Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Devil's Dung and Cauliflower

I mean no disrespect, but this monolithic flower fails to draw even slight smile from my lips but rather elicits a bored yawn of tolerance. Hardly first choice in any matter of thinking, every random once in awhile particularly knee deep in winter when vegetable friends of delicate constitution look worse for the wear and edible pickings are slim, a snowy rumpled head manages to stow away into my unsuspecting grocery cart. Cauliflower or Brassica oleracea, those ghostly florets of bland- are a hearty hale food unenthusiastically consumed whilst dreaming about produce from exotic locales elsewhere.

More like the plastic centerpiece for a child’s Playskool environment than actual food meant to be cut, steamed, and chewed; cauliflower is something of a red herring in the vegetable world. The faintly textured nodule suggests something fearsome hatched from the skull of an alien invader or sprung free from endangered coral sea mass. I almost forget that chou-fleur born of sun and soil is precariously tethered to the plant kingdom by stem and curvaceous leaf. No ordinary poster child, this albino vegetable curiously boasts a high nutritional profile. And it isn’t so much that this cabbage cousin actually tastes bad but its flavor and texture is mild, vague, and generic; a sort of tofu of plants- which conveniently lends itself to inventions such as fauxtato or comforting casseroles bathing in cream and cheese.

But alas, I can’t get around it. At heart I am unrepentantly shallow sneaking furtive peeks at hot house tomatoes and multi-pack peppers. While I have described a food that could easily be seen as reliable, unconventional, nutritious, and adaptable; all I think about is its– overwhelming lack of luster. Squarely at the intersection of flabby and colorless is a plate of boiled cheerless lumps gasping for attention and a little differentiation.

I decide that this is exactly what I should do-- what I must do, as I catch myself daydreaming about the sherbet green spirals of Romanesco cauliflower and dallying with the exotic sensations of faraway produce. I don’t even try to enjoy this vegetable’s subtle charms but perhaps if I did, I would extricate myself from the dissatisfaction that comes from looking elsewhere but here.

To the rescue Indian spices which breathed new life into my diet last week. In perusing the good book, I stumbled upon a dish which promised to change my attitudes about that unfortunate head of no goodness. Asafetida that rascally trickster, the pungent resin which smells of rotting garlic yet tempers rumbling bowels, wards off colds, pregnancies, and evil spirits, and compels both wolves and catfish. Devil’s dung, hing, or food of the gods: anyway it is called--I love it. While it is used as an onion and garlic substitute by some spiritual traditions, the flavor has a hard to describe depth and sulfurous edge which provides interesting counterpart to anything mild. In addition the recipe calls for two kinds of heat, lemon juice for sparkle, and just the right amount of turmeric to give the florets a tasteful golden glow. In the end those grainy textured sprockets which used to feel too mealy in the mouth, are poised just right to hold onto the fierce bright interplay of spices. And bathed in just the sheerest tint of color, each floral cluster suddenly blossoms, the beauty of awareness itself.

Is it possible that my food could be teaching and singing to me as well? I now stand before a very different kind of bouquet, a flower head alive with taste, possibilities, good looks, and fetching Zen wisdom too. Commit myself to the here and now, it urges me. And I swear it crooned…

Well, there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love, honey
Love the one you're with.

Cauliflower with Cumin and Asafetida- serves 4 adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking

So good that I am making it again this week. I am looking forward to tossing it into an omelet. This time I would like to add more chili and brown up the cauliflower a little longer before adding the lemon water. And of course, more coconut butter.

1 head of cauliflower broken up into florets
3 Tblsp. Grapeseed oil
Good pinch of asafetida
½ tsp. of cumin seeds
1 small onion, thin half moon slices
½ jalapeno, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp. ground turmeric
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¾ tsp. salt
4 fl. Oz. water
Juice of half lemon
Optional: a little snub of coconut butter
Chopped cilantro

Directions: Put the oil into a large pan and set on medium high heat. Sprinkle the asafetida and cumin seeds into the oil and enjoy the aroma for a few moments before adding the onions. Lightly brown the half moons and then add the cauliflower pieces and jalapeno. Sauté for a few minutes until the florets gain a little color. Turn the heat down and add the ground cumin, turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Add the water and lemon juice, toss and cover on a low simmer. Cook until the cauliflower is just tender and stir in chopped fresh cilantro and/or some decadent coconut butter at the very end. Enjoy!


Lucy said...

Perched on top of my fridge (I couldn't have it in the pantry), each time I pass the asafetida I am reminded of just how much I adore the flavour of that putrid stench.

The Good Book indeed.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Oh how I wish I could warm up to cauliflower -- but I just cannot seem to find a way to love it!

Callipygia said...

lucy- I know people say that they need to quarantine the stuff...but I like the smell! But I also like skunk.

lydia- It is funny I was thinking of you and cauliflower because you have mentioned your dislike. I was convinced you might like this sort of preparation.

sher said...

I have to admit that I like cauliflower raw, but don't get excited when it's cooked. So, this recipe intrigues me. And how can you resist the name devil's dung? I've never tried asafetida. And it has a putrid stench? Hold me back!

By the way, my post is on you today. Yes, I invaded your privacy!

Gattina said...

tofu of plant... oh it is a good one! I am pretty content with its bland taste, but also interested in seeing other preparations. This recipe reminds me of my numerous satisfying meals at (northern) Indian restuarants, really lovely!

Anonymous said...

that all folkd