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Plant-based diets are having a cauliflower moment

Vouching for old-school soy protein, my latest food section column explained the ins and outs of tofu’s various types.

It’s true that plant-based proteins are “in,” particularly since the rise of Beyond, Impossible and other brands that closely imitate meat. But over the past few years vegetarian and vegan diets, not to mention gluten-free, have conspired to give cauliflower its moment.

Many diners have noticed cauliflower passing for rice, potatoes, pizza crust, taco fillings, even faux Buffalo “wings.” Cauliflower Parmesan constituted a previous post to this blog. And of course, there’s the cauliflower “steak.”

If there’s any time of year that I’m inclined to grill cauliflower, it’s now, when cruciferous vegetables still occupy significant status on my menus but I’m coming up short on new, interesting ways to use them. Once spring hits, I’m on to grilling asparagus, followed by summer’s splendor of zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes.

This recipe at least doesn’t pretend to imitate a steak by slicing cauliflower into flat-ish slabs. Recipe testers for the Los Angeles Times attest that those “steaks” simply don’t stay intact and can fall through grill grates.

So they advocate cutting cauliflower into quarters from top to bottom, leaving the core and leaves intact. This arrangement is easy to turn on the grill for even charring. To keep cauliflower from becoming tough, this recipe calls for steaming just until it starts to lose its raw edge.

Sauces and toppings, such as salsa verde, mole, hummus or guacamole, elevate this vegetable into a meal or hearty appetizer. Consider a sprinkle of fresh herbs, sliced chiles, nuts or seeds, along with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. I also love the Middle Eastern spices za’atar, sumac and harissa with cauliflower.

Grilled Cauliflower Wedges

1 whole cauliflower (2 to 3 pounds)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 tablespoons everyday olive oil

Prepare an outdoor grill for direct grilling over medium-high heat.

Trim stem end off the cauliflower, cutting off only any browned parts and leaving leaves intact. Place cauliflower upright on cutting board and cut in quarters to form wedges. Place wedges in a large microwave-safe bowl and season with salt. Add enough water to come 1/2 inch up sides of bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and poke a hole in top. Microwave until it starts to turn translucent and a paring knife slides through with some resistance, for 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover and drain water from bowl.

Drizzle the oil over cauliflower, rubbing it on to evenly coat. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Place wedges cut sides down on hot grill grate. Grill until grill marks appear and wedges release easily from grate, for 6 to 7 minutes. Flip to other cut sides and grill until tender inside, for 5 to 7 minutes. A paring knife should slide through easily. You can char floret side too for a few minutes. Transfer to a serving platter and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Tribune News Service photo