Is it kind of embarrassing that cauliflower was the food I ate most in 2022?
Not nearly as embarrassing as the show I watched most in 2022 (Frasier). Or the underwear I wore most in 2022 (absolutely gigantic). But it’s called “Perfect Cauliflower” and I swear it lives up to its name.
What makes this roasted cauliflower perfect is that it’s sliced into thumb-width planks (also known as “steaks” but not by moi). During the slicing process, you’ll make a huge mess on the counter and some pieces will crumble and everything will be okay. The point is that the flat side of (most of) the cauliflower will caramelize more than a rounded stalky piece because it’s in direct contact with the hot pan. And you’ll CRANK the oven to 450, which guarantees that beautiful browning.
Then flavor comes in. The cauliflower is tossed in garlicky oil before roasting. And then while it’s in the oven, you casually toast some coconut flakes with a chopped chile (or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes), and grate some lime zest on that when it’s done. To serve, you douse your portion of cauliflower with the coconut topping, which gives it this “I’m fried but not really” texture and lime-in-the-coconut tropical flavor. A squeeze of lime juice and cilantro are bonus steps for over-achievers.
This recipe is from my friend Andy Baraghani’s cookbook The Cook You Want to Be. I helped Andy with the words in the book, and when it came to recipe titles, I remember how he told me, with such confidence, that this cauliflower was perfect and it will be the only recipe in the book to make that claim. I was like, “Okay, Andy, but it’s cauliflower.” But then I couldn’t stop making it. I’ve taken liberties, like using garlic salt in place of fresh garlic, but the technique never lets me down, and neither does the crunchy coconut topping. It usually makes more than I need, so I stash the leftover crunch in a container and use it on salads or, more likely, more cauliflower.
Perfect Cauliflower with Spicy Coconut Crisp
Recipe from The Cook You Want to Be, by Andy Baraghani
1 head cauliflower or Romanesco (keep any green leaves or stems that come with it)
1⁄3 cup melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Spicy Coconut Crisp
2 tablespoons melted coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
2 serrano or jalapeño chiles, thinly sliced
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (see note below)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
½ cup coarsely chopped cilantro (leaves, stems, and all)
2 limes, cut into wedges
Place an oven rack in the bottom position and preheat the oven to 450ºF. If the outer leaves of the cauliflower look fresh and not brown, pull them off and give them a coarse chop. Trim the bottom core of the cauliflower so it can stand on its stem. Cut the cauliflower into 1-inch-thick slabs (you’ll probably get four or five pieces), then snap off the florets from the slabs.
In a large bowl, combine the 1⁄3 cup coconut oil, garlic, and turmeric and stir to mix. Throw in the cauliflower pieces and leaves, season with salt, and then toss with a large metal spoon or rubber spatula. Spread the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, flipping the pieces after the first 15 minutes, until deeply golden brown on both sides, 25 to 30 minutes total.
To make the coconut crisp: When the cauliflower is almost ready, in a small skillet over medium heat, combine the coconut oil, chiles, and coconut flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the coconut flakes are golden brown in most spots and smell sweet, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the lime zest. Season with salt and stir again.
Transfer the cauliflower to a platter and crumble the coconut crisp over it. Scatter the cilantro on top and squeeze the juice from a few lime wedges over. Serve with the remaining lime wedges on the side for squeezing.
A note from Andy on choosing coconut flakes: Always buy unsweetened coconut so you can control the sweetness. (We associate coconut’s flavor with sweetness, but that comes from its aroma, not its actual flavor.) I buy flakes or shreds, depending on my mood. The big flakes are graphic and cool, but everything goes faster with shreds—from toasting to incorporating into a dish. Once you open the package, keep it in the fridge to preserve freshness.
(Photos by Graydon Herriott.)