This recipe is all about layering flavors, colors, and textures to create a gorgeous vegetarian showpiece. The cauliflower, smoked whole, is a vegetable that truly shines with a good lick of dairy, be that cream, cheese, or the soy sauce and butter combo used here. You can of course replace the dairy butter with a plant-based alternative to make it vegan. Simply add a bowlful of steamed rice for a sharing main course for two or serve it as a side dish for a crowd.
Cauliflower: Boiled then Smoked
Cauliflower is a super dense vegetable that takes, perhaps surprisingly, a long time to cook, especially when kept whole. This recipe leans on parboiling the cauliflower to help jumpstart the cooking.
Simply bring a big pot of lightly salted water to a boil and plunge the cauliflower in for 5 minutes or so before draining and carrying on with the recipe. This cuts down the time on the grill and makes the surface more permeable for soaking up smoke and the flavors of the marinade.
Take Your Time with the Shallots
For the satay sauce, I use echalion shallots (aka banana shallots)—as their name suggests, they are long in shape. They are larger and less fiddly to peel and finely dice, but any regular shallot would work just fine. Regardless of what sort you use, cook them super slowly over low heat to release all those natural sugars and intensify its flavors. It should take you about 15 minutes.
Yellow Fingers are Worth It
Do use fresh turmeric root if you can get hold of it. It looks a little like skinny ginger root, but it’s vibrant yellow inside. Fresh turmeric is way zingier and more citrusy in flavor than ground turmeric. Can’t find fresh turmeric? Use ground!
A word of warning: Your fingers will turn yellow when you grate them, so do wear gloves if that will bother you. I wear my yellow fingers as a badge of pride, a celebration that I managed to track down this sometimes-elusive ingredient.
How to Set Up Grill for Indirect Heat
The cauliflower is slowly cooked over indirect heat, meaning the fierce fire should not be right below it. Here is how to set up your grill for indirect grilling:
- For a charcoal grill: Light the coals on fire and place them on one half of the grill.
- For a gas grill: Only light half of the burners, keeping the other side off.
Away from the lit coals or above the burners kept off, you’ll get indirect heat. That’s where you will place the cauliflower.
How to Set Up Grill for Smoking
In this recipe, the cauliflower is smoked. Charcoal doesn’t produce smoke so you’ll need to add smoking wood. For my charcoal grill, I pop one or two fist-sized lumps of wood chunks on top of the lit coals before shutting the grill lid. On a gas grill, you can just rest a chunk of wood over each lit burner. If it smothers and falls off the burners, just add another one.
The Best Wood for Smoking
I don’t worry about the species of wood I use to smoke when there’s already a lot of flavor going on, like in this recipe. Oak, apple, cherry, or hickory are all great options. I always advise fist-sized chunks of wood placed on the lit coals or burners rather than small wood chips, which burn too fast.
Plan Ahead for Hands-Off Smoking
This is a great recipe to prep up to 24 hours ahead and keep chilled until you are ready to grill. To plan ahead:
- Make the spiced soy butter
- Chop the cauliflower leaves and base stem, and drizzle in the sesame oil
- Parboil and drain the cauliflower
- Make the satay sauce, and warm it through again before drizzling it on the smoked cauliflower
Then, it’s just a question of firing up the grill and sitting back while it slowly smokes. Hands-off barbecue at its best!
How to Serve the Whole Cauliflower
I grill the cauliflower in a sturdy roasting tin, which I walk straight to the table for serving. No need to transfer it into a separate serving platter. The cauliflower will be soft and tender enough to scoop with a large spoon for serving.
Highlight Grilled Vegetables
- Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Tahini Sauce
- Grilled English Peas
- Grilled Mexican Street Corn (Elote)
- Grilled Cabbage with Peanut Sauce
- Grilled Caprese-Stuffed Zucchini Boats
Smoked Whole Cauliflower with Spiced Soy Butter and Satay Sauce
This recipe can serve 2 as a vegetarian main course or up to 6 as a side dish.
