Cauliflower: My Gateway Food

Tasting something new changed from chore to opportunity

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After subsisting almost entirely on white bread, SpaghettiOs, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, and overcooked meat throughout my childhood, I painstakingly expanded my diet as I moved through my adolescence and into my twenties. But if I wanted a treat, the choice was always sweets or chips, cookies or cakes.

Then I met cauliflower.

I was waitressing while looking for acting work in New York City. The restaurant work was plentiful; the theatre work, not so much — but let’s not get into that.

I settled into work at a pub not far from where I lived. I liked the food, which was unadventurous fare like burgers and simple salads. They featured a chowder of the day, a fish of the day, and a deep-fried veggie of the day. I don’t remember any of the other veggies, but after some reluctance, I tried the cauliflower.

Perhaps it was the deep-frying that eased me in. But it became one of my very favorite things to eat. And the fact that I could be so crazy about a vegetable made me much more eager to explore new tastes. I didn’t see trying new food as such a chore anymore. It was more of an opportunity.

Cauliflower with a kick
That’s why when I first read through “The Fonio Cookbook,” by Pierre Thiam, the Fonio & Roasted Cauliflower Pilaf was one of the first recipes I flagged. I made it yesterday. It’s yummy, and the aroma lingers and is divine.

The recipe uses both curry and garam masala. I am an old hand with curry, but garam masala was new to me. (If you had told my mother when I was a kid that I would be not just eating but cooking with either of those spices she would have checked her hearing.)

I also used nuts in a recipe for the first time. I always thought they were strictly snacks or could be mixed into baked goods (and I would avoid them for the most part). Then I went to a restaurant and tried branzino with crushed peanuts. So good. But I had yet to use nuts in my own cooking. I finally took the plunge.

The cauliflower is a snap to prepare, just season the florets and roast. While they cooked, I prepared the rest of the ingredients, and all was ready by the time the florets were done. I had made the fonio the day before, so I just took it out of the fridge to get it to room temp and folded it in without heating. Note: I didn’t have any curry leaves, so I made this without. Otherwise, all ingredients on hand.

I halved the recipe, but still had plenty of leftovers. It served as a great vegetarian main course on the first day; the day after I served it as a side dish with chicken. A quick zap in the microwave and it was as good as freshly made.

Fonio carries the blend of flavors really well. It never overpowers with either taste or texture, so it’s a wonderful vehicle for whatever you pair it with. I’ll make this again — and will follow the recipe for the cauliflower alone as well. And it’s not even deep-fried.

Below is a picture of my version of the dish; the beauty shot at top is from “The Fonio Cookbook.” Keep scrolling for the recipe.

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Fonio & Roasted Cauliflower Pilaf

Click here to print recipe

1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), broken into florets
2 tablespoons medium-hot curry powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled 2-inch piece ginger, grated
2 tablespoons garam masala
3 curry leaves
4 cups cooked fonio
1 teaspoon salt
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1⁄2 cup roasted cashew nuts, chopped


Heat the oven to 400 ̊F.

1. In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with the curry powder and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender. Remove from the oven and set aside.

2. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until golden. Add the garlic, ginger, and garam masala and cook for 5 minutes more, until fragrant. Add the curry leaves. Fold in the cooked fonio. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.

3. Gently stir in the roasted cauliflower, cilantro, lemon zest, and cashews. Cover and set aside to keep warm, or allow it to cool to room temperature.

Reprinted From The Fonio Cookbook, by Pierre Thiam, Lake Isle Press, 2019

Note: Fonio is available at select grocers including Whole Foods nationwide. You can order Yolélé Fonio through Amazon.

Originally published at on June 9, 2020.

Written by

Dara O’Brien is the Creative Director of Lake Isle Press. When she isn’t cooking or writing about cookbooks, she writes plays and sometimes acts in them.

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