I recently read a comment from cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi saying that he considers cauliflower an under-appreciated vegetable, and is focused on finding more ways to use it. I find that statement enlightening, and completely agree. Here’s why:
When assembling a meal, we often want to add a neutral side dish that serves as a counterpoint to the main, highly flavorful dish. That’s the primary purpose of rice in Chinese and Indian cuisine, of potatoes in French and American cuisine, of couscous in Moroccan cuisine, of bulgur wheat in Syrian cuisine, and of bread and its variants throughout much of the world. These basics go well with almost any dish. Often, however, I find myself searching for variants on these staples that are lighter, lower in calories, and yet are nutrient dense, natural and truly tasty.
Of all the vegetables in the Mediterranean palette, cauliflower fits that role best. In fact one of the most popular side dishes at our kitchen is our cauliflower puree. We make it in the same way you’d make mashed potatoes (blended with a little milk and butter), but instead of potatoes we use cauliflower. Many people have told me they find it even better than regular mashed potatoes, and of course it’s much lighter. And it has that same great characteristic of rice, and mashed potatoes, and bread. It’s the perfect companion to almost any main dish.
Similarly, cauliflower gratin is delicious, and yet much lighter than its potato equivalent. Want to indulge? Dip your cauliflower in egg and breadcrumbs and saute it – you’ll might find you like it even more than French fries. My father once explained to me what he considered unique about bread: You never get tired of it, it’s easy to eat often, and in large quantities. The same can be said about rice, about potatoes, and couscous, and as it turns out, about cauliflower. Cauliflower is also surprisingly nutrient rich. A cup of cauliflower (and we use much more than that in a serving of our cauliflower puree) has almost 100% of our daily requirement of vitamin C (!), and high levels of B vitamins as well as numerous other vitamins and minerals.
So next time you see a cauliflower, consider that you can do with it practically anything you could do with potatoes or rice, with at least as much taste, less calories, less carbohydrates, and an abundance of nutrients.