Consider the Versatile, Nutritious Cauliflower

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A diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables is generally recommended for optimal health, but that can be a challenge in our region during the dead of winter. The good news is that with some effort, we can find locally grown and stored produce at area markets.

One such example is the versatile cauliflower.

Harvested in late fall, this hardy cruciferous vegetable packs a nutritious punch. Rich in antioxidants, a one-cup serving of cauliflower also delivers 73 percent of the daily value of vitamin C, 19 percent of vitamin K, 15 percent of folate, 12 percent of vitamin B6 and 11 percent of our fiber needs.


And best of all, its relatively mild flavor gives cooks a blank slate. I’ve been experimenting with cauliflower in different ways, lightening up hearty winter meals with cauliflower as a second vegetable dish in place of rice or pasta. I then repurpose the preparation to provide a second or third dish meal — economical, efficient and healthy. Here are some of my recent discoveries.

Cauliflower ‘Rice’

Serves eight

This preparation provides a lovely bed for roasted fish or meat with just about any sauce or seasoning. Use it in place of rice or noodles, and you won’t miss the starch. Note: The recipe makes about eight servings, but I only needed two for my dinner that night. This gave me plenty of leftovers to use in the recipes that follow.

  • 1 head cauliflower, leaves and bottom stem removed (core can be used in recipe)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ⅓ to ½ cup vegetable broth or water

Cut the cauliflower into small-sized chunks that will fit in a food processor. Using a grating blade, run the pieces through the machine to form “rice.”

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, salt and pepper on medium; add the cauliflower rice. Stir to coat, add ⅓ cup of broth, lower the heat and cover.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the cauliflower is softened and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Note: You may need to add water or broth if the cauliflower is sticking to the pan during the cooking process.

Cauliflower ‘Pancakes’

Makes four pancakes

This dish was originally inspired by a photograph I saw on social media touting cauliflower grilled cheese. It seemed the perfect opportunity to use some of my surplus rice.

As it turned out, my rice was too wet to mimic anything like bread, but the result was delicious anyway. I melted cheese on my pancakes, which was sublime, but there is no limit to what you could do with these versatile and healthy discs.

Solo, they would be a wonderful light meal or side dish, but they would also be a worthy bed for beef stew, chili or any type of chicken or fish dish.

  • 2 cups cauliflower rice (recipe above)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

In a medium bowl, mix the rice with the eggs.

In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium heat.

With wet hands, form the rice mixture into patties and carefully place them into the hot oil.

Cook the pancakes for about three minutes until slightly browned, then carefully flip them. (They are fragile.) Cook the second side until browned and serve immediately, as desired.

Curried Cauliflower Soup

Serves two as a main dish or four as a starter or part of a meal

This soup was another creation made specifically to use up the surplus of cauliflower rice. If you want to go straight from fresh cauliflower to soup, simply use four cups cauliflower florets, cook the soup 15 minutes longer, and puree with an immersion or traditional blender before serving. If you are seeking a cream soup, add half-and-half or cream before serving and heat through.

  • 2 tablespoons butter, margarine or oil
  • 1 onion, diced fine
  • 3 cups cauliflower rice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock (or more, if thinner soup is desired)
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (or more to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: ½ cup half-and-half or heavy cream

In a medium pot, melt the butter and add the onions, salt, pepper and curry powder. Cook over medium until the onions are soft and cooked through.

Add the cauliflower rice and stir to coat. Add the broth, bring it to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Add the cream, if desired, or omit and serve.

In my ongoing effort to increase and diversify my vegetable consumption through the winter months (when what I really want to consume is vast quantities of macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate and buttered toast), I have attempted to vary the presentation.

Using vegetables to lighten up otherwise traditionally heavy dishes is one sneaky way I’m infiltrating my winter fare with freshness and nutrition.

Carrots: I have used steamed, pureed carrots to add vitamins and fiber and to reduce the fat content of numerous wintery dishes. Adding  a cup (or more) of carrot puree to a batch of meatloaf, meatballs, marinara sauce or macaroni and cheese is a great way to sneak in an extra serving of veggies and no one is the wiser. One note: If you are attempting stealth, be sure the puree is very smooth, and if you are using it in the mac and cheese, be sure to use yellow cheddar in the sauce so the orange of the carrots blends in.

Cauliflower: In addition to the recipes above, consider adding cauliflower to mashed potatoes. When you boil the potatoes, simply add a few handfuls of fresh cauliflower. When you drain and mash them, your diners will likely be none the wiser.

Greens in pesto: This is not exactly fresh basil season, but you can use raw spinach, kale, mustard greens or other winter greens in its place. Pureed with garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt and Parmesan cheese, these hardy winter leaves provide a nutritious and delicious way to top pasta. Use this spread as you would traditional pesto.

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