No wonder cauliflower has charmed so many cooks. This malleable vegetable can mimic meat and potatoes.
That kitchen magic act works wonders for anyone resolved to consume less calories, fat and starch this new year. Cauliflower lets you eat healthier without feeling deprived. This familiar vegetable could be the secret to a successful diet. (Just skip the cheese sauce.)
Cutting out gluten? Cauliflower can become a pizza crust, too.
Whirred in the blender, cauliflower becomes a creamy, flavorful purée – like creamy polenta without the calories. Boiled or steamed and mashed, cauliflower can be a low-carb substitute for potatoes with the same satisfying mouthfeel but a small fraction of the starch or fat.
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Covered with compact and curly “curds,” the large heads can be treated like chicken or beef; they can be grilled, broiled or cut into steaks and barbecued. Braised and seasoned, the florets become meaty taco or burrito filling. Topped with cheese and tomato sauce, they offer another twist on vegetarian parmigiana or lasagna.
Can kale do that?
Many American home cooks know cauliflower as something bland, best smothered in cheddar or Hollandaise sauce. Or they see it as broccoli’s pale cousin on the fresh veggie tray, destined only to be dipped in ranch dressing.
With more interest in gluten-free foods, cauliflower’s culinary diversity has trend forecasters proclaiming it as a vegetable on the verge. Expect to see it in many more packaged food items as well as on restaurant menus.
Meanwhile, start enjoying more cauliflower at home especially during winter months when it’s at its peak of availability. A cool weather vegetable, cauliflower tends to turn bitter as temperatures rise. Most California cauliflower is grown in temperate coastal regions such as the Salinas Valley. As the cauliflower develops, its leaves are wrapped around the head to protect it from sunburn. (That also keeps the head creamy white.)
One cauliflower goes a long way. A typical head contains about 8 cups of florets and 200 calories – that’s fewer calories than 1 cup of mashed potatoes.
Part of cauliflower’s kitchen attraction is its ability to soak up other flavors. That makes cauliflower a delicious chameleon, comfortable in many different cuisines. Like potatoes, it adds satisfying substance to curries, stir-fries and stews, turning “just vegetables” into a main course or whole meal.
Roasted alongside meat or poultry, cauliflower soaks up juices and makes a tasty side dish. Cut cauliflower into 2-inch pieces. Lightly toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Then add cauliflower to the roasting pan for the final 40 minutes in the oven. (Or roast cauliflower alone for 40 minutes at 350 degrees.) Cauliflower heads may also be roasted whole.
Mashed cauliflower is an easy substitute for mashed potatoes – in a fraction of the time. Clean and cut cauliflower into separate florets and 1-inch squares. Boil or steam until fork tender (about 10 minutes or less). Pat dry the cooked cauliflower between sheets of paper towel to remove excess water. Return cauliflower to the cooking pot and mash. Finish just like mashed potatoes, adding milk, cream, almond milk, butter, cream cheese, Parmesan, sour cream, chives, garlic or broth.
Ideas like that could make cauliflower your new comfort food.
Parmesan cauliflower purée
Serves 4 (makes about 3 cups)
From nutritionist and cookbook author Ellie Krieger.
1 medium head (2 pounds) cauliflower, cored and cut into 1 1/2-inch florets (7 cups)
1/3 cup low-fat milk (1 percent), plus more as needed
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
Generous pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus 4 teaspoons for garnish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the cauliflower florets in a steamer basket set over a pot of boiling water. Cover and steam until the cauliflower is just tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor along with 1/3 cup of the milk, the butter, the 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the nutmeg; purée until very smooth. You will need to stop the processor once or twice to scrape the sides with a spatula. Add extra milk a tablespoon at a time, as needed. Immediately add 1/4 cup of the cheese and pulse just until the cheese has melted and is incorporated.
(If you’ve allowed the purée to cool, transfer it to a medium saucepan over low heat, then add the 1/4 cup of cheese, stirring until it has melted.)
Transfer the purée to a serving bowl. Taste, and season with more salt, as needed. Garnish with the remaining 4 teaspoons of cheese, plus sprinklings of parsley and pepper. Serve warm.
Per serving: 120 calories, 7 g protein, 13 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 240 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar
Cauliflower crust pizza
Yield: 1 pizza
2 1/2 cups cauliflower, grated (about 1/2 a large head)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Fresh basil leaves, optional
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and heat oven to 425 degrees.
Grate the cauliflower using a box grater until you have 2 cups of cauliflower crumbles. Place in a large bowl and microwave for 7 to 8 minutes or until soft. Remove from the microwave and let cool.
Mix in the egg, 1 cup mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Once combined, pat into a 10-inch round on the prepared pizza pan. Spray lightly with nonstick spray and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden.
Top the pizza with the sauce, 1/4 cup mozzarella, grape tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes. Bake in the oven until melted and bubbly, another 10 minutes. Top with basil before serving.
Cauliflower and turnip soup
Source: “Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons” by Steven Satterfield (Harper Collins; March 3, 2015; $45)
8 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 shallot, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, halved
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 medium head cauliflower, washed, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 to 3 medium purple-topped turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 cups chicken stock (homemade or boxed), divided
Freshly ground black pepper
Whole nutmeg for grating
In large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat, melt butter until foamy. Add onion, shallot and garlic; season with salt. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower, turnips, thyme, bay leaf and 6 cups chicken stock, and stir to combine.
Bring to a simmer and cook until cauliflower and turnips are tender, about 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Remove bay leaf and, using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth consistency. (You also can work in small batches with a countertop blender.)
If the soup is too thick, add some of the remaining stock. Taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Finish with black pepper and a pinch of grated nutmeg when serving.
