Ideally you want to brine your cauliflower overnight, but even a couple of hours in brine will work wonders. Look for a small cauliflower and trim only a couple of the outside leaves as you want as many as possible to help protect the cauliflower while it cooks – plus the leaves make great eating. My Indian spice mix is a personal favorite, but you can choose any spices you like. You’ll find many varieties in Asian grocery stores. Try using different yoghurts, too. I love buffalo milk yoghurt for its light texture, and coconut yoghurt works very well if you have dairy allergies. If this is the case you can also replace the clarified butter with olive oil. Additions of sliced fresh chile to add heat and mint for a menthol hit are great twists. — Mike McEnearney, author of Real Food by Mike
Medicinal benefit: Gut, heart
Cauliflower is full of phytochemical (and other) compounds that can work to inhibit cancer cell growth. A 3 1⁄2-ounce serving of cauliflower gives 80 percent of the daily recommended intake of vitamin C, a proven agent in the fight against harmful free radicals and infections. Cauliflower also contains good amounts of various B-complex vitamins and vitamin K, all required for fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism. The Indian spices have essential oils that activate both the salivary glands, to aid with digestion, and the glands that secrete bile in the stomach and intestine. Antioxidant essential oils in spices have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-stress effects. They’re also anticoagulant (i.e., they prevent blood clotting) and carminative, which means they relieve intestinal gas, thereby improving digestion and appetite.
Place the cauliflower in a non-reactive, snug-fitting container with a lid. Pour over the brine to fully submerge the cauliflower and leave in the refrigerator overnight. The next day remove the cauliflower from the brine and pat it dry.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F). Line a heavy-based roasting tin with baking paper.
Place the cauliflower in the tin, cut side down, so it sits upright. Pour the tea from the raisins over the cauliflower so it hydrates the vegetable and forms a puddle in the tin.
Melt the clarified butter in a frying pan over medium heat. When it starts to warm up, add the fennel seeds, cumin seeds, and mustard seeds. Cook for 1 minute until the seeds start to pop in the pan and become aromatic. Brush the clarified butter and seed mixture over the cauliflower and then dust it with the Indian spice mix. Cover the tin with aluminum foil and place it in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, undisturbed. Remove the foil and baste the cauliflower with the clarified butter and tea liquid sitting in the bottom of the tin. Bake for another 30 minutes, basting regularly with the clarified butter-spice mix.
After the cauliflower has been cooking for 1 hour, insert a skewer or knife into the base. If it’s tender, remove it from the oven and rest it in the tin for 15 minutes. If it’s not tender, cook it for a few more minutes and check again.
Squeeze the lime juice into the baking tin to mingle with the pan juices and create a lovely dressing.
Serve a wedge of the cauliflower, like a piece of cake, with a few spoonfuls of the pan juice vinaigrette, a dollop of yogurt dressing, the tea-soaked raisins and a drizzle of curry oil. Scatter the fresh coriander leaves over to finish.
For the yogurt dressing, fold the ginger, garlic, mint, and a pinch of salt through the yogurt.
For the raisins in tea, brew the tea leaves in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain the tea over the raisins in a bowl and allow them to swell for 30 minutes before using. (They keep well in the refrigerator until needed. Any type of tea works well, depending on your taste and what you’re using the raisins for.)
For the saltwater brine, combine the salt and water, stirring to fully dissolve the salt.
Place the butter in a heavy-based pan over medium heat. Bring to the boil and whisk the butter as it melts. Once it has simmered for 1 minute, remove the pan from the heat and leave to settle in a warm place for 2 hours so the fat solids separate from the milk solids. It can’t be left at room temperature as the butter will set. An ideal place would be in an airing cupboard, or in an oven set on the lowest temperature (50 degrees C/120 degrees F). Strain the melted butter through muslin (cheesecloth), leaving the white milk solids behind. Store the clear yellow liquid in the refrigerator until needed. Discard the milk solids.
Warm a small frying pan over medium heat and add all the ingredients except the turmeric. Swirl the pan to keep the spices constantly moving and toast them for about 2 minutes, until they are aromatic and a light golden brown. Grind the whole spices in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle. Once ground, stir in the turmeric.
Warm all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until they reach 80 degrees C (176 degrees F), using a thermometer to check the temperature. Remove from the heat and allow the oil to infuse overnight. The next day, strain through muslin (cheesecloth) into a bowl and you’ll be left with a very aromatic, brightly colored oil.
Recipes excerpted with permission from Real Food by Mike by Mike McEnearney (Hardie Grant Books, August 2017)