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Cauliflower Cookery

Cauliflower is the new Brussels sprout: Houston chefs work wonders with overlooked veggie

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Coltivare Cauliflower
Coltivare's cauliflower dish is made from locally sourced ingredients.  Photo by © Debora Smail
Cauliflower chaat at Down House restaurant
Benjy Mason helped Down House chef Mark Decker develop his cauliflower chaat.  Photo courtesy of Down House
Cauliflower flan at Osteria Mazzantini
Diners will fight over the last bites Osteria Mazzantini's cauliflower flan.  Photo courtesy of Osteria Mazzantini
Cauliflower steak at Roost Bistro
Roost has a cauliflower steak on its current menu in addition to its classic fried version with bonito and miso dressing. Photo by: Eric Sandler
Cauliflower at Ninfa's on Navigation
Skip the queso and try the cauliflower torta at Ninfa's on Navigation. Photo by: Eric Sandler
Coltivare Cauliflower
Cauliflower chaat at Down House restaurant
Cauliflower flan at Osteria Mazzantini
Cauliflower steak at Roost Bistro
Cauliflower at Ninfa's on Navigation

Quiet is the new Loud. Orange is the new Black. Food is the new rock. Cauliflower is the new Brussels sprouts.

At least, it seems that way in some of Houston's trendiest restaurants, where that side dish of mixed vegetables has taken a starring role on menus. Seeing as the mayor is busily encouraging Houstonians to eat a million pounds of vegetables this month as part of the VegOut! Challenge and local farmers markets are full of florets, the time seems ripe to assess the state of cauliflower cookery. 

Want to get in on the trend? Head to any of the restaurants below. Just act fast. The season is coming to an end in the next few weeks. When it's gone, that's it until next year. 

Coltivare - Cauliflower, pine nuts and raisins

Developed by chef/owner Ryan Pera and sous chef Vincent Huynh in the run up to Coltivare's opening, this dish has become a top-seller. "We did 200 covers and sold 50 orders," Pera tells CultureMap. Naturally, the Italian restaurant with the 3,000 square-foot garden sources all of its cauliflower from local farm Gundermann Acres.  

Pera explains that he originally intended to roast the cauliflower but decided to flash fry it instead, "because it tasted better." Then the chefs tweaked the seasoning, first with some argodolce for sweet and sour, then raisins, tarragon and pine nuts "for nuttiness." While no one's saying the dish is solely responsible for Coltivare's long waits, the attention to detail reflected in the balanced flavors helps explain why so many people have embraced the restaurant.

Pera knows people might be mad when the dish disappears, but "that's part of being a seasonal restaurant," he says.   

Roost - Cauliflower steak

The credit (or blame) for cauliflower's current popularity certainly must go to Roost chef/owner Kevin Naderi; his Persian-inspired fried cauliflower with miso dressing has been the only savory constant on the restaurant's constantly changing menu. Naderi has upped the ante on his current menu with a thick-cut cauliflower steak that's an eminently satisfying entree for vegetarians or anyone else looking for something different.

Naderi says a trip to Turkey inspired the dish. It's oven roasted in a cast iron pan to char the outside, then seasoned with curry powder and basted with butter. The dish is served over Beluga lentils with and topped with peppers, onions, tomatoes and jalapeno. "My favorite part is the stem," Naderi explains. "We get as much on there as possible. That's where the crunch and bite is."  

Down House - Cauliflower chaat, mint cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, boondi, radish

This small plate on the current Down House menu illustrates chef Mark Decker's ability to layer flavors. Decker wanted to feature chaat on the menu but knew he needed a little more to appeal to the restaurant's patrons. When Treadsac culinary director (and former Down House executive chef) Benjy Mason suggested incorporating cauliflower, Decker says he was "kicking myself for not thinking of that. (Then) it was just tweaking the cooking of the cauliflower and getting the plating right." 

The cauliflower is roasted then layered over chaat (sev, boondi and mamra tossed with tamarind chutney), mint cilantro chutney, radishes and mint for a slightly spicy burn that compliments that cauliflower's natural flavor. Chase it with the always awesome Down House burger to temper any feelings of virtuousness.

Osteria MazzantiniSformato: baked cauliflower flan, cauliflower crema, pickled apricots, watercress 

Available at both lunch and dinner, the creamy texture of this dish makes it seem more like cauliflower custard than flan, but quibbles over naming do not diminish its deliciousness. It rests in a bowl of cauliflower crema, and the cheese crisp provides the necessary saltiness and crunch.  A friend and I fought over the last few bites on a recent, and Houstonia's Robb Walsh calls it the best cauliflower dish in town. Up the fun factor by asking sommelier Samantha Porter for a pairing recommendation. 

Ninfa's on Navigation - Cauliflower torta

Forgoing queso in flavor of cauliflower at Ninfa's may sound like culinary blasphemy, but sometimes good things come from a little heresy. Chef Alex Padilla starts by roasting cauliflower and potatoes, then mashing them with poblano pepper and garlic. The resulting concoction is formed into a pancake, seared and served with a tomato epazote sauce.  It's a little bit spicy, a little bit like mashed potatoes and all cauliflower goodness.

Currently, the dish floats on and off the specials list, but Padilla has promised it'll stick around at least through the weekend. 

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