Lemongrass Chilli Cauliflower – roasted cauliflower florets quickly stir fried with fragrant lemongrass, chilli and ginger.
Ah, the humble cauliflower…once maligned solely as a mushy vehicle for gooey cheese sauce (not that it’s a bad thing mind you), it has enjoyed a resurgence in the last couple of years, partly due to the popularization of cauliflower rice and other imaginative preparations in paleo and other health-focused diets.
Although it’s had a bad rap in its time, gone are the days of bland, overcooked cauliflower – instead, it has redeemed itself as a versatile yet underrated addition to the modern kitchen.
I picked up a whole cauliflower for a couple of dollars this week, which is odd as I don’t think it’s the season for them yet…but being the bargain whore that I am, I’m not complaining.
One of my favourite ways to prepare cauliflower is by roasting it. This concentrates the flavours of the cauliflower, adding a nutty note to it without the risk of it going mushy.
From my own experience, cauliflower has never featured that much in Southeast Asian cooking – at least, certainly not as a centre piece. I remember bits of cauliflower popping up in mixed vegetable side dishes or sometimes in curries, but never as the main feature.
But for a twist, we’re going to bring cauliflower to the fore today with some lemongrass chilli cauliflower.
Lemongrass and chilli are two key ingredients which really embody the soul of Southeast Asian cooking. One simple yet delicious dish that features this combo of fresh, fragrant lemongrass and spicy chilli is Vietnamese lemongrass chilli chicken.
However, for this recipe we’re going replace the chicken with cauliflower, and accentuate its sweet and savoury elements by roasting it first then giving it a final high-heat blast in the wok with the aromatics. This allows you to get lots of nice charred accents to the cauliflower and concentrate its natural sweetness while reducing the risk of burning the more delicate ingredients to hell…
A lot of Vietnamese recipes call for sugar to add sweetness, but here I’m using coconut water for a hint of natural sweetness and moisture, and adding a bit of ginger for some extra spice. You’re looking for a good balance of savoury, spicy and sweet. Coconut water is more readily available these days, although that does tend to be as more expensive “healthy” type drinks, but if you can’t get coconut water, go ahead and use some stock instead – just be mindful you might be adding extra salt, so use a bit less fish sauce, and add a pinch of sugar. Roasting the cauliflower will coax out some of its sweetness out as well, but you can always adjust to your taste at the end of cooking.
For some variety, I’ve topped the cauliflower with some spring onion oil – very simply spring onions cooked gently in oil till they turn soft and sweet, in turn imparting their fragrance into the oil.
You can make extra and top anything you like with it – noodles, rice, grilled meat, anything that needs a boost of rich onion-yness! If you’re not sure about the onion oil, you can simply top the finished cauliflower with fresh chopped spring onion, which will add a nice freshness but more of a bite.
Lemongrass Chilli Cauliflower – here’s the recipe!