It used to be the food everyone avoided on veggie party platters. Now it's becoming the center of attention.
Cauliflower is as delicious as it is versatile, if given the chance. This dense, hearty vegetable can hold its shape and texture during cooking, and its mild flavor can pair with a wide variety of seasonings and ingredients.
Some of cauliflower's transformations in recent years include pizza crusts, pancakes, rice, hummus and even cauliflower "steaks." But the most popular new way to try cauliflower is in its mock-potato form.
Whether it's scalloped, mashed or twice-baked, cauliflower can successfully stand in for potatoes in many dishes, even satisfying picky eaters who've sworn off cauliflower in the past. With the proper cooking technique, you can easily transform cauliflower into healthy and filling tots, gratins and purees with a much lower carbohydrate count.
Karen Foley is a recently retired personal chef who formerly served as the head of Albrecht-Kemper's volunteer cooks. She says her family made a lifestyle change about a decade ago to cut out white potatoes, white flour, white rice and other refined starches. Instead, she uses cauliflower.
"It's one of my favorite vegetables so I'm always looking for cauliflower recipes," Ms. Foley says.
She uses the vegetable in a variety of ways, usually roasting it in the oven or steaming it because she says boiling it in water makes it lose most of its vitamins and nutritional content.
Ms. Foley thinks cauliflower is an underutilized vegetable because a lot of people only think about it in its raw form.
"I think cauliflower isn't served very often. It's rare that you see it on a menu at a restaurant, for instance," she says.
For home cooks, though, cauliflower is becoming quite popular. Ms. Foley says she often roasts it in the oven with garlic-infused olive oil and seasonings at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes to make a quick and delicious side to any meal.
One of her favorite recipes is something she calls California potatoes. However, it doesn't contain potatoes at all. She steams cauliflower and mashes it with butter and cream cheese, turning it into something remarkably similar to mashed spuds.
1 medium head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon butter
1/3 of an 8-ounce container of chive-onion cream cheese
3 slices bacon, crisp and crumbled
Break cauliflower into florets and steam until soft enough to mash. Place in bowl and mash with butter and cream cheese. Top with crumbled bacon. Season to taste. Serves six.
Chef Ralph Filipelli of Luna's Fine Dining and Catering says another way to prepare cauliflower to resemble "fake" mashed potatoes is cooking it in chicken stock.
"If you want to mimic potatoes, the lowest fat way to do it and make it taste good is to boil it in chicken broth or chicken stock and puree it with a hand blender until you reach the consistency of potatoes," he says.
Leaving in enough broth to make it creamy (but not runny) is a good way to cut out some of the fat that comes with mashing cauliflower with butter while still retaining a lot of flavor.
He says a reason many people are switching from starches to vegetables like cauliflower is not necessarily to reduce fat from their diet, but sugars.
"Carbohydrates are basically long sugar molecules," Mr. Filipelli says.
Ms. Foley also states that cutting down on sugars and starches helped her and her family develop healthier eating habits.
"When we first started doing it, my husband and I each lost about 40 pounds, and we've never gained it back in 10 or 11 years," she says.
However, she also advises that it's OK to use cheese, butter and cream every so often, as long as you don't do it every night. Cutting down on carbs and fats doesn't have to be highly restrictive, so it's good to have fun and experiment with ingredients like cauliflower to find new ways to use it in the kitchen.
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