Follow Me Foodie to the renaissance of cauliflower: The history and varieties of cauliflower and deconstructing the craze.
Ugh… I hate lists, but sometimes I just need to sum it up and this is perhaps the most logistical way to do it. Not only do I dislike lists and using the word “best”, which I didn’t do here because these are not necessarily, but I’m also not keen on the term “food trends”, and cauliflower happens to be one.
When most people were naming kale as the hot ingredient this year, I named cauliflower in my Top 10 Food Trends for 2013 (#3 “Cauliflower is the new kale”). Kale was 2012 (I know I sound like a pretentious food geek when I say that), but that being said, it’s not like both were just discovered. They are simply ingredients being heavily celebrated, re-invented, or re-packaged to appeal to modern day food culture.
Heck, maybe their respective marketing budgets grew, but whatever the reason they were and still are popular or “trending” ingredients. Both are in the same Brassica oleracea species of plants as well, which also includes vegetables such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Cauliflower actually originated in Asia near the Mediterranean Sea. It became popular in the Mediterranean at 600 B.C. and in France in the mid-16th century. It didn’t come to the US until 1920’s so it’s kind of funny to think of it as some “hot new ingredient”. However new varieties of cauliflower have come into play such as orange cauliflower (Cheddar Bouquet), purple cauliflower (Graffiti and Purple Head or Cape) and green cauliflower (Broccoli Romanesco and Broccoflower).
Orange cauliflower has 25% more vitamin A than white or pale cauliflower varieties and is native to Canada. Purple cauliflower was created in Denmark and green cauliflower, a hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower, in the US.
Purple cauliflower has anthocyanins, an anti-oxidant also found in beets, blueberries and red wine, which gives them a purple colour. This water-soluble vacuolar pigment is supposed to regulate blood sugar levels and have anti-cancer properties, but there is a significant loss of anthocyanins once cauliflower is cooked. Purple cauliflower is sweeter and turns green when overcooked.
Green cauliflower was developed in the 1980’s and it has the structure of cauliflower with the chlorophyll of broccoli. It’s slightly sweeter, milder and has more vitamin A than white cauliflower, but not as much as orange cauliflower.
In 1970 a random orange cauliflower was discovered in a crop of white cauliflower in a field near Toronto. Intriguing to scientists, further research was done and in 1980 Dr. Michael Dickson figured out how to cross breed white cauliflower to produce the more nutritional orange variety. By breeding a natural pigment called beta-carotene into white cauliflower he was able to create orange cauliflower.
Carotene comes from the Latin wore carota, which is further carrot. It colours carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe and other orange, yellow and green vegetables and fruits. The human body converts beta-carotene into Vitamin A as to why orange cauliflower has more Vitamin A. And to add, carrots were originally white, yellow and purple, but Dutch plant breeders made them orange in honour of Holland’s national colour and royal family.
See, GMOs aren’t necessarily always a bad thing, although these are not “genetically engineered”. They are “mutants” of the original white breed which has been further achieved through mixing heirloom varieties and selective breeding process. Is it “natural”? Well it depends who’s defining it, and currently it’s not well defined.
While white cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and other nutrients, the coloured varieties are far superior in nutritional content. However keep in mind it is easy to overcook and even 5 minutes of boiling cauliflower destroys a significant amount of good properties.
On that note, I’m a “foodie” not a doctor or a health-nut and I eat for pleasure. So without further food-geek talk, let’s get to the main dish!
Follow Me Foodie to “Must Try” Cauliflower Dishes in Vancouver, BC!
It is probably the combination of marketing, health-conscious eating, a new found love for vegetables, and new breeds of cauliflower which has led to its craze. It’s also very versatile and can be used in substitution of potatoes and meat. Okay, no, it totally cannot replace meat or potatoes, I don’t care what people say. It can be the alternative, but cauliflower is cauliflower.
Many of the following are deep fried cauliflower which is usually delicious, but not all deep fried cauliflower is created equal. More often than not it’s soggy fried cauliflower with “crispy” in the name. There is a science to caramelizing the cauliflower, and having it soft but not mushy, and crisp but not crunchy. To blanch or not to blanche? To bake or fry? It really depends on the size of your pieces too.
Anyhow I’ll experiment in the kitchen, but for now, indulge in these!
Restaurant: TacoFino Cantina (Food Truck/Cart/Commissary)
Cuisine: Californian/Mexican/Tacos/West Coast/Eclectic
Location: Vancouver, BC (East Village)
Address: 2327 E Hastings Street
Phone: 604-253-TACO (8226)
This Asian-inspired cauliflower is packed with flavour and you can only get it at the commissary. It’s worth the visit alone, but I enjoy more or less the whole menu. This deep fried cauliflower is dressed and well seasoned with serrano chile, tumeric, crispy rice, and spicy fish sauce ($7). It’s a great starter or side with crispy and crunchy textures. There is a pop of acidity from lime juice, kick of heat from spices, and excellent umami from the fish sauce.
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End)
Address: 1118 Denman Street
The menu changes often, but they have some staples and I hope this becomes one. This fried cauliflower with raisins, pine nuts, and paprika is topped with saffron aioli and castellano cheese ($10). I’m a huge fan of sweet and salty, textures and nuts, so this was right up my alley. I wouldn’t oppose to more pine nuts, but I’d order it again for sure. It’s fairly saucy and the floral saffron is apparent without being overwhelming. Although all the ingredients are found in Spanish cooking, this is a modern Spanish tapa, which makes it original to Vancouver.
