Gluten-Free Ingredient Crush: Cauliflower

Yeah, cauliflower. The vegetable kids love to hate has become the belle of the culinary ball. While I won’t go so far as to say it’s a perfect replacement for high-carb foods, I feel pretty comfortable saying cauliflower is delicious on its own.

The trick is in the preparation. My vague recollection of childhood cauliflower is that the stuff was served boiled and flavorless. This was, I am sad to say, typical of the era. Vegetables came from a can, were cooked on the stovetop until whatever flavor remained was eliminated, then served. I make fun of my mother’s anti-vegetable stance, but her palate never served a chance (this despite my grandmother being an otherwise awesome cook).

The husband and I eat cauliflower in some form at least once a month, and I’ll order it when I see it on the menu in certain restaurants. Boiled or steamed? No thank you — those preparations are often mushy and flavorless. Roasted? Absolutely! I once enjoyed gluten-free fried cauliflower — dusted with rice flour and fried very lightly, it was just amazing.

(The kind of amazing that had the table ordering a second serving of this appetizer as we devoured it immediately.)

For those of us seeking to reduce processed carbs in our diets, cauliflower has been elevated to place of honor. Riced cauliflower over rice. Creamed cauliflower over potatoes. Mushy cauliflower over traditional pizza crust. And, yeah, it totally works. No, it doesn’t taste the same as the original, but cauliflower has a mild flavor that doesn’t compete with other flavors. Roasting cauliflower brings out a richer, nuttier flavor.

Ready for some great cauliflower recipe ideas? I thought so:

  • Buffalo Cauliflower. A good friend had an amazing cauliflower dish at a restaurant, and we set out to recreate the experience (a bit challenging on my part as I hadn’t actually *tasted* the dish…like that would stop me!). After some trial and error, we settled on a version that featured the flavors of Buffalo wings without overwhelming the dish. It’s been a hit at parties since, and is so simple: roast your cauliflower in the oven until it’s starting to caramelize, spread the cooked cauliflower in low, wide serving dish (to reduce steaming the cauliflower on the bottom), drizzle with your favorite Buffalo wing sauce, and finish with a good sprinkle of blue cheese.
  • Cauliflower Curry. In looking at my recipe collection, I have way more recipes for cauliflower curry than I thought. And, of course, despite having so many recipes, I generally just wing my curries. This fall vegetable curry has all the great flavors of a perfect curry, plus it’s really simple.
  • Cauliflower Pizza Crust. There are, by my count, about a million recipes for cauliflower pizza crust. Here, the mild flavor makes is a great canvas for a variety of toppings (try pesto and fresh ricotta!). Warning: most of the recipes you’ll find online will require 2 – 3 eggs, which is often WAY too much. The recipe I’ve linked to only asks for one, and that’s about right. However, let your cauliflower be your guide. If you have a large amount of riced cauliflower, a bit more egg may be required. Start with one, mix, test the cohesion of the dough, add more egg if necessary.
  • Cauliflower Rice Salad. Riced cauliflower is often transformed into faux-mashed potatoes or other tasty ingredients. This salad takes a different approach: the riced cauliflower stays raw, while dried fruits and herbs bring a whole lot of flavor. This recipe has become a huge household favorite.
  • Roasted Cauliflower. Roasted vegetables are my culinary superheroes. I will roast anything at any point in time. And I honestly believe it was when I roasted cauliflower for the first time that I grew to appreciate the vegetable. My basic recipe involves olive oil, salt, and pepper. Or you could go super-fancy with turmeric and jalapeno, as done here.
  • Soup. Of course cauliflower makes a perfect soup, especially when it’s roasted to bring out that nutty flavor. Add some garbanzo beans, and you know you’ve made my perfect meal.
  • Stir Fries. Lately, I’ve been a bit of a stir-fry addict. Something about tossing ingredients into a screaming hot wok and letting the magic happen makes me happy. Or maybe it’s just that a stir-fried dinner feels like it comes together *so* fast. This recipe brings together the basic elements of a stir fry, and you can mix and match, adding protein for example, to your heart’s content.
  • Tots. Yeah, people go there. They make tots from cauliflower instead of potatoes. And they’re actually pretty good. Substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs here (or skip them altogether as the egg and cheese are excellent binders).

Bonus:

  • Cauliflower-Crusted Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. I have not made this recipe. It came via a friend who was looking for the funniest cauliflower she could find (we were going back and forth via email with our favorite cauliflower recipes…hey, it’s a fun way to spend a Friday night!). This recipe won. It looks amazing, but I cannot vouch for it beyond being photogenic.

Thoughts? Favorite cauliflower ideas?

Tip of the Week

I see cauliflower rice popping up in the produce sections of pretty much every grocery store these days, and I will confess I’ve been lazy enough to buy the pre-made stuff. But generally, I am too cheap for this route…it only takes about five minutes to do it yourself. Cut a head of cauliflower into small chunks. Working in batches, blitz in your food processor until the pieces are size of rice grains. If you’re going to cook them, saute them in a skillet with a bit of olive oil and spices. Simple (and super-cost effective).

Gluten-Free Meal of the Week

As you know, Chinese food is hard when you’re gluten free, so I’m always on the lookout for great recipes that remind of the days when I could enjoy takeout…without reminding me of the days when that takeout destroyed my digestive system and made me very sick. Don’t miss that part, at all.

And since I’m still not eating meat — something I find curious, but not unpleasant — I’ve made vegetarian versions of old favorites. Including this version of General Tso’s Cauliflower (I’ve also done a couple of killer versions of General Tso’s Tofu…that General Tso has been very good to my cooking repertoire.

Obviously, you will need to substitute gluten-free all-purpose flour for the all-purpose flour here. And, of course, gluten-free soy sauce. It’s funny how my mind automatically converts the recipes to read as gluten free, even when the ingredients list is non-GF.

Serve with steamed rice and some protein for a full meal.

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