The Outer Limits of Cauliflower 

Andy Warhol once said: “In the future everybody will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.” If the famous artist’s observation applies to food as well as people, is cauliflower enjoying its last few minutes of fame?

The Brassica oleracea plant species of white inflorescent meristem heads shares traits with broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, and kale. People living in modern-day Syria likely cultivated and consumed the first curds of the fleshy white vegetable a few thousand years ago. The florets of cauliflower heads can be roasted, boiled, fried, steamed, pickled, or eaten raw. Today, the ubiquitous cauliflower takes center stage on restaurant menus, in cookbooks and in cooking videos of Facebook feeds.

Pickled cauliflower and other vegetables

Cauliflower serves as a blank canvas in most dishes, requiring spices and other ingredients to provide flavor. Modern chefs find new uses for the low carb veggie in place of potatoes, rice,  “tater” tots, pizza crust and even biscuits.  Cooked cauliflower adds fiber, nutrients  and creamy richness to puréed soups. Vegetarians roast thick slices of cauliflower steaks or whole heads like a chicken or turkey in an oven as main courses.

A memorable Roasted Cauliflower with whipped feta from Domenica in New Orleans distinguished itself from other dishes we tried during our visit last year.

A few weeks ago, I prepared Daniel Boulud’s flavorful Chicken Tagine in which cauliflower provides texture and delivers bold flavors of saffron and preserved lemon. Add this recipe to your “to do” list:

Bounty on Broad’s Sweet and Sour Cauliflower with balsamic vinegar, honey, chilis and herbs dazzled us last night. The Chubby Vegetarian’s answer to “hot wings” now found in their latest cookbook and blog is on my list of recipes to try: Baked Cauliflower Wings with Black and Bleu Dressing.

I love cauliflower, but I experienced an epiphany a few days ago after watching a recent Food Wishes video on Baked Cauliflower Fries. Food blogger and humorist Chef John spent the better part of a day preparing the fries only to reach the lamentable and disappointing conclusion of a soft underwhelming texture. Most people only share successes online, but I applaud his willingness to share failues from which we can all benefit. He vowed never to make the dish again.

Other documented cauliflower failures abound on the internet in pursuit of gluten-free or paleo perfection: cauliflower “cheese sticks,”cauliflower burgers with quinoa, cauliflower Alfredo Sauce, and cauliflower crackers.

The experiences of Chef John and others beg the questions: Have we asked too much of cauliflower? Has the cauliflower craze played out in American cookery? If new experimentation with cauliflower continues to lead to dead ends, will its popularity wane?

Cauliflower’s fate could become a familiar one in food trends. The stellar rise of some foods can quickly pass into fads of the past: tomato aspic in the 1930s (Don’t knock it! I’m an unapologetic fan), Spam® in the 1940s, Cool Whip in the 1960s, granola and fondue in the 1970s, kiwi in the 1980s, sun-dried tomatoes in the 1990s and kale most recently. Anyone still eating kale chips? The sunset of processed foods from the scene should not induce mourning, but the demise of healthful whole foods should alarm. Each of these foods remain available, but their fame subsided over time.

I don’t know if creative cooks and chefs have overextended the versatile cauliflower beyond its limits but their legacy of trial and error brought us delectable expressions of the mild-mannered vegetable that endure.

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