The internet is mad at cauliflower. Again.
This is always the case, to some extent; widespread irritation with Brassica oleracea is always pinging around social media at a low hum. But when this frustration spills over, thousands of people join in, rushing to talk about how much cauliflower sucks.
The confluence of many factors—Americans seeking healthy, low-cost meals during the pandemic, the latest low-carb diet boom (now taking the form of keto instead of Atkins), and, ahem, the constant demand for food publications to provide alternative recipes that suit those diets—has caused cauliflower consumption in the United States to rise precipitously. So it’s only natural that people are experiencing a bit of cauliflower fatigue, tired of the way it has been snuck into everything from pizza crust to burritos to mac and cheese.
But hear me out: Cauliflower can be truly great, a first-rate vegetable, when we simply let it be what it is. Let cauliflower be cauliflower, and your relationship to cauliflower will be mended.
Cauliflower is used as an imitator
For a substance that’s 92% water, cauliflower’s structure lends it a surprising heft. When cooking with it, there are ways to play up that thick, sturdy crunch. But often when a dish incorporates cauliflower, the vegetable is only showing off its watery qualities.
Cauliflower rice is a perfect example. When Chipotle debuted its new Cilantro-Lime Cauliflower Rice in 2021, it was largely disappointing: a wet, mushy, translucent mound under the other ingredients in the burrito bowl.
“I imagine there’s just no easy way to cook cauliflower on this scale,” noted taste tester Dennis Lee at the time. “It will simply continue to cook while it’s being held on a steam table for service.”
Our best advice for those interested in cooking with cauliflower rice: Don’t treat it exactly like rice. And maybe incorporate it into a serving of real rice, rather than doing a 1:1 replacement.
Make cauliflower stand out rather than blend in
When I say “let cauliflower be cauliflower,” I’m not saying we need to be munching on plain, raw florets (though if you’re into that, take your ranch dipping sauce and go with god). Instead, I’m saying that cauliflower doesn’t have to be Trojan Horse’d into your meal in order to be enjoyable. It can be right out there in the open, unmistakably cauliflower, upon your plate.
Our recipe for Carolina-Style BBQ Cauliflower is one that plays up cauliflower’s best attributes to the fullest. It’s thick and hefty, but cooks up in a fraction of the time that any animal product would. It’s got tons of nooks and crannies for flavorful mop sauce to seep into. And it’s sturdy enough to sit on the grill long enough to gain a nice, appetizing char. You won’t think you’re eating meat when you eat this; you’ll just enjoy it outright, a delicious transformation of something naturally bland.
This Yellow Cauliflower Curry is even simpler than the BBQ Cauliflower, as it really doesn’t take much to complement the texture of the tender cooked florets. Bottom line, cauliflower is best when you can really sink your teeth into it.
There are a world of cauliflower recipes out there, and we hope you discover at least one that makes you want to delete every angry tweet you ever tweeted about this often misused vegetable. It’s not rice, it’s not flour. It’s its own thing, and it can really shine when it’s applied correctly to a dish. Maybe when the right recipe comes along, you’ll find that you never hated cauliflower at all—you just hated being lied to.