The Cauliflower Dish 100+ People Order Every Night (& How to Make It at Home!)

March 23, 2018

I’m just going to put this one out there: I have a feeling we could all stand to shake up our roasted vegetable game this time of year, am I right? We’ve only just crossed the threshold into spring, but a quick look outside will tell you real spring is still a ways off. Farmers markets are still featuring the hard-working root and cruciferous gang (God bless ’em), with only the sturdiest, leafy greens showing their faces. We’re in a bit of a seasonal holding pattern here, and I’m accepting all forms of inspiration to keep me going until the stands really start to hit their stride.

Enter one magical, beautiful whole roasted cauliflower.

I first started seeing this showstopping cauliflower pop up on my Instagram feed last year, after acclaimed chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten opened his long-awaited vegetarian restaurant, ABCV, here in New York. The menu puts every farm-fresh ingredient on a pedestal, dressing them up and honoring them in a way that gets you really excited about vegetables. Chef de cuisine Neal Harden has done just this with ABCV's whole roasted cauliflower, a truly glorious entrée showered with a host of bright, jazzy accoutrements like pickled red onion, chile, pistachios, and pomegranate seeds, served with a creamy, turmeric-inflected tahini sauce. Since I enjoyed Alon Shaya’s popular whole roasted cauliflower so much, I knew I had to try ABCV’s, too.

Behold! Photo by Rocky Luten

Wow, right? “This dish is very popular, as you can imagine,” chef Harden tells me. So popular, in fact, that the restaurant sells upwards of 100 orders per day. “I can barely find the space to put them all.”

Read on for the rest of my interview with chef Harden, and get ready to give your florets a break by re-creating this stunner at home. Fair warning: This recipe is a doozy, but don’t let that intimidate you! (It’s worth it.) Many of these components will yield more than is necessary for the recipe, and chef Harden would encourage you to go ahead and make those sturdy pickled pearl onions and dehydrated Kalamata olives to enjoy long after you’ve made this dish. Be sure to let us know how it goes.

Weekend project, anyone? Photo by Rocky Luten

HANA ASBRINK: Tell us what inspired this dish. Had you tried Israeli star chef Eyal Shani’s signature whole roasted cauliflower before?

CHEF NEAL HARDEN: The inspiration was just the desire to have a kind of centerpiece, something that a table can really saw into and divide up, like a roast. It’s a clear display of hearty abundance and a fun thing to tear apart and eat. I’ve never tasted Eyal Shani’s cauliflower, but as an aesthetic object, I think it has influenced everyone.

HA: Are there any components of the dish that you’ve modified to make it easier to make for the home cook?

NH: At the restaurant, we use specialized ovens, such as a combination oven (half steam, half heat) to start it, and we finish it in a wood oven for a smoky char. I definitely had to simplify that, but otherwise I mostly kept it the same. It has a pretty gratuitous list of garnishes, and I suspect many may choose to leave a couple out with little loss of deliciousness.

HA: What do you love most about this dish? Do you ever change it up for the season (or would customers have your head!)?

NH: We have not changed it yet due to overwhelming popularity. We have some guests that eat the cauliflower a few times a week. That being said, at some point I will assuredly give it a makeover. I love how elemental whole, wood-roasted vegetables are. It feels primal and modern at the same time, like we’re feeding plant-based cave people.

HA: How do you like to eat your cauliflower at home?

NH: I don’t get to eat much at home, so the last thing I ate with cauliflower at home was a pasta my wife made with soft-cooked cauliflower, capers, and tons of lemon and parsley. At work, I sometimes purée the slightly overcooked and smoky cauliflower with olive oil to dip pita in, almost like a cauliflower baba ghanoush. It’s delicious. [Editor’s note: Trying this immediately!]

HA: What are you most looking forward to this spring?

NH: All of the peas. I love peas. That, and the locally foraged things like taranome shoots, nettles, and fresh bamboo. And fresh anise hyssop.

HA: We love ABCV for putting vegetables front and center. What are some easy ways for a home cook to do this, for example, reimagining cauliflower as a main “roast”?

NH: Whole roasted vegetables are a pleasure and always a great way to do that. Sandwiches, too, which aren’t thought of as often. Layers of peppers, beets, onions, fennel, and herbs with great olive oil and mustard, or a tapenade on sourdough—that makes a great and surprising deli sandwich.

Have you ever roasted a cauliflower whole? Tell us about it below!

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Written by: Hana Asbrink

Hana is the senior lifestyle editor at Food52.


Elizabeth B. May 7, 2018
This was amazing! I did make it just for a weeknight, nonspecial dinner (so no pressure). Made all the garnishes except the onions, but will mix up a batch and make it all again this weekend for mother's day. SO MUCH FUN! And delicious! It didn't seem like too much work because there were so many different kinds of tasks.
Author Comment
Hana A. May 8, 2018
Wow, a weeknight meal! Seriously impressed. I hope all the moms in your life enjoy this cauliflower. More importantly, so happy to hear you had FUN getting this together (you're so right, it is all about checking off all the little components)! Thanks for your support, Elizabeth. :)
FrugalCat March 27, 2018
All the garnishes and sauces are too much for this home cook. I just served it with jarred condiments. The cauliflower itself was great. A restaurant near me just opened which is charging $14 for a roasted cauliflower.
Author Comment
Hana A. May 8, 2018
Hi FrugalCat - so happy to hear you adapted this recipe to fit your needs and palate! Glad you can save some good $ in the process, too. ;)
Ttrockwood March 24, 2018
I LOVE whole roasted cauliflower and have made it many times, it makes for a delicious dramatic veg dish. I follow a method where the cauliflower is boiled whole for just 5-8 minutes , then drain carefully and pat dry. Rub with generous salt and olive oil and then roast at a high heat for about half an hour. Usually i make a chimmichuri sauce to dribble over it which is gorgeous and adds that fresh herb flavor. Also great with a thin romesco sauce.

Honestly this recipe is kind of insane for a home cook, the prep of various garnishes would take a really long time and just the cost of the various ingredients is going to add up quickly
Author Comment
Hana A. March 25, 2018
Hi Ttrockwood! Love the idea of both chimichurri and romesco sauces for this, so delicious. I totally agree with you that this cauliflower recipe is a project (worthy of an occasion!). Even chef Harden acknowledges many home cooks might skip some of the garnishes, without impacting losing out on the deliciousness too much. You can tackle it at whatever level you're comfortable with. :) Thanks again for your comment, really love both of your weeknight-friendly sauce ideas.