Years ago we figured out that you could cook cauliflower to mush, swirl it with butter and lemon juice and pass it off as mashed potatoes. That might have worked on Uncle Ned, whose sight, taste, and smell were not all they used to be. But from behind her bib, Baby Chloe snarled with an expression that read: “What the hell happened to the mashed potatoes?”
So why has the vegetable been given such a bad rap for years? To start off, it’s a white vegetable, like onions and mushrooms. Green and yellow veggies are the superstars that get all the love from nutritionists. Besides, it’s knotty looking, hard to store and difficult to dismember.
I got to feeling sorry for cauliflower the other day. I flipped through a few old cookbooks to see how housewives have been handling the cumbersome vegetable for the last 50 years. There were very few recipes. To my surprise, most of them included sour cream, cream of chicken soup, and cheese. One called for—I kid you not—2 cups of mayo and a 1/2 teaspoon of MSG!
But times have changed. Now we’re told that cauliflower is the new kale, but far more versatile. It can be roasted, sautéed, mashed, deep fried, or eaten raw. Chefs today consider the cruciferous vegetable a blank canvas, that can take on any flavor or personality.
As one chef observed: “Cauliflower is moving to the center of the plate.” No longer must it come to the dinner table wearing a “disguise” in order to be presentable. The vitamin C rich vegetable now comes dressed in food fashionable colors. The orange variety is sweet and mild and packed with 25 times the vitamin A found in the white, while the purple is loaded with antioxidants. I learned that a half cup of cauliflower has a mere 15 calories, one gram of sugar and no fat or cholesterol. The downside is that it aggravates gout.
I decided it was time for me to quit joking about cauliflower and take it more seriously. A New York Times’ recipe from Chef David Tanis for Venetian Cauliflower caught my eye. I tried it, thinking it might work as an Easter side dish. It was quick and easy to prepare—always a plus for a holiday meal. It had several ingredients that sent me to the back of my spice cabinet—fennel seeds, cardamom seeds, and saffron. I even used some of my freshly ground pink Himalayan salt, that puts zing in everything.
As it turned out, the dish had a wonderful nutty flavor, but looked like hash browns. I have no problem with that; I like hash browns. The leftovers were good for nibbling, too—just right for those times when you fling open the refrigerator door looking for a bit of sustenance between meals. The modified “hash browns” might not work for a fancy holiday meal, but it would sure make an interesting addition to a plate of bacon and eggs.
While nosing around the Internet, I found that Trader Joe has a Cauliflower Gratin they refer to as “gourmet mac n’ cheese.” I also discovered a cauliflower crust pizza that’s gluten free. Chef Tanis came to the rescue with yet another recipe, Rigatoni and Cauliflower al Forno, possibly for those wanting a few more carbs with their cauliflower.