This London chef will make you reconsider cauliflower

Player utilities

Listen to the story.

Marco Werman: Finally today, we’re going to spend some time with Yotam Ottolenghi. He’s a British-Israeli chef based in London and he’s made a big splash in the food world by coming up with inventive ways to serve vegetables. That was the focus of one of his cookbooks, “Plenty.” Now he’s back with a sequel, “Plenty More.” So, let’s pick a veggie. What would Ottolenghi do with, say… the humble cauliflower?


Yotam Ottolenghi: Actually, I do have a personal connection to it because my maternal grandmother discovered when I was very young that I loved cauliflower at some point. We used to go to her house every saturday for lunch and she just decided that’s my favorite vegetable, so she cooked it for me for about 15 years. It’s one of those things that I could have done without it once or twice, but it became kind of a tradition that I ate cauliflower and that my brother liked potatoes. I don’t know why this happened, but it was kind of funny.


My grandmother used to boil the cauliflower and serve it with breadcrumbs that are fried in butter. She’s German, so that’s kind of a very northern European treatment of cauliflower -- nothing like what I would do today, but hey, that was her style.


Cauliflower, for me, it’s endless. There’s a million ways to cook cauliflower. I think many people just have one idea about cauliflower, like my grandmother. Just boil it and serve it. I have a completely different idea. Recently, I’ve been serving a lot of raw cauliflower. It’s very popular. I grate my cauliflower so it turns into something which is a bit like bulgur wheat or couscous, and I mix it with tons of herbs — chopped parsley, chopped cilantro, chopped onion — and a lot of olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. And it is one of the most refreshing salads, a bit like a tabbouleh but cauliflower-based. So there you've got raw cauliflower.


I have been doing something even more exciting with cauliflower, and that is slow roasting it. I take a whole head of cauliflower, smother it with tons of butter, olive oil and salt and then put it in a low oven for about a couple of hours. What happens is quite magical. The florets, they almost burn. They don’t burn quite literally but they go all nice and brown and caramelized. Even the leaves are edible after this process. They go transparent and are absolutely delicious.


Cauliflower is like a potato with a little bit of its own distinguished flavor. It absorbs things dramatically, but it has that wonderful sweetness that lingers in the background. That's what I like about it so much. It has had some terrible years, where everybody started eating broccoli because it was considered healthier. Nowadays, people are coming back to the cauliflower because, between you and me, I think cauliflower is much more delicious than broccoli.


I love experimenting with vegetables. For me, in a sense, I never know quite what I will get when I start off. I have certain ideas about things that I’ve cooked in the past, but I’ve always wanted to push the envelope. Another example with cauliflower is a cauliflower cake. It's a savory cake‚ it has a few herbs — rosemary, basil — and it's got turmeric and cheese. It's one of the most comforting things — quite hard to imagine, like a frittata or a tortilla, but shaped like a cake. It looks great and it has that kind of sweetness of a cauliflower that you get through long cooking in the oven that's part of the baking process.


You have this idea that certain things go together or don't go together, and if you challenge that, very often you really surprise yourself.


Werman: Sometimes cauliflower is more than just cauliflower. Chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest book is called “Plenty More.” He spoke with producer Alex Gallafent. And this music? It’s made of vegetables. As in, all the instruments are actual veggies played by the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra. For real.