(Cauli)flower Power

Let’s say we were hanging out at the coffee shop or used bookstore and you turned to me and innocently asked, “Rebecca, what’s your favourite vegetable?” I honestly don’t think that I could come up with an answer for you. It would be like choosing between my children. That is, if I had bothered to have more than one.

My grocery cart is a weekly love letter to produce:

Carrots? Love ’em. Remember the time I ate so many that I turned myself orange and people kept asking me where I had been vacationing? Good times.

Broccoli? Good stuff. One of the mascot’s favourites, so I can find no fault.

Green beans? Can’t get enough. In fact, I am glad that my ex hated them, because I didn’t have to share.

Cabbage? Yeah. Sorry, ’bout that.

Brussels Sprouts? Hated them as a child; love them as a growed-up.

Eggplant? Like an arm-less, leg-less Grimace. What’s not to adore?

Squash? Haven’t met one I didn’t like. Acorn, butternut, spaghetti, delecata, pumpkin… yes, yes yes, yes, yes.

Cauliflower? Oh, cauliflower. Where do I start?

Well, first of all, I should start with an apology. For years, I didn’t bother with cauliflower. It was too cumbersome and too messy to cut and, really, what can you do besides steaming it?

The answer is: so much, my friends, so much. I like it steamed, yes, but also roasted, mashed, braised with indian spices, folded into a savoury curry, baked into a fritatta, pureed into the silkiest of soups, or cooked, bashed-up and served as an alternative to rice. I eat it raw almost every day for lunch and have even been known to snack on handfuls of it when I just need something crunchy. You have your peanut butter on toast points or celery stalks? I have mine on cauliflower.

In a recent blog post, “One Vegetable, Four Meals”, Mark Bittman waxes poetic about cauliflower. His description of “Roman style” cauliflower with anchovies, dried chilis and “loads of garlic” had me wondering if anything could ever be better than that… until I read about his pan-roasted, egg-topped cauliflower breakfast.  And, if you are wondering if it really is possible to stretch a single head of cauliflower over four meals, feel free to join me at Costco some time. I have seen them the size of Volkswagens there.

One of my very favourite recipes for cauliflower is Padma Lakshmi’s Sauteed Cauliflower with Anise and Cashews (pictured above); a simple dish to prepare that looks and tastes incredible. I have doubled the recipe, taken it to potlucks and gone home with nary a cashew. I am sharing the recipe here, but I highly recommend that you pick up Padma’s cookbook. It is filled with anecdotes, tips and, of course, recipes as fabulous as Padma herself.

Sauteed Cauliflower with Anise and Cashews
adapted from “Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet” by Padma Lakshmi

1 tsp whole anise seeds
1 pinch dried hot chilis
1 cup diced onion or shallots
1 1/12 tbsp minced ginger
1 large cauliflower, broken into florets
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup cashews
In a skillet over medium-high heat, toast the anise seeds and chilis until fragrant. Add onions (or shallots), ginger, cauliflower, water and salt. Cook for 10 mins. Add cashews and cook, uncovered, for an additional 10 mins or until all of the moisture is gone, stirring occasionally. The cauliflower should be browned at the edges and cashews should be toasted and golden.
Serves 4 – 6.

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