Some vegetables are too good to serve to unappreciative kids

January 18, 1998|By Rob Kasper

I CAME TO AN appreciation of cauliflower late in life.

When I was a kid, cauliflower was one of those foods I was "supposed to eat." My dad, in an effort to stir up interest in the winter vegetable, would recite a couple of lines of corny poetry -- "See the little cauliflower, growing sweeter by the hour" -- as the steamed forms were placed before our assembled clan. My brothers and I would push the dreaded florets of cauliflower to the edges of our plates, and roll our eyes at our dad's performance. Those winter weeknight cauliflower encounters were not happy ones for me.

I recall frost covering the kitchen windows and steam rising off the limp cauliflower. In our house, kids had to taste everything, even vegetables, before getting dessert. I remember feeling trapped, both by the pieces of uneaten cauliflower that kept me from feasting on dessert and by the mounds of homework that later that night would keep me from watching television. The world of winter evenings presided over by adults seemed so unfair.

Now that I am a father and my kids roll their eyes at my supper-table orations, my sympathies have shifted. I have become a believer in homework and cauliflower. Homework is a good thing; it can keep the kids in their rooms, away from their parents. Moreover, I have learned to cozy up to cauliflower.

Part of my fondness for cauliflower is that it no longer holds me hostage. Life as an adult has its drawbacks -- all that responsibility -- but there are benefits. You don't always have to plow through a plate of steamed vegetables to get to the sweet stuff.

I would like to think that the cauliflower's celebrated nutritional profile has nothing to do with my newfound fondness for it. But the truth is, after you have heard that cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous clan of crunchy vegetables, the one rumored to be a big cancer fighter, the connection lingers in your mind. It is like learning that a new neighbor is the sister of a movie star. You already thought she was a swell gal, but now that you know the family background, you can't help but think she is even sweller.

A major component of cauliflower's allure is that I have found a better way to cook it. Rather than steaming it, I roast it. The other night, I covered cauliflower with crushed coriander seeds, then applied a paste made of garlic and salt, and roasted it in a hot oven. The result was a dish with concentrated nut and garlic flavors, much more appealing than the stern, steamed cauliflower of my youth.

I found this cauliflower treatment in "Delia Smith's Winter Collection: Comfort Food" (Random House, 1997, $35). I was not familiar with Smith, but the publicity material that came with the cookbook described her as "a British phenomenon," food editor of The Magazine and hostess of a British Broadcasting Corp. cooking series. After tasting her cauliflower, I was anxious to try other recipes in her book.

The other night, when I pulled the dish of cauliflower and broccoli with garlic and coriander out of the oven, the kids were doing homework. I didn't interrupt them. Instead, I took the dish to my wife, and we quickly polished it off. This version was, I told myself, an adults-only cauliflower.

Oven-Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli with Garlic and Coriander

Serves 4

8 ounces (about 1 cup) cauliflower

8 ounces (about 1 cup) broccoli

1 heaping teaspoon coriander seeds, coarsely crushed

2 cloves garlic

salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the cauliflower and broccoli into florets about 1 inch in diameter and place them in a mixing bowl, then sprinkle in the crushed coriander seeds. Crush the cloves of garlic together with 3/4 teaspoon salt with mortar and pestle until you have a paste. Whisk the oil into this, then pour the whole mixture over the broccoli and cauliflower. Use your hands to toss and mix everything together to get a nice coating of oil and coriander, then arrange the florets in a large, shallow baking dish, and season with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender when tested with a skewer. Serve immediately.

Pub Date: 1/18/98

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