Mexico Life
Veggies are the main event in this Gen. Tso's Cauliflower dish. Veggies are the main event in Gen. Tso's Cauliflower dish.

A sideliner no more, cauliflower is having its moment in the spotlight

Foodies are giving it a starring role in delicious meat-free recipes

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that’s usually served as a simple side dish, steamed and buttered, sometimes mixed with carrots or broccoli. But lately it’s become the darling of foodies everywhere because of its versatility, mild flavor and ability to replace high-carb ingredients — think rice, pasta and potatoes — in many recipes. And in many cases, it’s also a pretty good substitute for chicken.

It’s also considered a superfood because of its high levels of antioxidants, fiber and nutrients like vitamins B and C.

Although some folks have digestive issues with eating cauliflower (it can cause bloating and gas), nutritionists suggest drinking plenty of water to dilute that effect and also say cooked cauliflower has less of a tendency to make that happen.

Cauliflower, like broccoli, is a member of the cabbage family, and its name reflects that: the original Italian word, cavolfiore, means “cabbage flower.” In Spanish, it’s coliflor. 

In Mexico, one mostly finds the typical white cauliflower, but other varieties are purple, orange and the bright-green, oddly shaped Romanesco. And while Mexico is one of the top five cauliflower producers in the world, I haven’t seen it anywhere on menus other than as a side dish or in soup; have you?

Eating less meat? How about a nice cauliflower steak?
Eating less meat? How about a nice cauliflower steak?

Cauliflower Rice

You may have oohed and ahhed over this in restaurants, but there’s no reason why you can’t make it yourself.

  • 1 head cauliflower, separated into 1-inch florets
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Salt
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh parsley or cilantro leaves, minced
  • Juice of ½ lemon

Trim florets, cutting away as much stem as possible. In a food processor or blender, pulse in batches until mixture resembles couscous.

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, stir in onions. Cook, stirring, until golden brown and softened, about 8 minutes.

Add cauliflower and 1 tsp. salt. Cook, stirring, until cauliflower softens 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Garnish with herbs and lemon juice, and season to taste with salt.

Riced cauliflower is easier to make than you might think.
Riced cauliflower is easier to make than you might think.

Garlic Mashed Cauliflower

  • 1 medium head cauliflower, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. nonfat Greek yogurt
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Fresh rosemary, chopped

Steam or boil cauliflower until very tender. Drain and dry with paper towels. Place hot cauliflower in a food processor with stock, cheese, oil, yogurt and garlic; process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with rosemary.

General Tso’s Cauliflower

  • 2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil, plus more for frying
  • 3 whole dried red chiles
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 strip orange zest, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • ¼ tsp. ground ginger
  • ¾ cup + 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 lb. cauliflower, cut into large florets or wedges (about 4 cups)
  • For serving: steamed rice, orange slices, sliced scallions

Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir in chiles, garlic and orange zest. Cook, stirring, until chiles brighten, about 1 minute. Add sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger and 3 Tbsp. water; bring to boil and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves, 2-3 minutes.

Mix 2 tsp. cornstarch into ¼ cup cold water, then whisk into boiling sauce until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover to keep warm.

Fill a deep skillet or pan halfway with oil and heat over medium-high heat to 350 F. In a large bowl, beat eggs with ½ tsp. each salt and pepper. Toss cauliflower florets in egg mixture. Sprinkle in ¾ cup cornstarch a little at a time until the cauliflower is well coated. Fry cauliflower in 3 batches until light brown and crisp, about 6 minutes. Remove and drain. Transfer to serving bowl; toss with sauce.  Serve with rice, topped with scallions and orange slices.

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks

Picture-perfect and delicious to boot! These can also be done on a grill.

  • 2 heads cauliflower
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. pine nuts
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley or cilantro, chopped
  • Optional: ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425 F. With the heads whole, cut off cauliflower stems. Place heads cut-side down; slice into ½ -inch-thick steaks. Arrange single layer on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes, flipping after the first 10 minutes. Toast pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over medium heat until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add raisins and butter; season with salt. Cook, tossing, until butter coats pine nuts and raisins. Off the heat, stir in herbs. Transfer cauliflower to a serving platter, pour raisin mixture over top. Sprinkle with Parmesan if using.

Go lighter than a standard chicken parm without sacrificing any flavor.
Go lighter than a standard chicken parm without sacrificing any flavor.

Cauliflower Parmesan

  • ½ cup flour
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 3 cups panko or plain bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 medium head cauliflower, cut into 2-inch florets
  • ½ cup olive oil, for frying (more as needed)
  •  5 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ lb. mozzarella, torn into bite-size pieces

Heat oven to 400 F. Place flour, eggs and panko into three wide, shallow bowls. Season each with salt and pepper.

Fill a large skillet with ½ -inch oil over medium-high heat. Dip cauliflower pieces first in flour, then eggs, then coat with panko. When oil is hot, fry cauliflower in batches, turning halfway through, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Spoon thin layer of sauce in bottom of a 9×13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle one-third of the Parmesan over sauce, scatter half cauliflower mixture over the Parmesan and top with half the mozzarella pieces. Top with half the remaining sauce, sprinkle with another third of Parmesan and repeat layering, ending with final layer of sauce and Parmesan.

Bake until cheese is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 40 minutes. Let cool a few minutes before serving. – nytimes.com

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, featured on CNBC and MarketWatch. A retired journalist, she has lived in Mexico since 2006.

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