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Exploring Cauliflower: The Childhood Nightmare Is Now a Superstar

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

exploring-cauliflower-your-childhood-nightmare-is-now-a-superstar

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.

— Mark Twain

If one is to interpret the dry wit of Mr. Twain, I would come to the conclusion that he admires cauliflower. And what’s not to love?

Move over kale; step aside acai berry. Cauliflower is our new superfood, and with good reason. Unlike kale, acai, or other “health foods” cauliflower is a blank canvas; its mild unassertive taste can readily adapt to almost any flavor profile. And cauliflower is the master of disguise—it can take the place of beef or chicken in a teriyaki stir fry, be sliced into steaks and roasted, mashed like potatoes, transformed (with the magic of the food processor) into a savory rice dish, or even shaped into gluten and flour-free bread!

From Where Did This Clever Cabbage Cousin Originate?

As a member of the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea), the legend and exploits of cauliflower are very much like that of its cousins. Food historians date brassica to about 6,000 B.C. when Etruscans were cultivating wild cabbage plants. Pliny the Elder (Roman philosopher and author) wrote of it, and the Romans enjoyed a form that was purple (similar to the color of red cabbage). The name comes from the Latin caulis (which means cabbage) and floris (flower).

According to Texas A&M Agrilife Extension

Cauliflower in Turkey and Egypt was mentioned in the 16th century by European writers, but it had been certainly known in those places for 1,500 to 2,000 years or more. In England in 1586 cauliflower was referred to as "Cyprus coleworts," suggesting recent introduction from the island of Cyprus. For some time thereafter, Cyprus was mentioned as the source of seed for planting in England. Cauliflower was an item on the London vegetable market as early as 1619. It was grown in France around 1600.

At about this same time, it was also being cultivated by Colonists in America. By the 18th century recipes were appearing in home cookbooks; simmering in milk or pickling and serving as a condiment were favored methods of preparation.

aren't they beautiful?

aren't they beautiful?

But, What About That Smell?

Most people who say that they hate cauliflower (or cabbage) complain about the funky smell. I can remember walking home from school, and I'm sure that one block away I knew if my mom was boiling cabbage.

And this is why: cauliflower (and all other members of the cabbage family) contain sulfur compounds called isothiocyanates. When heated, these compounds break down into several other simpler compounds, and one of those is sulfur dioxide. Yes, the same aromatic that provides the smell of the Yellowstone National Park geysers, natural gas, and (our favorite) rotten eggs.

The longer members of the cabbage family are subjected to heat, the stinkier they become. And there my friends is the solution. Cauliflower is not the problem, it's the cook (or to put it more gently, the cooking method). We can fix this.

And, I'll bet there is a recipe here that your whole family will enjoy!

How to Select and Store Fresh Cauliflower

  • Look for heads that are firm, compact, and unblemished.
  • White cauliflower should be pure creamy white. But did you know that there are green, orange, and purple varieties too?
  • The head should feel "heavy" for its size.
  • If there are soft spots or an "off" smell, don't buy it.
  • Any attached leaves should be fresh-looking, not limp.
  • To store, place cauliflower in a plastic bag, removing as much of the air from the bag as possible. It will keep this way, if refrigerated, for up to 5 days.
  • Do not wash cauliflower until you are ready to prepare and use it.

Featured Recipes

  • Mashed cauliflower (use in place of mashed white potatoes)
  • Faux white rice or couscous (save carbs and avoid wheat allergy issues)
  • Cauliflower fried rice with vegetables (no need to pre-cook rice)
  • Coliflor arroz roja (Mexican cauliflower "rice")
  • Pizza crust or flat bread (made with cauliflower "rice")
  • Bread buns (made with cauliflower "rice")
  • Sesame glazed cauliflower "wings"
  • Buffalo wings (without the chicken)
  • Carb Diva's macaroni and cheese with cauliflower

Instead of Potatoes...

exploring-cauliflower-your-childhood-nightmare-is-now-a-superstar

Cauliflower can be steamed and then gently mashed. For those hoping to consume fewer carbohydrates, this is a blissful substitution for mashed potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 2 heads of cauliflower, about 1.5 pounds each (3 pounds total)
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Trim cauliflower to remove stem and leaves; break down into florets.
  2. Place in a steamer basket; steam over gently boiling water until florets are tender; about 10 minutes.
  3. Remove basket from heat and place over a large bowl.
  4. Press on cauliflower with the back of a spoon to extract water from the cooked vegetables (yes, there will be water. Lots of water). Push, push, push!
  5. Place "squished" cauliflower in a food processor. Add sour cream, butter, and seasonings. Process until smooth. (Unlike potatoes, this mash doesn't become gluey when whipped in a food processor).
  6. Transfer to a serving dish. (By the way, you can reheat this in the microwave for a few moments if it has cooled a bit too much for your taste).

