We rarely appreciate cauliflower for what it is. We grill slabs of it and pretend it’s steak. We mash it like potatoes. We even transform it into pizza crusts.
But I had to travel to Tel Aviv to discover how good it can be—naturally sweet and savory, at once meaty and light—when we finally stop fussing so much with it.
My unexpected lesson in minimalism was learned at Abraxas North, the flagship restaurant of Eyal Shani, an Israeli chef for whom simplicity itself is a seasoning. The reputation of his cauliflower alone got me in the door. In what world is cauliflower a signature dish?
Sitting at the bar overlooking the open kitchen of Shani’s airy, funky eatery in the heart of the city, a techno beat pumping, I realized the minimalism didn’t stop at the food. There were no plates. Food arrived on sheets of crumpled white parchment.
When the cauliflower arrived, it defied every expectation. To start, it was whole. Even the leaves were intact. And it was entirely unadorned—no sauces or complex seasonings.
Its crown was blistered but not burnt. Flakes of coarse salt dotted the parchment. When I touched the cauliflower with my fork, it cleaved easily into tender morsels. The flavor was sweet and savory, a little briny. The texture was velvety yet crunchy.
It was a picture of contrasts and simplicity and needed nothing. Paired with a crisp Israeli white wine, it made a meal. A head of cauliflower as a meal: a delicious absurdity.
Turns out, Shani’s cauliflower is cooked as simply as it is served. A whole head, leaves and all, is plunged into salted boiling water. Just as it begins to become tender, it comes out. And there it sits, cooking in the residual heat, steaming itself dry. Once dry, the head is rubbed with oil, sprinkled with salt, then roasted. Nothing more.
Most cauliflower recipes never season beyond the surface. But Shani’s saltwater poaching delivers flavor to the very core of the head. It matters. Furthermore, the two-step poach-then-roast cooking ensures a deeply satisfying contrast of textures.
At Milk Street, we stayed true to Shani’s simple method. We found that a 2-pound head of cauliflower worked best. With larger heads, the exterior overcooked before the interior was tender. To serve more people, it’s better to cook multiple heads of cauliflower than to use a single larger one. They should be blanched separately, but can be roasted at the same time on one baking sheet.
We found that a full ½ cup of kosher salt was needed to properly season the cauliflower as it poached.
delicious without seasonings beyond salt and pepper, we also liked it drizzled with a bit of tahini or basbaas, a cilantro-yogurt hot sauce from Somalia with a fair amount of heat.