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Thursday, March 2, 2017 12:01 am

Crazy for cauliflower



Spend a few minutes perusing popular food blogs for health-conscious recipes and one thing begins to become clear – cauliflower is the new “it” vegetable. Thanks to popular diet trends such as a Paleo and Whole 30, health-conscious cooks and food bloggers have been developing creative and nourishing substitutes for our favorite starchy foods like pasta, white potatoes and rice.

Cauliflower, delicious in its own right, has become the shape-shifter of the vegetable world. Pinterest and Instagram abound with recipes such as cauliflower and lasagna, General Tso’s cauliflower and cauliflower fried rice. No longer thought of as the soggy, anemic vegetable forgotten on the dinner table, this vitamin-rich, low-calorie veggie can behave remarkably like carbohydrates when prepared properly.

A member of the cruciferous vegetable family, cauliflower is an Old World descendant of cabbage. It can be difficult to grow in the home garden: this cool-season crop is not tolerant of heat or cold, requires lots of space, nutrients and water to grow, and is a favorite of garden pests. In addition to the classic snowy white variety, brightly colored heirloom and hybrid varieties are also available. Romanesco, a bright green variety grown in Italy since the 16th century, is distinctive because its head forms a natural approximation of a fractal. Cheddar cauliflower is a beta-carotene rich hybrid the color of its namesake cheese, and varieties like Graffiti boast vivid amethyst hues. The different varieties have subtle differences in texture and flavor, but generally can all be prepared the same way.

Cauliflower is exceptionally good when simply tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted in a hot oven for about 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned and just al dente. Scatter some chopped flat-leaf parsley and squeeze a lemon over the top for a restaurant-worthy appetizer or side dish.

Pureed cauliflower frequently stands in for mashed potatoes in my house and my young daughter has never objected. Steam cauliflower florets with a couple of whole peeled garlic cloves until extremely soft, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and puree until the mixture has been whipped into submission. Add browned butter and season to taste with salt and pepper. Because cauliflower has so little starch, it can be pureed to a velvety, creamy consistency, whereas potatoes treated in the same manner would turn to glue. Also, unlike mashed potatoes, leftover pureed cauliflower can be frozen without compromising texture. The puree can be served on its own or thinned with chicken stock to make a scrumptious, satisfying soup. It can also be added to cheese sauce as a way to sneak some veggies into a stubborn eater.

Roasted cauliflower with lemon squeezed over it makes a good appetizer.

I tried some of the wacky sounding cauliflower recipes floating around online and had mixed results. The Cauliflower Fried “Rice” knocked my socks off and had my grandmother convinced it was made with regular rice. It’s simple to prepare and gives the diner the satisfaction of tucking into a good bowl of takeout for a fraction of the calories and a lot more nutrition.

Cauliflower pizza and lasagna, where cauliflower is “riced,” steamed, squeezed to remove moisture, then mixed with beaten eggs and cheese, then baked into a crust or “noodles,” was a bust, definitely not good enough to warrant the time and mess required. Cauliflower tots were fun to make with my daughter and are a resourceful way to use up leftover roasted cauliflower.

Consider cauliflower the next time you’re in a recipe rut and resist the urge to hide it under a mountain of cheese. Whether it’s simply roasted to highlight its natural sweetness or transformed with culinary wizardry into delicious low-calorie “rice,” the choice is yours.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

• 1 head cauliflower, about 2 pounds
• 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
• 1-inch piece of ginger, grated
• 2 cups stir-fry veggies, such as thinly sliced carrots, celery, peppers, peas, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms
• 1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons neutral frying oil, such as canola or grape seed, divided
• 3 eggs, well beaten
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce
• 1 teaspoon sesame oil
• 1 bunch green onions, both white and green parts, thinly sliced

Rinse cauliflower and chop it into 1-inch pieces. Pulse in a food processor until it is the texture of rice, or grate the cauliflower on the large holes of a box grater.

Make sure you have all your ingredients at the ready. Place a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to the pan, add a pinch of salt to the eggs, and scramble them. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the pan. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and turn the heat up to high. Add the cauliflower “rice” and stir-fry over high heat for 1 minute, then add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry 2-3 minutes more, until just tender. Transfer to the plate with the eggs. Add the final tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the stir-fry veggies. Stir-fry until crisp tender, about 2-3 minutes, then return the cooked “rice” and eggs to the pan. Add half the green onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil and stir to coat. Taste for seasoning, top with remaining green onions, and serve.

Romesco Sauce

This is my mother’s recipe for the classic Catalonian sauce. It is a perfect accompaniment to roasted cauliflower and other vegetables. Toss roasted cauliflower with some of the sauce and top with chopped parsley or serve it as a dip with assorted grilled or roasted vegetables.

• 1/3 cup toasted almonds or hazelnuts
• 2 large roasted red bell peppers, peels and seeds removed, either freshly prepared or bottled, about 1 ½ c.
• 3-4 coarsely chopped garlic cloves
• 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
• 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram or savory
• 2 teaspoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• Cayenne, hot pepper flakes, or other dried hot pepper to taste, optional
• ½ c. extra virgin olive oil

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in the container of a blender or food processor. Process until all the ingredients are finely ground, stopping to scrape down the container as needed. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. The sauce should be quite thick. Check the seasoning. You may want to add more salt, sugar, vinegar or hot pepper. The sauce can be used cold, room temperature or gently warmed. (If it gets too hot, the oil will separate.) Makes about 1 ¾ c.

Contact Ashley Meyer at ashley@realcuisine.net.

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