Cauliflower: The Awkward Teenager Who Grew Up To Be A Sexy Vegetable

When I was a kid, Cauliflower was served in exactly two ways.

Number one: Presented on a round platter as part of the vegetable rainbow encircling a bowl of creamy Hidden Valley ranch dip, whereby he watched in increasing despair as, one by one, all the other veggies were chosen to be dipped and munched. Poor blemished and freckled soul; he inevitably found himself left all alone at the end of the night like a forlorn teenager hovering by the punchbowl at the school dance.

Number two: Steamed to within an inch of his life and then doused in cheddar cheese to entice unsuspecting young children into eating something “healthy.”

Combine all of this with that unsightly disease bearing the ever-so unfortunate name “Cauliflower Ear” and you’ve got yourself a real situation.

As you may have gathered, I did not care that much for Cauliflower. Until…

One fateful day when I happened to eat it roasted, as opposed to raw or steamed as I’d always had it before. Ermagersh.

Can I say something real quick about roasted veggies? Of course I can, this is my blog and I’ll do what I like. Roast any vegetable, ANY vegetable at all, and it will be thirty-seven times more delicious than any other method of preparation. If you’ve never done this before, I urge you to stop reading this right now and go do it. It will change your life!

Ok, maybe not. But at the very least it might make you hate veggies less. And less hate is the first step toward more love.

Back on task… It was then that I discovered the intense likeability of Cauliflower. The tender, slightly sweet, slightly exotic flavor combined with the crisp edges from roasting gave this humble crucifer a subtle and sophisticated flavor boost that I soon realized was largely underestimated. The boy-next-door Cauliflower from my childhood had grown up with some swank in his step and I certainly liked what I saw.

Cauliflower, be my boyfriend.

I’ve been experimenting with Cauliflower for the last few years and pretty much cramming it into whatever I can. I mean, why not? It’s versatile, delicious, and not too spendy. Oh, and did I mention it is kind of a superfood?

My friend Hannah is a rockstar dietitian and she knows all the cool sciency stuff about veggies. When I asked her about Cauliflower in particular, she came back with some surprising little nuggets of wisdom. I learned a few new things and I think you’ll find them interesting as well. Check out what Hannah has to say:

  • Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable. (Side note from me: how fun is it to say ‘cruciferous’? It’s almost worth eating the vegetable for that alone.) An important thing to know about cruciferous veggies is that they have a very promising and powerful compound in them called sulforaphane. Sulforaphane is thought to be an active ingredient which may protect our brains, protect our eyesight, protect against free radicals, induce our detoxification enzymes, and help prevent cancer as well as help treat it. It’s a big deal.
  • But, (and this is the part that will change how we prep Cauliflower), there’s a culinary catch to sulforaphane. It is only produced when the enzyme myrosinase transforms glucoraphanin, which then creates sulforaphane. You have to break down the cell walls of the Cauliflower and let the two previously separate molecules react in order to get sulforaphane. The molecules are released upon cutting the vegetable, BUT, they need time to interact and produce the coveted sulforaphane. Thus, if you cut and cook immediately, you miss out on the best health benefits Cauliflower has to offer.
  • What does this mean for cooking? In essence, you should cut your Cauliflower and let it sit for about 40 minutes so the maximum amount of sulforaphane can be produced. And there’s more good news: Sulforaphane is heat-resistant. So once it is created it can go directly into the pan and come out intact and ready for action. Now that’s cause for celebration. *claps hands like a swooning cheerleader who just watched Cauliflower nail Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix on his electric guitar, his sideswept tresses, skinny jeans, and thick-rimmed glasses en pointe*
  • Not to mention it is low in calories, making it a great alternative to starchy calorie-rich carbs. It will also make you smarter, sexier, and funnier. (last sentence added for effect)
  • If you’re in to all this cool nutritional fuel for your brain (and by that I mean education) from Rockstar Hannah you can check out her website for more info and also private nutrition counseling at www.hannahfreeserd.com.

Now that I’ve convinced you Cauliflower is well worth a spot on your weekly menu, both for its health benefits and its straight up yumminess, let’s get to the fun part! I have four awesome, delicious, and simple ways to cook Cauliflower that will leave you flabbergasted as to how you ever overlooked this culinary wallflower in the first place.


Rice it

Did you know you can turn cauliflower into rice-sized bits and use it in place of rice? I know. My mind was blown too. It’s ok, you can take a second to recover.

This is such a great way to reduce starches while increasing your daily veggie intake. And it’s pretty gosh darn easy!

How to rice Cauliflower:

1. Wash and dry your Cauliflower and cut it into larger chunks.

2. Run the cauliflower through a food processor using the grating blade. Alternately, if you don’t have a food processor, you can grate the cauliflower on a box grater using the medium grating side (the one you would use for cheese).

3. To ensure the rice is dry enough that it won’t turn into a soggy pile of mush, just place it on top of several paper towels, then squeeze the rice to get rid of excess liquid. And don’t forget to let it sit, if you have time, for maximum sulforaphane awesomeness!

4. Next, simply sauté your Cauliflower rice in a drizzle of oil for 5-8 minutes, until tender, and season with whatever flavor you’re feelin’. Or, I suppose you can eat it raw, if you like that kind of thing.

