Cauliflower consumption is in a steep decline, but it's hardly evident on Seattle menus. There's cauliflower soup at Altura, brown-butter cauliflower at Terra Plata, fried cauliflower at Purple Café and Wine Bar, and cauliflower purée on the roasted-chicken plate at Staple & Fancy. Cauliflower, which never merits a mention on trendy-vegetable lists, is suddenly white-hot in Seattle.
Locavorism is party responsible for the trend, since fresh, regionally grown cauliflower is available nearly year-round. But the affection for cauliflower may also be rooted in empathy. "It's a totally misunderstood vegetable," says Dana Wooten, Book Larder's culinary director. "There's a lot you can do with cauliflower." This past Saturday, Wooten handled the kitchen portion of a collaborative workshop with The Yoga Tree, in which attendees learned poses and recipes designed to make winter more bearable. Wooten's menu included roasted cauliflower.
"It's hearty and nourishing, but not fatty," Wooten says. "Most people's experience with cauliflower is that it's been steamed, which is fine, but kind of gross; it's raw and inedible, or it's covered in cheese sauce."
Cauliflower fans have long complained that the vegetable's potential has been undermined by sloppy cooking. In 1891, Arthur Crozier urged readers of The Cauliflower to pay special attention to his chapter on boiling cauliflower in porcelain pots. "One reason why there is such a limited demand for this vegetable in this country is that so few here know how to cook it," he wrote.
In 1986, when cauliflower was commonly served with dip and nutrition-minded eaters didn't limit their diets to dark, leafy greens, annual per capita consumption in the U.S. peaked at 3.1 pounds. By 2009, however, the number had fallen to 1.9 pounds.
The situation's even graver over in England, where cauliflower was once a favorite vegetable: Consumption has dropped 35 percent over the past decade, inspiring supermarket chain Tesco to cross cauliflowers with other vegetables to provoke shopper interest. Its pink, green, and orange cauliflowers went on sale last summer.