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When our family — a vegan, vegetarian and several omnivores — gathers for dinner, whole roasted cauliflower is my back-pocket dish.

Delicious and visually stunning, it's a sure-fire hit as a main course and side, and dramatic when carved at the table like roast chicken or beef. It can be made French, Italian, Indian or Middle Eastern, depending on the seasonings. It does need some time in the oven, but requires very little effort; once it's roasting, I'm off to do other things.

A head of cauliflower behaves very much like meat as it cooks. The rough outer surface grabs a range of flavors — fresh herbs, lemon or lime juice, hot chiles and warm spices. It can be marinated first or dry-rubbed, then basted and browned while the interior turns tender and silky. Try using pale orange, green or purple varieties of cauliflower as well as Romanesco, its small, funky cousin. Leave a few of the green leaves that hug the base — they'll turn dark and fingerpicking crisp.

Many roasted whole cauliflower recipes call for blanching the head in rapidly boiling water, then drying before cooking. But to minimize time, effort and mess, I just roast it in a low-sided baking dish with a little water, wine or stock on the bottom and wrap the head tightly with foil; this way it steams as it roasts. Once it's tender, the foil is removed and the cauliflower becomes toasty and browned.

It's terrific on its own drizzled with lemon juice or vinegar and even better with a side sauce — spicy salsa, herbed pesto, red pepper purée, garlicky tahini — to add color and tang. When it comes to family dinner, this is a dish everyone can agree on. A modern classic.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Garlicky Tahini Sauce

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side.

Note: You'll end up with more sauce than you need. Keep the extra in a covered container in the refrigerator and use it for a dip or sandwich spread. It will keep for at least a week. From Beth Dooley.

For the cauliflower:

• 1 large cauliflower, about 2 lb.

• Olive oil

• Coarse salt

• 1/4 c. wine, broth or water

For the Garlicky Tahini Sauce:

• 4 cloves garlic

• 1/4 c. tahini

• 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice

• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

• 1/4 c. water

• 1/4 tsp. salt, or to taste

• Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 1 generous tbsp. coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley


To roast the cauliflower: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Break off and discard most, but not all, of the outer leaves from the cauliflower. Cut off the bottom of the stem and then, using the tip of a small sharp knife, cut into and remove some of the core near the bottom, leaving the main stem intact and being careful not to cut through any florets.

Rinse the cauliflower under cold water, leaving the water that clings to the outside, and place into a heavy skillet or a low-sided baking dish, core side down. Drizzle the cauliflower with plenty of oil, using your hands to rub it all over the head until it's evenly coated. Sprinkle with the coarse salt. Add wine, stock or water to the dish and tightly wrap the dish with aluminum foil.

Place cauliflower in the oven and roast until it's very tender and can be pierced all the way through with a sharp knife, at least 1 hour or up to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the head. Remove the cauliflower from the oven, and take off and discard the foil. Baste the cauliflower with more olive oil and return to the oven to brown, about 5 to 10 minutes.

To make the sauce: In a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade, purée the garlic with the tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, water, salt and pepper until smooth. If the sauce appears too thick, add a little more water and scrape it into a bowl. Stir in the parsley and serve alongside the cauliflower.

Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at