When I was growing up, my relationship with cauliflower bordered on traumatic. We didn’t have it often, but when we did, it was badly mistreated–boiled half to death, in the Southern way with vegetables, and served as a pale, mushy mess on my plate. I avoided it as much as possible. When it turned up in later years, as big raw clumps on salad bars, it did little to win my affection: harsh, aggressive, awkward to eat, I just wanted it to go away.
It wasn’t until I started seriously cooking that I discovered its true beauty. Overcooked or served raw, cauliflower holds little appeal. Handled properly, though, it has a subtle, nutty sweetness and compelling bite that’s hard to beat. And, like other crucifers, cauliflower contains powerful anti-cancer compounds that are especially beneficial for women.
And here’s another thing about cauliflower: it’s endlessly versatile. Thinly slice it into large “steaks,” brush with oil and grill it; puree it with cashews soaked overnight and drained to make a creamy sauce; combine it with cooked potatoes before mashing; finely grate it and use as a grain free sub for cous cous; or blend it into any soup for rich, dairy-free creaminess.
If you suffered similar cauliflower trauma in your youth, try these lighthearted, fresh recipes–and let your healing journey begin.
Ready to be a cauliflower champ? Go floret!
Creamy Cauliflower-Leek Soup with Tarragon Oil
Serves 4 to 6
The brilliant green oil swirled on top makes this simple, creamy soup special. You can use tarragon or basil individually, or sub a different soft herb (oregano, marjoram or cilantro). Be careful not to brown the leek during cooking, so you don’t interfere with the delicate color of the soup; you can also peel the potatoes for a velvety texture.
1 small leek, very thinly sliced (white and some pale green)
1 large stalk celery
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small to medium head of cauliflower, cored and chopped (about 4 cups)
2 small to medium white potatoes, chopped
4 to 5 cups vegetable stock
1/2 to 1 cup almond milk, or pastured, organic cow or goat milk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Cook leek and celery in 1 tablespoon of the oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until just softened (be careful not to brown leek). Add cauliflower, potatoes and 4 cups of the stock; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until cauliflower is tender, 15 to 18 minutes.
Puree soup in a food processor, in batches if necessary, , adding remaining stock as needed to reach desired consistency.
Rinse pan and return pureed soup to pan. Stir in 1/2 to 1 cup of the milk, to reach desired consistency, and heat through. While soup is reheating, combine tarragon, basil and remaining oil in a blender and puree until smooth.
Season soup to taste with salt and white pepper. To serve, divide soup between individual bowls and drizzle a swirl of tarragon-basil oil on top. Serve immediately.
Cauliflower “Cous Cous” with Pistachios and Figs
Processing cauliflower into tiny “grains” makes a vegetable cous cous alternative that’s perfect for gluten-free or grain-free diets. Amp up the spices, or vary as you’d like: swap cashews or pine nuts for the pistachios, and use apricots, currants or dates in place of the figs. Or eliminate the fruits and nuts, and add cooked chickpeas and toasted cumin seed. Don’t use virgin coconut oil for cooking; it has a lower smoke point and will give the cous cous an “off” flavor.
1 large head cauliflower
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
12 tablespoons minced dried figs
Remove core from cauliflower and chop into large florets. Put about a third of the cauliflower in a food processor and pulse until the florets are ground into small bits that resemble cous cous grains. Transfer to a bowl, and repeat with remaining cauliflower.
Heat coconut oil in a medium skillet and cook onions for 2 to 3 minutes, until softened. Add the turmeric and curry, and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the cauliflower and just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until cauliflower is barely tender. Stir in pistachios and figs, and cook, uncovered, for 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently, until cauliflower is tender and flavors are combined. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Cauliflower Steaks with Tomato-Ginger Sauce
Serves 4 to 6
This is a novel way to serve cauliflower; cooked this way, the cauliflower is tender and mild enough to pair with any variety of sauces. My favorites are this tomato-ginger sauce, black olive and caper tapenade, corn and black bean salsa, or a simple balsamic vinegar glaze. Be sure to cut the steaks thick enough that they don’t fall apart, and keep the rest of the cauliflower for soups, or to make cauliflower cous cous (see recipe). We used our summer crop of tomatoes that we’ve put up in jars; you can find jarred tomatoes at your grocery store.
2 medium to large heads of cauliflower
One pint jar of tomatoes
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup finely minced cilantro
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Remove the very bottom part of the cauliflower stem, being careful to leave on enough stem to hold the florets together. Using a sharp knife, and cutting from the top toward the stem, cut three or four 1/2- to 3/4-inch-thick center slices from each head of cauliflower to make the “steaks.” Set aside.
Combine tomatoes in a medium pot with ginger, vinegar, garlic and red pepper flakes. Bring to a high simmer, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes.
While sauce is simmering, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet or saute pan and cook cauliflower in batches until golden, 2 to 4 minutes per side. Add more oil as needed during batches. Transfer steaks to a baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt and black peppers, and cook in the oven until just tender, about 15 minutes.
To serve, make a small puddle of sauce in the middle of each plate, and arrange two steaks on top of the sauce. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve hot.