For low-carb dieters, a head to count on
Cauliflower used as substitute for potatoes, rice, popcorn
By Ellen Uzelac
Special To The Sun
October 27, 2004
Three days into their low-carb diet, Carolyn Beachy made her husband, Sam, a gorgeous meal: grilled salmon with beurre blanc accented with ginger and soy; a tossed salad and mashed something.
"He looked at it. He looked at me. He knew something was up. He tasted it and said, 'This is pretty good,' " recalls Beachy, a Chestertown floral designer and instructor. "And I was like: 'Thank God.' "
The mystery guest that showed up on Sam Beachy's dinner plate was cauliflower, which is reaching almost iconic status in low-carbing circles. How else to explain the vegetable that can sub quite nicely for potatoes, rice and even popcorn?
Mashed cauliflower, or fauxtatoes as it's been dubbed, has gone mainstream almost overnight. Hyatt Hotels serves it with beef short ribs and Ruby Tuesday offers creamy mashed cauliflower as one of 20 low-carb menu items. Even restaurants at the top of the food chain - like Daniel in Manhattan and Spago in Los Angeles - feature it regularly. There's a frozen brand now, too, ImiTaters.
While fauxtatoes may have put cauliflower back into the culinary consciousness, the real drama for this once-ignored vegetable is that it is turning up in so many new recipes being created by today's low-carb chefs.
"If people are hesitant about cauliflower because of the way they had it in childhood - forced down their throats - it's time to reconsider," says executive chef and low-carber Karen Barnaby, author of The Low-Carb Gourmet (Rodale Books, $35), due out next month. "Its potential is amazing."
Barnaby calls cauliflower "the chameleon vegetable" because it can substitute for potatoes in so many recipes - from baked potatoes to potato salads. But it's also got firepower that goes beyond spuds. Barnaby uses it as a thickening agent in cream soups, for instance. Or she grates it in a Chinese-style stir-fry. And she makes a terrific parmesan-crusted cauliflower.
"In terms of low carb and having fun with a vegetable, cauliflower is the one I've always liked," says Barnaby, executive chef of the Fish House in Vancouver, British Columbia. "The taste is just so great."
Cauliflower, now selling for about $2 a head in local markets, is also good for you. It's very low in sodium and has no fat, saturated fat or cholesterol. It does have potassium, calcium, vitamin C, fiber and iron. And like its cousins, broccoli and cabbage, it's recognized for its cancer-fighting benefits. Cooked cauliflower also has 5 grams of carbohydrates per cup versus 31 grams of carbs for potatoes.
Cauliflower is even coming on strong as a snack food - not just eaten raw with a dip but as a fill-in for popcorn. The cauliflower popcorn on the Mrs. Dash Web site (www.mrsdash.com
) seems to be causing a lot of chatter in particular. "Diced into small bits and baked for a long time, it's great," says Barnaby. "It's something small to nibble on. It can fulfill that urge."
So how did cauliflower - once described by Mark Twain as "nothing but cabbage with a college education" - get such a bad rap? Overcooking, which can make it smelly, and a lack of imagination.
"It's always been: 'Here's your overcooked vegetable with a little bit of butter and salt on it. Think of it as something that's next to something more interesting.' But there's no reason not to make the vegetable the interesting piece," according to Dana Carpender, a best-selling low-carb cookbook author whose new book, 500 More Low-Carb Recipes (Fair Winds Press, $19.95), is scheduled to hit stores this month with - count them - 32 cauliflower recipes. "I've found a lot of people are just stunned by all the different things I've done with cauliflower."
Carpender has used cauliflower plenty as a potato alternative. "I call it the great fooler," she says. "It's very convincing." But more "nouveau," she adds, are the recipes that use it in place of rice.
To do that, Carpender puts raw cauliflower through the shredding blade of a food processor, then cooks it lightly in a microwave. A half-head should be microwaved six to seven minutes on high. The cauliflower doesn't taste like rice but the texture can pass for it well enough to use as a risotto, as fried rice, as a bed for stir-fry or mixed in a goulash.
