something I can live without” (The Kitchen Diaries). Oh, Nigel. Really?
And in leading a campaign for its revival, it must be safe to assume that Ottolenghi is facing quite a challenge. Not only does the cauliflower continue to carry considerable amounts of baggage from earlier decades (a bland, over-cooked past associated with the insipid gastronomy of school dinners), it also has to compete with the current popularity of its greener rivals; those vegetables – most notably broccoli, kale and spinach – that are venerated within the so-called “superfood” hall of fame. Cauliflower definitely seems to have lost out here, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure why.
Perhaps it really is all about colour. “Green” has become increasingly synonymous with ideas about good taste, healthfulness and responsible eating. And of course green vegetables are good for you too. But they don’t have a monopoly on nutritional value. Indeed, it’s sensible to suggest that the more varied our diets are, especially in terms of fruit and vegetables, the better. It might not be green, but cauliflower is similarly nutrient dense, and is a particularly good source of folic acid and vitamins C, B6 (vital for several metabolic functions) and K (important as a regulator of our inflammatory response), as well as dietary fibre. As a source of antioxidants, including phytonutrients, there is also some research to suggest that cauliflower – along with other cruciferous vegetables – may have a role to play in cancer prevention (in particular prostate and colon cancer). It even contains a small (but still surprising) amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Together, that’s a pretty impressive set of credentials, and it’s definitely worth including cauliflower in your diet if you don’t already do so. And there are many wonderful ways to do this: from the light and simple – roasting florets with lemon and smoked paprika – to baking it in a rich cheese sauce (possibly the ultimate comfort food). Of course, it’s also amazing in a curry…
So, I was introduced to this wonderful chargrilled cauliflower salad by my sister, (who is, incidentally, one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s biggest fans). It’s full of bold flavours – capers, dill, mustard – that complement each other (as well as the cauliflower) splendidly. It’s robust and interesting enough to make an excellent lunch or appetizer on its own, but it also goes extremely well with other dishes. I find it makes an excellent accompaniment to fish pie, or even a piece of oven-baked salmon. But in either case, a glass of white wine is the perfect finishing touch…
2 tbps capers, drained and roughly chopped
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp cider vinegar
100ml olive oil
1 small cauliflower, divided into florets
1 tbsp chopped dill
A couple of good handfuls of baby spinach leaves
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
This serves 2 for lunch, or 4 as a starter or side dish
Begin by making the dressing… Mix together the capers, mustard, vinegar and some salt and pepper. Stir vigorously, slowly adding about half the oil to produce a thick and creamy dressing. You can do this in a food processor if you’d prefer, but it’s easy enough by hand. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
Add the cauliflower florets to a large pan of boiling water and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain into a colander and run under cold water. Leave to dry. Once dry, place in a large mixing bowl with the remaining oil, as well as some salt and pepper. Toss well.
Place a ridged griddle pan (or frying pan) over a high heat. Add the cauliflower florets a few at a time (making sure they’re not cramped), and turn them around as they start to char. Transfer them to a bowl as they are done. Add the dressing, dill, spinach and tomatoes. Stir together well and adjust the seasoning as required.
This salad can be served either warm or at room temperature.