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 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.
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons peanut or other vegetable oil
2 tablespoons Thai green curry paste, such as Thai Kitchen brand
One 13.5-ounce can coconut milk (do not use light)
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
3 makrut lime leaves, crushed (see OVERVIEW; may substitute 1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest)
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus more leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh lemon grass (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 red bird’s-eye chile pepper, sliced, plus more for optional garnish
1 large (2- to 3-pound) head of cauliflower
Lime wedges, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Whisk together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the broth in a small bowl; this is a slurry that will help thicken the sauce.
Pour the oil into a cast-iron skillet or other oven-proof pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the curry paste and stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the coconut milk, the remaining cup of broth, the cornstarch mixture, sugar, salt, lime leaves, chopped basil, chopped lemon grass (if using), the lime juice and chile. Increase the heat to medium-high; cook until the sauce starts bubbling, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until it thickens, 5 minutes. Taste, and add more salt, as needed. Carefully pour the sauce from the skillet into a pitcher or liquid measuring cup.
Trim all the leaves from the base of the cauliflower. Trim the thick part of the stalk as much as needed so the cauliflower can sit flat in the skillet.
Place the cauliflower bottom side up in the skillet, and pour about half of the curry sauce onto the cauliflower, letting it seep into the florets for a minute. Flip the cauliflower right side up and repeat, pouring the remaining sauce over the top and letting it pool back around the cauliflower. Use a brush as needed to coat the cauliflower thoroughly.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and roast for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower starts to become tender when pierced with a large metal skewer or fork. Uncover, baste with the sauce from the pan and continue roasting, basting every 10 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is tender and has turned golden, about 30 additional minutes.
Carve into thick wedges or slices and serve hot, with the extra sauce from the pan spooned over or served on the side. Garnish with more basil leaves, the lime wedges and the chile slices, if desired.
Based on recipes by Lauren Toyota in “Hot for Food Vegan Comfort Classics: 101 Recipes to Feed Your Face,” (Ten Speed Press, 2018) and Saiphin Moore in “Rosa’s Thai Cafe: The Vegetarian Cookbook” (Mitchell Beazley, 2018).
Tested by Joe Yonan; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The nutritional analysis is based on 6 servings.
Calories: 230; Total Fat: 19 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 450 mg; Carbohydrates: 17 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugars: 7 g; Protein: 4 g.