But wait, there's more. You can use this puree in place of a roux to thicken soups and chowders.

In Place of Rice or Couscous

cauliflower "rice" pulsed in bowl of food processor

cauliflower "rice" pulsed in bowl of food processor

Do you love white rice, but feel guilty about the 'empty' calories? Or maybe you reminisce about couscous but have become wheat intolerant. There's a fix for that—rice, or couscous made from cauliflower minced fine in your food processor. Thekitchn.com shows us how.

What can you do with the faux rice? Here's a quick recipe for fried "rice" and vegetables with a savory umami kick from Chinese 5 spice powder and sesame oil.

Cauliflower Fried Rice and Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 3 cups riced cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil divided use
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup chopped carrots
  • ½ cup celery sliced on the bias
  • ½ cup frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Instructions

  1. In a large sauté pan or wok, heat 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pan; cook 3 minutes or until carrot is softened. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.
  3. Remove the vegetables from the pan; set aside and cover to keep warm.
  4. Pour the remaining teaspoon of oil into the pan; add the eggs and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up with a spatula until the eggs are scrambled and cooked through.
  5. Place the cauliflower rice in the pan; return the reserved vegetables to the pan and stir in the peas.
  6. Add the soy sauce, Chinese 5 spice powder, and sesame oil. Heat, stirring occasionally for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Coliflor Arroz Rojo

Beth has a delightful blog named eatwithyourmeans.com, and shares a tasty non-rice Mexican rice dish with us. It's great as a side with bean burritos, fish tacos, or grilled chicken.

In Place of Bread: Pizza Crust or Flat Bread

We're not yet done with the faux rice. Believe it or not, you can use it to make a wheat-free, gluten-free bread. Now, don't misunderstand, this is not low-calorie. Without gluten we need to find another ingredient that will "bind" everything together—typically, that ingredient is cheese.

Ingredients

  • · 1 small head cauliflower (enough to make 2 ½ to 3 cups of “rice”)
  • · ¼ cups Parmesan Cheese
  • · ¼ cups Mozzarella Cheese
  • · ¼ teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • · ½ teaspoons Dried Basil
  • · 1 whole Egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, brush with olive oil and set aside.
  3. Place the cauliflower in a microwave-safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap; lift one corner to vent. Cook for 4 minutes. Dump cooked cauliflower onto a clean tea towel; set aside until cool enough to handle.
  4. Wrap the microwaved cauliflower in the towel; twist and wring to remove as much water as possible. (You will be amazed at how much liquid there is).
  5. Place cauliflower in a large mixing bowl; add the remaining ingredients and mix well until well blended. Form into a tight, cohesive disk.
  6. Place disk onto prepared parchment paper. Pat out with fingertips to form the pizza crust. You will have a circle about 10 to 12 inches in diameter.
  7. Bake for 8–11 minutes, until it starts to turn golden brown. Remove from the oven.
  8. Cover with your favorite toppings (but take it easy with the pizza sauce, if using).
  9. Return to oven. Bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes or until your cheese is bubbly and slightly golden.

Cauliflower Bread Buns

Kirbie and her DH have a blog—he is the photographer, and she is the creative spirit behind the creative recipes. I have shared a recipe for pizza crust or flat bread, but this is really BREAD-y bread. Perfect for a burger or making a sandwich.

Cauliflower Garlic Bread

This cauliflower garlic bread does not depend on cheese. That's right, no cheese. Whipped egg whites provide the lift.

Main Dishes: Sesame Glazed Cauliflower "Wings"

Would you believe that you can coat florets with batter, oven-bake in a hot oven until crisp, then drench in sweet-spicy teriyaki sauce and achieve something that will satisfy even the most hard-core carnivore? Well, Brianne of cupcakesandkalechips.com did just that to make these sesame glazed "wings."

Buffalo Wings (without the Chicken)

Know what? I think you could take Brianne's idea and turn it into buffalo wings. Just replace her teriyaki glaze with 1/2 cup of your favorite buffalo hot sauce and 3 tablespoons of melted butter.

© 2017 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 10, 2017:

Lawrence, I think you might be on to something there. Good information--thank you for that. Glad that your family enjoyed the mashed cauliflower.

Thank you for visiting. I always appreciate your comments and knowledge.

Lawrence Hebb on February 09, 2017:

Linda

Cauliflower was always a hero with me, especially cauliflower cheese! My mouth is watering just thinking of it!

We tried the cauliflower replacing mashed potatoes a few weeks ago, and the family loved it!