- 1 large cauliflower
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For the spiced soy butter
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
- 9 tablespoons (125g) butter, melted
- 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- 2-inch piece fresh turmeric, grated, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- For the satay sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 4 shallots, finely chopped
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
- 1 stalk lemongrass, very finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 cup (250 milliliters) full-fat coconut milk
- 3/4 cup (180 milliliters) water
- 3/4 cup (200g) peanut butter, any kind
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- For garnish
- 1 fresh red chili pepper (any kind), finely sliced
- 4 scallions, finely chopped
- A loose handful fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
Fire up the grill for indirect grilling:
For a charcoal grill, push the lit coals onto one side. You will be cooking over the side without any coals.
For a gas grill, turn one burner on to high heat. You’ll be grilling over the burners that are kept off.
Boil the cauliflower:
While the grill is firing up, fill a large pot with water and 1 tablespoon salt and set it over high heat on the stovetop. Bring it up to a boil.
Meanwhile, set the cauliflower on a cutting board and trim the leaves and bottom stems only. The cauliflower should stay whole; don’t cut them into florets.
Chop only the trimmed leaves and bottom stem into bite-sized pieces. Tip them into a medium bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Set it aside.
Carefully lower the whole cauliflower into the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. Drain well into a colander set in the sink and place it on a sturdy roasting pan or all-metal round skillet—it should have no plastic or wooden parts—and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil over it and season with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.
Add the wood for smoking:
For a charcoal grill, add a couple lumps of wood chunks (any kind, like oak, apple, cherry, or hickory) on top of the fire.
For a gas grill, rest a couple lumps of wood chunks directly on the lit burners so that it catches on fire and smolders as the cauliflower cooks. If it burns through and falls off the burners, just add more.
The smoke from the wood chunks will come, no need to wait for it before placing the cauliflower on the grill.
Smoke the cauliflower:
Set the roasting pan on the grill bars away from the fire and shut the lid to trap in the smoke and create an oven like heat. The grill should be at 275°F to 300°F as the cauliflower roasts. You may need to adjust the vents on your grill to maintain this temperature.
Roast the cauliflower for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours, rotating the pan once or twice to make sure it cooks evenly, until it’s tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife.
Toast and crush the coriander seeds and black peppercorns:
In a small skillet set over medium heat on the stove top. Add the coriander seeds and black peppercorns. Toast, stirring frequently, until they turn a light golden brown and are fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Use a mortar and pestle to pound the coriander seeds and black peppercorns until no longer whole but still a little coarse. You can use a spice grinder to do this. Transfer them into a medium bowl to make the spiced soy butter.
Make the spiced soy butter:
To the medium bowl with the ground coriander seeds and black pepper, stir in the melted butter, garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, and turmeric. Set it aside—it’s fine if the butter solidifies.
Make the satay sauce:
Set a small skillet over low heat on the stove top. Add the sesame oil, shallots, ginger, lemongrass, and salt. Use a little less salt if your peanut butter is salty. Cook for a generous 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are soft and lightly caramelized.
Stir in the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, water, peanut butter, soy sauce, and black pepper. Increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until you have a creamy sauce. Keep covered off the heat until you are ready to serve.
Cook the cauliflower with the soy butter:
Pile the spiced soy butter on top of the smoked cauliflower. It’ll melt and drizzle down the sides of the cauliflower. Scatter the sesame oil-coated chopped leaves and stem in the pan around the cauliflower. Slide the pan over the lit coals or burners so it cooks with more direct heat.
Shut the lid and roast for 15 to 20 minutes, until the chopped leaves and stem are tender.
I serve the cauliflower straight from the pan it cooked in. Drizzle a bit of the warm satay sauce over the cauliflower and add the rest to a small serving bowl for guests to help themselves. Scatter the chilis, scallions, and cilantro on top, and tuck in the lime wedges for guests to squeeze on top of the cauliflower. The cauliflower should be tender enough to scoop with a spoon.
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