Friday, 17 April 2015

Barbecued Cauliflower and Jalapeño-Cheddar Sauce








Every now and then I get a weird craving for this. It doesn't make a very balanced meal but it's quite filling and is made up mostly of vegetables. Not to mention it's delicious! Ever since I was a kid I've loved cooked broccoli or cauliflower with a creamy cheese sauce. This is a bit of a grown up version, but very easy to make kid friendly. It's dead simple.

Over the past year and a bit I have rediscovered my appreciation for cauliflower. It really is one of my favourite vegetables. I love it raw as well as cooked. It's phenomenal roasted, grilled, fried, puréed, in curries like aloo gobi, processed into small pieces and eaten as a grain substitute (great in tabbouleh), baked with exotic spice blends like ras el hanout or za'atar and even raw with a little hummus or dressing. It's powerfully rich in vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and is even a decent source of protein. It's filling and depending how you cook it can take on a nutty, meaty flavour. Barbecuing is the perfect method to cook cauliflower for this technique. Roasting in the oven is still a very good alternative. All you would need to do is preheat your oven to 400 degrees F/204 degrees C and roast it for about 35-40 minutes or until browned to your taste. The bonus of the barbecue is that it's much easier to get a slight char on the cauliflower and add a natural smoky flavour. 

Last year I had a great cauliflower dish at a restaurant called Fat Pasha where we ordered half a head of roasted cauliflower topped with sauces, fried halloumi cheese, pomegranate and toasted pine nuts. It looked so bizarre but really haunted my palate afterward. It was so delicious. I first made this as a roasted version some time after that. It's just a play on cauliflower with a cheddar sauce and jalapeños. I loved the experience of eating the cauliflower whole with a knife and fork rather than broken into bite-sized florets. It really gave me a main course feel. The weather in Toronto has been the best so far this year over the passed week and I had another craving for this so I figured I'd try barbecuing it instead. It was so good I had to write about it.

How many servings you can get depends on the size of the cauliflower. The cauliflower I used in this demo was kinda small so I used it as one serving. A large cauliflower will generously feed 2-4 people. I reckon most people would rather enjoy this as a side dish, so in that case you could quarter a large cauliflower for 4 generous sides. It's all up to you. Part of the allure is the minimal amount of breaking down the vegetable. 


Ingredients

1 cauliflower, halved or quartered
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, sliced diagonally
2 cups of milk, warm or very cold
1 cup aged, sharp cheddar, grated
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup butter
4 tbsps olive oil
A pinch nutmeg, freshly grated preferred
Salt
Pepper



The first thing you want to do after prepping your ingredients is preheat your grill. If you have a gas barbecue, use a high heat. 

For the cheese sauce you need to make a béchamel. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat then add the flour. Whisk together for about a minute. A paste will form while you cook out the raw flour flavour. Then add a few tbsps of milk. If you want perfect results, gently warm the milk on the stove. For a slightly less perfect but still very passable result, use very cold milk straight out of the fridge. Any temperature in between will cause lumps in your sauce. I was just making this for myself so I used cold milk. 

Continue whisking while you gradually add the rest of the milk, a few tbsps at a time and whisking constantly in between. The flour and butter paste will dissolve into the milk and make a thin sauce. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg (bear in mind that you will be adding cheddar to this sauce which is salty, so don't overdo it). Bring the sauce up to a simmer then lower the heat. The sauce will thicken up during this process. 

Add in the grated cheddar and whisk until all of it melts into the sauce. I say 1 cup in the ingredient list but that's a vague guideline. Feel free to add a little more.



      
 

Add the sliced jalapeños to the sauce and stir. For a milder version, you can remove some or all of the seeds and membrane. I quite enjoy spicy food so I left all the seeds in. That's a personal judgement call.





        
Next step is to barbecue the cauliflower which will take about 15-20 minutes. Keep the sauce warm on a low heat while you barbecue the cauliflower. During that time the jalapeño will steep in the cheesy sauce, infusing it with its flavour. Try to stir it every minute or so to prevent a skin from forming. 






Lightly rub the cauliflower in olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Brush the grill clean while it's hot. Place the lightly oiled and seasoned cauliflower on the hot grill. 






Every 3-4 minutes turn the cauliflower. Try your best to get an even browning as possible and cook to your desired doneness. How long it will take depends on the size of your pieces of cauliflower and your barbecue so let your eyes be your guide. 







I like my cauliflower with a fair amount of charred, gnarly bits. It took me about 20 minutes. 






Then all you have to do is serve, smothered in your jalapeño cheese sauce and you're done. 

The cauliflower I used was on the smaller side of the scale so this batch of sauce ended up being twice as much as I needed. 

This is definitely a cauliflower lover's dish. Alternatively, you could slice the cauliflower into one-inch steaks and barbecue them. They would take less time to cook and you would have more surface area to get all caramelized and smoky. Personally, there's something about digging into a head of cauliflower with a knife and fork. It's almost like going at a big piece of meat only - it's not. It's dense in nutrients while hitting you with a balance of crunchy, smoky, gooey, spicy, nutty and earthy. Cauliflower goes so well with cheddar and cheddar goes so well with jalapeños that the three together make an unforgettable combination. This is a basic recipe that you could add so many other things to. You could top it with toasted nuts, fresh herbs, lemon juice, crispy bacon, browned sausage, sautéed onions, you name it!

I hope this has sparked your interest and inspired you to try it yourself. 

Until next time,

B

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