Just reading your hub, I noticed you said the English got it from Cyprus, Richard the Lionheart conquered Cyprus on the way to the third crusade, he made it a 'vassal kingdom' with the idea it would give him a constant supply of fresh food, I wonder if he brought the food back from there then?

Blessings

Lawrence

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 31, 2017:

Shauna - I haven't tried the mashed cauliflower using a hand mixer. I'm sure it would work, but maybe wouldn't be quite as creamy. The food processor really knocks the living daylights out of it LOL. Maybe you could be my tester and report back?

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on January 31, 2017:

I've seen cauliflower rice on The Kitchen (love that show!). It's all the rage now. Looks easy enough to do. I'll have to come back to this page for sure.

As for the cauliflower mashed potatoes, can I use a hand mixer rather than a food processor?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 21, 2017:

Flourish - I think the secret to making cauilflower taste good is not not boil the goodness gracious out of it. That's what my mother did. My article was getting so long I ran out of words before I ran out of suggestions. If you're feeling brave, take a head of cauliflower and slice it vertically into thick steaks. Brush with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven until tender. They will caramelize and turn into an entirely "new" veggie for you. Look on Pinterest for ideas.

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 20, 2017:

You've totally sold me with the mac n cheese and sesame dish. Fabulous. I don't mind eating it raw but have a tougher time with cooked.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 19, 2017:

Vocal coach - Yes, mashed cauliflower is so creamy it seems that it should be bad for you.

I have a friend who is going to prepare the "rice". His wife is Vietnamese (and I told him he won't be able to fool her), but I'm waiting to hear what her reaction was.

Audrey Hunt from Idyllwild Ca. on January 18, 2017:

Great post with a variety of delicious, healthy recipes. I love, love, love mashed cauliflower. Thank you Linda. (Pinning on my board.)

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 18, 2017:

Hi Chefmancave - The blogger who created the cauliflower buns showed, on her site, a hamburger with lettuce and tomatoes. Although the purpose of creating a cauliflower bun is to avoid wheat and/or gluten, it just doesn't 'feel right' to me to adorn something so healthy with a beef patty.

I'm thinking fresh sliced tomatoes (remove the seeds to avoid excess moisture), basil pesto, arugula, and some goat cheese. If you want meat, my comfort go-to is turkey breast.

I really like sweet/salty combinations (like chicken salad with dried cranberries), but don't think I would go in that direction with the cauliflower. I'd keep it savory.

Robert Loescher from Michigan on January 18, 2017:

She shoots...She SCORES! What a great article. I will be stopping at my favorite Organic veggie market and buying 2 heads of Cauliflower this weekend. I love all the ideas...especially the bread buns. Now I need think what kind of Cauliflower sandwich I am going to make. Any thoughts?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 18, 2017:

Blond Logic - I have not tried the colored cauliflowers--they are often double or triple the price of the white ones. It's my understanding that they don't actually TASTE any different, but the colors are certainly beautiful.

I hope one of the recipes here suits you and your family.

As always, thank you, thank you for your support!

Mary Wickison from Brazil on January 18, 2017:

I just bought some today. I must say, I have been stuck in a rut with my cauliflower cheese so can use some of these ideas.

Love the quote from Mark Twain, and I have never seen an orange one before, the other colors yes!

Love this, I'll be sharing on Flipbook.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 18, 2017:

Eric - I don't think you can fool her. For one thing, if you like "sticky" rice, this isn't it. But it IS healthy and your little guy might have fun doing something new in the kitchen. Let me know how it turns out, OK?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 18, 2017:

Bill, I'll keep trying. If I at least got a smile on your face, I'm a happy gal. Glad you appreciate my sense of humor.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 18, 2017:

The title was hilarious, Linda, and the information all good. I still won't touch the stuff, but good try. LOL I'm hopeless and I know it, dear friend.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on January 18, 2017:

Thank you Linda. Ok, I think my boy and I are ready to try some cooked cauliflower. Last night we had it in our green salad. So when I get milk today I will get some cauliflower and give this a shot. It will be interesting to see how my Vietnamese bride rice expert reacts.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 17, 2017:

Yes, it isn't often I am the first to comment. Will take your advice regarding the mash, Linda. Thanks for the tip.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 17, 2017:

John - What a great surprise to see you, and you beat out my friends in this hemisphere! I you don't want to do full 100 percent mash with cauliflower, you can substitute some of your russets -- 50 percent.

I hope that you and your family have an opportunity to try a few of these. If and when you do, please let me know.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on January 17, 2017:

Linda, cauliflower is my favourite vegetable. These recipes sound great. I haven't tried cauliflower mash, but the battered sesame glazed wings and buffalo wings would be fantastic meat substitutes. Thanks for sharing.