A spicy Indian way of using florets | Ken-ichi Ueda

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Human beings are very prone to taking the easy way of doing just about anything. So are wild animals — saving the energy and time inverted in any task is a most natural way of ensuring that humans and animals can handle other chores that have to be faced — be they in the home or in the jungle.

So we end up going to the same supermarket for the daily shop, dropping in at the same bar for a coffee or a caña, visiting the same restaurant for a menu del día, calling in at the nearest bakery for bread and croissants and popping into the nearest fruit and veg shop when we need a couple of onions.

That kind of routine can be beneficial in that we get to know our suppliers and they become aware of our likes and dislikes — which makes daily business transactions easier and more pleasant.

But by limiting the number of outlets we visit we miss out in many ways — especially in any special offers or, simply, prices of certain goods that are much lower in one place than in others.

Between my home and the office I pass no less than six supermarkets, five fruit and veg places and five bakeries — and I shop at all of them from time to time. At the supermarket nearest my front door, I may drop in for only a six-litre ‘garrafa’ of water, but while I’m there I also have a quick look at any special offers — and I frequently find some.

One large shop in Calle Blanquerna is a three-in-one outlet: a fruit and veg place, a cheese and charcuterie counter and a butcher, all with different owners.

The fruit and veg man has the street door area and he makes the most of it by displaying his best fruit and veg buys so that passers-by can see them. This week he has had superb looking cauliflower at €1 a head, and they are being quickly snapped up.

These bargain-basement cauliflowers are of medium size, have tight florets that are white and firm and ribs with plenty of green leaf that are ideal for using in soups, bean potajes and sopes mallorquines.

Amateur cooks are inclined to overcook most vegetables

Part of the beauty of this deal for the shop owner is that customers have to go inside to pay for the cauliflower — and they are also attracted to other good buys.

It’s not surprising the bargain-priced cauliflower is so successful: Mallorcans are very fond of it and it’s a popular ingredient in local dishes.

Mallorcan cooks handle cauliflower nicely, but many professionals and amateurs make one big mistake with this veggie: they overcook it, sometimes to the nth degree.

Amateur cooks are inclined to overcook most vegetables because they dislike anything that’s al dente. In some cases, cookbooks give cooking times that are far too long for many ingredients, especially veggies and fish.

Some restaurant cooks keep parboiled cauliflower warm until it is needed, so it is sometimes served overdone, water laden and of an unappetising grey colour.

Mallorcan and mainland cooks do the same and serve them as a tapa.

Creative cooks sometimes go to the other extreme: florets are submerged in boiling water or stock for 30 seconds before being served. What you get is a warm raw vegetable instead of one that has been cooked al dente.

Florets can be cooked for as little as two minutes, depending on size. You should try to break the cauliflower into florets of roughly the same size so they can cook at an even rate, otherwise some will be al dente, others overdone and some uncooked.

Once you have a mound of raw or parboiled florets, all kinds of dishes can be made with them. An Italian way is so basic you’re unlikely to find it in any cookbook. Poach medium-sized florets in boiling water for 90 seconds and drain well. Peel six plump garlic cloves and slice lengthways, about five slices per clove.

Heat 2-4 tbsps of virgen extra olive oil in a frying pan large enough to take the florets in a single layer. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the florets and sauté over a high heat.

This week he has had superb looking cauliflower at €1 a head

When they start to get slightly scorched in places, add the garlic slices and stir-fry until golden and crisp. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Some Italian cooks do this dish with raw florets, and they are especially tasty this way but they should be started off at a lower heat and with four tablespoons of oil rather than two.

Italian cooks dip slightly poached florets in batter and deep-fry them as part of a fritto misto. Mallorcan and mainland cooks do the same and serve them as a tapa. You can also dip the tenderest leaves into batter and fry them separately.

The florets and leaves should be taken to the table with no embellishment of any kind, not even a squeeze of lemon juice.

You can make a colourful warm salad with florets that will brighten up a dull winter’s day. Poach the florets in water acidulated with lemon juice to keep them white.

Drain the florets well and add roughly chopped imported Italian mortadella, chopped green olives, Mallorcan black panssides olives and roughly chopped parsley.

Stir in a vinaigrette made with six parts virgen extra olive oil to one part white wine vinegar and the herbs of your choice. The dressing is even better without the vinegar.

Couliflower

For a superb contrast of textures, and a dish of sheer simplicity, try florets with slivers of almonds. Sauté three heaped tablespoons of slivered almonds in plenty of butter until nicely golden. Stir in al dente poached florets and when the cauliflower is hot and has soaked up some of the butter, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve on its own as a starter.

There is no need to slice the almonds. Slivered almonds are widely available at supermarkets and the dried fruit stalls at the Mercat d’Olivar and the Santa Catalina market. They keep well in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Another simple starter is made by melting 4 tbsps of butter in a frying pan and gently sautéing 6 heaped tbsps of fresh breadcrumbs until they are golden and crisp.

Stir in 2 tbsps each of finely chopped cooked ham and hard-boiled egg, and one of parsley. Season to taste and mix in poached florets over a medium heat until they are hot.

A spicy Indian way of using florets makes a tasty starter or a dish for a more elaborate Indian meal.

You will need: 200 mls boiling water, 3 tbsps desiccated coconut, 1 medium cauliflower, 1 finely chopped onion, 4 tbsps virgen extra olive oil, 1 level tsp turmeric (cúrcuma, in Spanish), 1 finely chopped garlic clove, 1 level tsp ground ginger, chilli powder and salt to taste.

Put the coconut in a bowl, pour over the boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Strain the milk through a sieve, pressing on the coconut flesh with a spoon to extract as much milk as possible. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and dice the stalks. Finely chop any green leaves.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and gently sauté the onion until transparent. Stir in the garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Add the turmeric, ginger and chilli powder and salt to taste and sauté for another two minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the florets, stalks and leaves and sauté for four minutes, then pour in the coconut milk and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the oil floats, the flavours have mingled and the florets are tender.

Transfer to a hot serving dish and sprinkle lightly with some fresh desiccated coconut. Serve it with plain basmati rice, a banana raita and Indian pickles to make a tasty vegetarian main course.