Saucy Or Steamed or Sauteed…
My kitchen staples include quite a few vegetables, starting with the mirepoix must-haves of onions, celery, and carrots. My veggie bin usually contains a few leeks, and there’s always a head or two of garlic by the stovetop. Next come the cole family kin, from broccoli and cabbage to kale and cauliflower, which last I find irresistible. Sound weird? Those concerned with health recognize the cole clan as excellent anti-inflammatory aids and (probably) the highest natural source of cancer-fighting phenolic compounds. If plain green or white vegetables seem boring, look for purple and orange variations, each of which offers extra nutrients associated with its color. Besides, they taste terrific.
Um, really? Yes indeed, especially if not cooked to slimy mush. Lightly steamed, quickly sauteed, or roasted to succulent crispness, the coles earn a place on plates in some of the trendiest restaurants on the world. Yotam Ottolenghi, creator of some of the vegetable kingdom’s most delectable eye candy (also exceptionally delicious) dresses purple sprouting broccoli with an incredible dry green curry blend that would make cardboard taste fabulous. His Saffron Cauliflower is a sumptuous dish of baked cauliflower-and-saffron tossed with olives, golden raisins, and red onion. In my kitchen, the coles tend to end in up lively fresh slaws and spicy stir fries, though my favorite way to delight in cauliflower is roasted to golden brown crispness that contrasts perfectly with the creamy insides.
Those colorful cabbages and cauliflowers owe nothing to genetic engineering (as in they’re not GMO constructs). Instead, they are the product of patient tinkering by hybridizers who carefully hand bred selected colorful forms found in the field as chance variations. The results are beautiful, from cheerful orange cauliflowers like Orange Burst, with curds the vivid color of ripe cheddar cheese. Orange Burst is lovely on the plate and palate (it holds its color nicely when cooked), and boasts a bonus of beta-carotene, thanks to its bright coloring. Pinky-purple De Purple cauliflower and bolder Purple Graffiti both owe their tints and nutritional zip to natural anthocyanins, the antioxidants that make blueberries blue.
Sometimes sold as broccoli, heritage Italian romanesco cauliflower is indeed a kissing cousin, that distinctive swirling shape and rich flavor marking the transition of one vegetable into the next. (This blending is a bit like plums and cherries, which are so closely related that’s it’s sometimes difficult to suss out which a given fruit really is.) Veronica a striking Romanesco type with jade green curds. Broken into starburst-tipped spears, it makes a beautiful garnish or an elegant side dish, drizzled with a spritely spring herb sauce. If you haven’t tried stick cauliflower yet, plant a row of Fioretto 60 and prepare to play. This fascinating variation offers beautiful, long-stemmed florets that wouldn’t look amiss in a floral arrangement. The creamy curds atop the fresh green stems are great for dipping and very pretty on a veggie plate. Sweeter than headed cauliflowers, the crunchy stems can be stir fried with sesame oil, garlic and ginger, or tossed as is into salads.
If you’ve always considered cauliflower to be dull, a new cooking technique could change your mind. Personally, I find that cauliflower tastes best when lightly steamed, quickly sizzled in hot oil with shallots or garlic, or roasted into caramelized sweetness, and horrid when boiled or baked to sludge. If raw cauliflower doesn’t thrill you, try lightly steamed florets with pesto yum sauce (much like hummus), Tuscan bean spread, or soft goat cheese mashed with fresh thyme and minced kalamata olives. After roasting, toss cauliflower with sea salt or chili or curry powder, or try nutritional yeast and lemon-pepper. Sprigs of crisply roasted cauliflower also make a great garnish or change-of-pace topping for casseroles, replacing crunched up chips or bread crumbs.
Steamed cauliflower is admittedly a tad tame, so drizzle it with a blood orange vinaigrette and toasted coconut flakes or flax seeds. Riced cauliflower makes a splendid (and very low-cal, if you care) substitute for rice or pasta and partners pleasingly with any savory sauce you wish to try. Thin slices of purple or golden cauliflower add crunch and color sandwiches and wraps a well as raw salads. Roasted with avocado oil and a little sea salt, cauliflower one of my most comforting suppers for one. Broaden those culinary horizons, play around a bit and before you know it, cauliflower will be your new go-to veg.
Irresistible Cauliflower Cakes
Crispy Cauliflower Cakes With Capers and Lime
1 large head cauliflower, cut in florets (about 8 cups)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Asiago cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour OR rice flour
1 tablespoon avocado oil
2 tablespoons butter
juice of 1/2 lime, rind grated
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
Steam cauliflower until tender (5-7 minutes). Mash, cool, and stir in salt, eggs, green onions and cheese if using. Form into 8 balls then pat into flat cakes about half an inch tall. Dip into flour to cover lightly and set aside. Heat oil in a wide, shallow pan over medium high heat and cook cakes until crisp, turning once (4-6 minutes per side). Remove to a warm plate and add butter to the pan. When melted, add lime juice, capers and paprika and salt to taste, then spoon over cakes. Serves 4 as an entree.
Light and delicate, riced cauliflower brings our the best in sauces, and can replace pasta or rice. It can also be used instead of mashed potatoes atop a shepherd’s pie.
Quick Riced Cauliflower
1 whole head cauliflower, cut in florets
1 tablespoon avocado oil or unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Steam cauliflower for 5-6 minutes then press through a ricer into a serving bowl. Gently stir in oil or butter and salt, set aside and serve with Spring Garlic sauce, sauteed mushrooms, or any savory sauce you prefer.
The Surprising Sweetness Of Young Garlic
When newly harvested, garlic has a sweetness that mellows its bite. If you don’t grow garlic chives, use fresh garlic greens from your spring-planted crop.
Spring Garlic Sauce
1/4 cup toasted almonds
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 organic lemon, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons pitted, chopped brine-cured olives
1/4 cup fruity olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon stemmed thyme
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon hot smoked paprika
2 tablespoons minced garlic chives
In a food processor or blender, grind almonds to a coarse paste. Add garlic, lemon and olives and again grind to a coarse paste. Add oil, parsley, thyme, salt and paprika and puree for 3-5 seconds. Stir in minced chives and serve at room temperature. Makes about 1 cup. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.
Ann, Thanks for the tasty ideas for preparing the coles. We’ve been stuck in a veggie rut for too long and will give some of these a try.
I like to braise steaks of the stuff – Slabs cut about 1/2” thick, in a Hunan inspired marinade and glaze – Scrumptious!
That sounds awesome! I’d forgotten that trick, but used to do it with teriyaki sauce, same general idea and insane as leftovers made into sandwiches with raw onion and sprouts and….