5. Maybe this is all too much for you. Fear not! If you can even believe it, you can now buy riced Cauliflower in a bag at the actual grocery store. Therefore, it is in fact easier, healthier, and tastier to cook riced cauliflower than actual rice. *mic drop*


Roast It

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1. Preheat your oven to 425 F.

2. Wash and thoroughly dry the Cauliflower. This is very important because if you try to roast wet veggies…you end up with mushy steamed veggies. You won’t get the crispy edge and I will not be responsible for your tears. For the love, do not skip this step.

3. Cut the Cauliflower into smallish florets, or even slice into steak-like pieces, and let it sit to do its chemistry magic. Drizzle a little olive oil and season with a bit of salt and your favorite seasonings. I like things like cumin or za’atar or dukkah or fresh or dried herbs or even a little sriracha if you’re a little bit spicy (and I hope you are). Try not to add a lot of liquid seasoning, because of points made under #2.

4. You can of course prepare all of this on the large baking sheet you will then use to roast the Cauliflower in the oven. No need to dirty a bowl. Also, for the love, do NOT crowd the Cauli. It needs space to let off steam, not unlike a hormonally charged teenager. Let it do its thing, and it will crisp up nicely.

5. Roasting time will largely depend on several things: how big or small your pieces are, your oven, how much Cauliflower you have on the pan, and how many pans you put in the oven (I don’t recommend more than one pan at a time, but if you must, you must). A good rule of thumb is to check it after 15 minutes and every 5 minutes thereafter. Once you know how long it takes, make a note for next time. Because once you sample this savory delight, there are sure to be many more next times.

6. Enjoy this alone, on a salad with your favorite dressing, in a sandwich with a delicious spread, on a cracker with a schmear of hummus, on a mountain with a friend, or on your back deck with your sweetie and your new found-zest for life. Cauliflower is back, baby. And it’s sexier than ever.


Purée It

There are several awesome things about puréeing Cauliflower. It can mimick mashed potatoes, meaning you can have a healthier version of one of the top comfort foods of all time. It can also add a creamy, velvety mouth feel to soups, stews, and curries that you would not believe. And, it’s all veggies so you can indulge in a seemingly decadent dish without worrying whether your pants will fit tomorrow.

Mashed Cauliflower

Simply boil about 2 pounds of potatoes for about 10 minutes, then add a head of chopped up Cauliflower and continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Drain and prep as you would for regular mashed potatoes.

I’m sorry, but I don’t actually have a recipe for mashed potatoes. I’m not overly American about too many things, but mashed potatoes is embedded right into my DNA. Do or do not. There is no try. So for me making mashed taters means running them through a KitchenAid or potato ricer, adding plenty of milk, salt, butter, and garlic, and perhaps some rosemary if you’re feeling savory (and again, I hope you are.)

And here is one of my and my family’s favorite hearty soups using a creamy Cauliflower base. Trust me, you won’t want to miss making this! Plus, it’s way easier than you think and you get to use a power tool*.

*plug for all the manly men and technical chicks.

Pesto Soup with Gnocchi Beans and Greens

Recipe here:


Sauce It

For the grand finale on what to do with Cauliflower, I’m going to leave you with one of my all-time favorite dishes, Cauliflower or otherwise. This dish combines crispy roasted Cauliflower with savory exotic spices in a warm and tangy sauce that packs a flavor punch you’ll be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. This is more of a Sunday night meal, a slow food dish. But I promise you it’s worth the wait. So sharpen your knife, grab a glass of peppery Cabernet, and turn on your favorite sultry Spotify station. You also might want to make copies of this recipe for all your dinner guests because I guarantee they will ask for it. Cheers!

Cauliflower Tikka Masala

Adapted from The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium cauliflower heads
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated on a micro plane
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 (24-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • For garnish: 1/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds and chopped fresh cilantro
  • Step 1: Roast the Cauliflower
  • Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the leaves from the Cauliflower and cut it in half lengthwise. Lay flat side of each half on the cutting board and slice into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Allow to sit for 40 min for sulforaphane goodness. Put the slices on the baking sheets and brush each side with some of the olive oil. Sprinkle the salt over each slice. Roast, rotating and swapping the pans halfway through, until the cauliflower is browned, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  • Step 2: Make the sauce
  • Preheat a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Heat the coconut oil and sauté the onions with a pinch of salt until lightly brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for about a minute more. Add the cilantro and stir until wilted.
  • Add the fennel seed, cumin, paprika, and cardamom and stir to toast for 30 seconds or so. Stir in the tomatoes, coconut milk, tomato paste, lime juice, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover and bring the mixture to a simmer; continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • *this is just me, because I have kids who don’t always like “chunks.” Thus, I allow the sauce to cool, then purée in a blender in batches. But, what I found is that this actually helps meld the flavors together even further. So even I like it better puréed. However, feel free to leave it chunky if you want. Totally a personal preference. You do you, boo.
  • Step 3: Assemble
  • Pour some sauce into a 9×13 casserole pan. Layer in half the Cauliflower and cover with half the remaining sauce. Layer in the remaining Cauliflower and pour over the remaining sauce. Bake for 20 minutes.
  • *also cook some basmati rice at this time.
  • Step 4: Serve
  • Scoop some basmati rice onto a place, smother with a large spoonful of saucy Cauliflower Tikka Masala, and garnish with the sliced almonds and cilantro.
  • Step 5: Devour
  • Like, does this step really need further explanation?

Now THAT’s the jam.

Hmmm. Cauliflower jam…

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