Cauliflower steaks with romesco sauce
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Note: The romesco sauce recipe is loosely adapted from “Honey From a Weed” by Patience Gray. It can be made up to a week ahead; store tightly covered in refrigerator.
For the romesco sauce:
1 ounce hazelnuts (26 to 28 nuts)
1 ounce slivered almonds (¼ cup)
1 large tomato, cut in half, seeds removed
1 New Mexico or ancho chili, stem and seeds removed
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 ounce sandwich bread (about 1 slice)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon pimenton de la vera
3/4 to 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
For the steaks:
One 2-pound head cauliflower
3 tablespoons oil
1 whole clove garlic, peeled
Romesco sauce (above)
Make the sauce: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a jellyroll pan with aluminum foil. Bake the hazelnuts until they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove to a kitchen towel and rub them in the towel to remove as much of the papery peel as you can.
Add the almonds and the tomato to the pan and return it to the oven. Remove the almonds when they are fragrant, about 5 minutes, and continue roasting the tomato, turning after another 5 minutes, until it is beginning to char and soften, 20 to 25 minutes in all. Leave the oven on if cooking the cauliflower steaks immediately.
In the meantime, cover the chili with boiling water and set aside to soften. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet. Add the bread and fry until lightly golden on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove from heat and transfer the bread, leaving the oil in the pan, to a food processor. Discard the oil.
Add the garlic, hazelnuts, almonds, tomato, chile, pimenton and 3/4 teaspoon salt to the food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add 3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar and with the processor running, pour in the remaining tablespoon olive oil in a stream to make a thick, chunky cream. Thin the sauce, if desired, with water, pulsing in a little at a time. Season to taste with more salt and vinegar if necessary.
Romesco is served at room temperature. This recipe makes about 1 cup sauce, more than is required for the dish. Store the remainder tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.
To cook the steaks: Heat the oven to 400 degrees and line a jellyroll pan with aluminum foil. If you have just made the romesco sauce, you can use the same pan.
Trim away the leaves of the cauliflower and enough of the base to allow it to sit flat on the cutting board. Leave as much of the core as you can, as this is what will hold the cauliflower together during cooking.
Using a very sharp knife, cut the cauliflower into half-inch vertical slabs, working from the center out for the largest steaks. You should have four steaks; save any remaining cauliflower for another use.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat and add the whole, peeled garlic clove. Cook the garlic until it is light brown and blistered and then discard the clove.
Cook the cauliflower steaks two at a time, frying on each side until lightly browned, about 2 minutes per side. When the underside begins to brown, sprinkle the top with salt and flip the steaks over. Be very careful turning as the cauliflower is delicate and will want to break apart; using 2 spatulas is a good idea. When the second side is browned, sprinkle with a little more salt and transfer them to the jellyroll pan.
When all the steaks are browned, roast in the oven until they are quite tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Spoon a couple tablespoons of romesco on the serving plate where the stem of the cauliflower will be. Place the cauliflower, browned side up, on the plate over the sauce and serve immediately, passing the remaining sauce at the table.
Per serving: calories 248; protein 6 grams; carbohydrates 15 grams; fiber 6 grams; fat 20 grams; saturated fat 3 grams; cholesterol 0; sugar 5 grams; sodium 298 mg.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
This recipe is a great side dish for a Mexican feast or can be used as a filling with beans for tacos, burritos or quesadillas. Adapted from “The Easy Vegan Cookbook,” by Kathy Hester (Page Street Publishing Co., $21.99, 208 pages ). Hester recommends using a food processor if you want to mince the cauliflower. This recipe can be adapted to other spice combinations.
1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small pieces (or minced, if desired)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (or 1 fresh clove, minced)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon your favorite chili powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and toss to coat cauliflower with spices. You will think you need oil but you do not.
Spread thinly on the baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes. Then stir and bake 10 minutes more.
Whole roasted cauliflower with almond-herb sauce
Prep time: About 2 hours
Serves 2 as a main course, or 4 to 6 as a side dish
Recipe from Joanne Weir via The New York Times.
For the cauliflower:
1 large cauliflower
For the sauce:
1/3 cup blanched almonds
6 to 10 anchovy fillets (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for basting
2 teaspoons wine vinegar (white or red), more to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley, mint, tarragon, cilantro or a combination
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper
Heat the oven while you prepare the cauliflower: Place a heavy ovenproof skillet (a cast-iron skillet looks very nice) or a baking sheet in the oven and turn the heat to 375 degrees. Place a small pan of hot water on the floor of the oven, to create steam.
Break off and discard the outer leaves from the cauliflower. Cut off the bottom of the stem, and then use the tip of a small, sharp knife to cut off the leaves close to the stem. Carefully cut out the hard core of the cauliflower, near the bottom. Leave the main stem intact and make sure not to cut through any of the florets.
Rinse the cauliflower (leave the water clinging to the outside) and place on a work surface, core side up. Drizzle with olive oil and use your hands to rub over the cauliflower until evenly coated. Sprinkle with salt.
Place the cauliflower on the hot pan in the oven, core side down, and cook until very tender all the way through when pierced with a knife, at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours. During the cooking, baste 2 or 3 times with more olive oil. It should brown nicely.
Make the sauce: In a small frying pan, toast nuts over low heat, shaking often, just until golden and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Soak anchovies, if using, for 5 minutes in cool water. Rinse and set aside on paper towels.
In a food processor, combine almonds, anchovies, garlic and butter and pulse until smooth. Mix in oil, then vinegar. Mix in herbs and red pepper flakes, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
When cauliflower is tender, remove from the oven. (If desired, run it briefly under the broiler first to brown the surface.)
Serve cauliflower in the skillet or from a serving plate. Cut into wedges and spoon sauce around each wedge.