Other recommendations: Spanish Style Scotch Eggs, Crispy Anchovy Stuffed Olives, Duck Liver & Anchovy Pâté, Housemade Morcilla, Octopus, Ox Tongue and Warm Potato Salad, Roast Brussel Sprouts, Charmoula Marinated Lamb, Smoked Ham, Rabbit & Duck Terrine (daily special), Crispy Confit Rabbit Shanks (daily special)
I know. It looks like a bunch of brussels sprouts, but there is cauliflower in there! Promise. This simple warm brussels sprout and fried cauliflower salad is sautéed with capers, cracked chili, lemon and parmesan ($4). It’s reminiscent of the “famous” Glowbal Group Brussels Sprouts, which I thoroughly enjoy, but they added the cauliflower. Well actually they recently upgraded it to a “CRACK Salad” ($6) and also added broccoli, kale, and cabbage to the mix. It’s salty, spicy, tangy and one of the mainstays. It’s not very Asian-inspired considering it’s a modern Asian food truck, but that’s easily overlooked by deliciousness.
It is called “Najib’s Special” and it is probably the most known deep fried cauliflower dishes in Vancouver. It was on the menu before the deep fried cauliflower craze and it’s still a local favourite. It’s crispy cauliflower tossed with lemon and sea salt and served with tahini ($7.50). It’s very simple and often a bit too fried for me to the point of too soft, but people love it. It’s based on a traditional Lebanese appetizer (zahra mekleyah) and I like it even more topped with tahini (which they serve here, but on the side) and chopped mint.
Other recommendations: Chicken Tawook Pita
Cuisine: Indian/Fine Dining
Location: Vancouver, BC (Fairview)
Address: 1480 W 11th Ave
Phone: (604) 736-6664
How can we forget pakora? It’s one of the oldest versions of deep fried cauliflower, so surely it is not a “trend”. Pakora can be made with various types of vegetables and it’s often found as street food in India and South Asia. There are many versions of pakora in Metro Vancouver, especially Surrey (excellent area for traditional Indian food), but they don’t always have cauliflower. The Cauliflower, Spinach, Onion and Potato Pakoras served with daal (lentil) soup ($8.75) at Rangoli’s (Vij’s sister restaurant) are a fine version of traditional Indian street food. It’s made with big chunks of vegetables and not only potatoes or fried batter. They are well seasoned, not too greasy, and served with a delicious sweet, spicy and tangy mint chutney.
Other recommendations: Portobello Mushroom and Red Bell Pepper Curry
Restaurant: Hawksworth Restaurant
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/West Coast/Pacific Rim/Euro-Asian/Fine Dining
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 801 West Georgia Street (Inside Rosewood Hotel Georgia)
Phone: (604) 673-7000
This was actually inspired by a crispy cauliflower dish that used to be on the menu at Yardbird in Hong Kong. It’s been on the Hawksworth bar menu for almost a year now and I don’t see it coming off anytime soon – favourites always stay. This ‘KFC’ korean fried cauliflower with sesame and cilantro ($9) is served on the “Bar Bites Menu” in the lounge or bar area. It’s marinated and sauced with Korean Gochujang which is what I call the Sriracha of 2013 (I mentioned it in my Top 10 Food Trends of 2012 too). It’s a sweet, salty, spicy and pungent fermented soybean and hot chili pepper paste. If you’ve never had it, what’s wrong with you?! Come to the Korean side. Think of these as Asian style buffalo wings, but instead with cauliflower… don’t be turned off carnivores, it’s good.
Other recommendations: n/a
Restaurant: Pourhouse Restaurant
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown/Downtown)
Address: 162 Water St
Phone: (604) 568-7022
The Scotch Egg and The Pourhouse Burger are my favourites, but I decided to try this Cauliflower Steak once… hey, don’t judge. Yes, I’m a carnivore, but I actually like vegetables and I was curious about this. Cauliflower steaks are nothing new and this is not exactly “inventive”, but it’s one of the few, if not the only one being offered at a restaurant in Vancouver. Of course it will never replace a juicy fatty ribeye, but it’s an option for that vegetarian friend who decided to eat at an American gastropub – and it works, as to why it won’t come off the menu. There are other vegetarian options, but it’s not their “thing”. It’s a gastropub with solid cocktails and a late night crowd – and it’s great at being just that. This Cauliflower Steak is served with lentils, cucumber and mint raita, and while it’s good… mmmm medium rare burger and epic scotch eggs.
Other recommendations: Scotch Egg, Devils on Horseback, Pork Croquettes, Chicken Liver Toast, The Pourhouse Burger, Apple Tart for 2-4 people.
Restaurant: Ask for Luigi
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 305 Alexander St
Phone: (604) 428-2544
Ask for Luigi and Pourhouse are under the same chef and owner, Jean-Christophe (JC) Poirier. The concepts are different and it’s nice to see versatility in a chef. It’s hard enough to master one thing, but this French chef set a good benchmark for gastropubs to follow. He opened Ask for Luigi almost a year ago and it became an instant hit with locals. I was satisfied ordering all the antipasti here, although the made from scotch fresh pasta dishes were nice as well. It’s simple Italian food with some West Coast inspiration and this Fried Cauliflower & Aioli appetizer is a staple. It’s a generous portion of crispy fried cauliflower, chickpeas, fresh basil and shaved Parmesan. Out of this cauliflower list so far, it’s in my top 3 favourite fried cauliflower dishes.
Other recommendations: Anchovies & Eggs, Bocconcini Fritti
Other cauliflower dishes I haven’t tried yet in Vancouver include:
- Cauliflower – Fried Cauliflower, Pickled Turnip, Saffron Raisins, Mint, Olive Harissa (GF / V) ($9) at The Acorn
- Crispy Cauliflower – Cauliflower Two Ways, Rhubarb, Radish Dried Strawberry ($15) at YEW Seafood + Bar at the Four Seasons Vancouver