"We're a meat and cauliflower kind of family," says Carpender, author of Lowcarbezine!, an online newsletter. "I rarely go to the grocery without picking up a head."
Cauliflower actually dipped in popularity last year as dieters, watching their carbohydrate intake, swore off eating things that are white, according to Maggie Bezart, a spokeswoman for Ocean Mist Farms, a California grower that produces almost two million cartons of cauliflower a year. But this year, Ocean Mist has increased its acreage because retailers are seeing heightened demand.
"People are being taught to eat cauliflower again. They're getting creative," says Bezart, who also fancies cauliflower because it's a great rotation crop as a land-management tool. "We've been growing cauliflower for 80 years. Everyone knows what it is but very few people understand how wonderful it is for you and how versatile it is."
Certainly, that has been Beachy's experience. "Basically, it's a vessel to carry other flavors. Indian spices and browned butter do great things for it. And it's just so simple. When you've got a head of cauliflower and not a lot of time, while it's cooking in the microwave you're browning your butter," says Beachy. "People are really trying to be inventive with it. It's giving us more choices."
Cauliflower 'Potato' Salad
1 medium head cauliflower, broken into small florets
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 packets sugar substitute
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3 green onions, chopped
1 finely chopped jalapeno pepper or 2 tablespoons chopped green bell pepper
salt and pepper
Cook cauliflower in a large pot of boiling salted water 10 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. Pat dry.
In large mixing bowl, mix mayo, lemon juice, sugar substitute and mustard.
Add cauliflower, green onion and pepper. Mix well until vegetables are evenly coated with dressing. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill 30 minutes for flavors to blend.
-- Atkins Nutritionals
Per serving: 98 calories; 2 grams protein; 8 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 7 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 3 milligrams cholesterol; 80 milligrams sodium
2 pounds cauliflower, trimmed
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 fresh green onions, thinly sliced
freshly ground black pepper
Grate the cauliflower, including the core, using the medium holes of a grater or the grater attachment of a food processor. With your hands, squeeze out as much water as you can.
Melt the butter in large, heavy frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until the garlic sizzles. Add the cauliflower, sprinkle with salt and stir-fry until tender-crisp, 5 minutes to 8 minutes. The length of the time will depend on the cauliflower.
Stir in green onions and season to taste with pepper. Check the seasoning and serve.
Note: This goes with almost anything saucy. Try it with crumbled feta, olive oil and chopped tomato on top. The variations are endless: a bit of curry powder, some grated lemon rind to go with fish or some chili powder. For a Pan-Asian taste, add diced cooked meat or shrimp with a splash of soy sauce.
-- "The Low-Carb Gourmet" by Karen Barnaby (Rodale Books, 2004, $35)
Per serving: 85 calories; 1 gram protein; 8 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 4 grams carbohydrate; 2 grams fiber; 20 milligrams cholesterol; 403 milligrams sodium
Basic Cauliflower Mash
2 pounds cauliflower, trimmed
1/4 cup whipping cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup cream cheese
Cut the cauliflower, including the core, into 1-inch pieces. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt lightly. Add the cauliflower and cook over medium heat until completely tender, 20 minutes to 30 minutes.
Drain cauliflower in a colander. With a bowl or small plate, press on the cauliflower to remove all water. Toss the cauliflower and continue pressing out the water. This step is very important to the texture of the dish.
Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor. Add the cream and puree until completely smooth. If you like a chunkier texture, mash by hand, adding the cream after cauliflower is mashed. Return to pot.
When you are ready to serve, heat over low heat, stirring constantly. Add the butter, parmesan and cream cheese. Stir until incorporated. Season to taste with salt, if necessary. Serve immediately.
-- "The Low-Carb Gourmet" by Karen Barnaby (Rodale Books, 2004, $35) Per serving: 164 calories; 3 grams protein; 16 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 4 grams carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber; 47 milligrams cholesterol; 102 milligrams sodium