For a long time, I wouldn't touch cauliflower.
I blame vegetable trays at Fourth of July picnics and graduation parties during my childhood. Raw cauliflower just doesn't intrigue a child like a crunchy carrot, a celery brimming with flavored cream cheese or those black olives that fit on the end of your fingers.
To me, raw cauliflower was a hunk of dense blandness.
My cauliflower conversion started at a local Mediterranean deli. There was roasted curried cauliflower on the buffet. Despite my negative cruciferous history, I was intrigued enough to try it. It was delicious. That tender cauliflower had soaked up every bit of those flavors.
This winter, I started craving that roasted curried cauliflower and found a recipe online that perfectly replicated it.
Now my budding love for cauliflower has sparked a cooking binge. I have boiled it, roasted it and even sauteed it. I have served it with pasta, served it as steaks and even enjoyed it finely diced and raw in a relish.
Once I started looking, cauliflower was everywhere. Epicurious.com named it one of the top food trends of 2013: "This cruciferous friend is finally taking center plate." Then New York magazine cited the popularity of cauliflower steaks, writing: "Now it's cauliflower in the role of Vegetable Most Likely to Be Mistaken for a Piece of Meat."
When I started poring over cookbooks, I was surprised to see so many dishes from the Mediterranean included cauliflower. I reached out to award-winning cookbook author Martha Rose Shulman for an explanation.
"We do think of other vegetables like tomatoes and eggplant when we think of Mediterranean food, but that's probably because most people travel from the United States to the Mediterranean in the summer, when those vegetables are in season," Shulman wrote in an email. "Cauliflower is popular everywhere in the Mediterranean, not just in the winter but year-round."
ROASTED CURRIED CAULIFLOWER
This dish can be made up to two hours ahead. Yield: 6-8 servings
12 cups cauliflower florets (from about 4 pounds cauliflower)
1 large onion, peeled, quartered
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
3 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon paprika or Hungarian hot paprika
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place cauliflower florets in large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet. Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers; add to cauliflower. Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium heat until slightly darkened, about 5 minutes.
Crush coarsely in mortar with pestle. Place seeds in medium bowl. Whisk in oil, vinegar, curry powder, paprika and salt.
Pour dressing over vegetables; toss to coat. Spread vegetables in single layer. Sprinkle with pepper.
Roast vegetables until tender, stirring occasionally, about 35 minutes. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm in 450-degree oven for 10 minutes, if desired.)
Sprinkle with fresh cilantro. Serve warm or at room temperature.