A few years ago, kale went from an unknown green used as filler in salad bar displays to suddenly taking the mainstage in food circles. Out of nowhere, it became king of everything from the farmer’s market to late night hot spots, popping up on trendy restaurant menus, in new fad diets, and even as a potato chip replacement. Our national love affair was pretty hot and heavy for a while, but like any relationship, it eventually calmed down into a mutual respect; we still love kale, but the lust has dimmed slightly.
And that may be because there’s a new prettiest ingredient at the ball. After a lifetime of being grouped with broccoli and shunted to the side in favor of trendier vegetables, cauliflower is having its own little moment. It’s almost as if, after decades of marriage to cauliflower, we finally looked at it with fresh eyes, and now we’re falling in love with it and its potential all over again. (OK, we’re officially done with that food-relationship metaphor now.)
Cauliflower has re-entered our food consciousness at a time when we’re endlessly searching for low-carb substitutes, vegetarian options, and new and trendy repurposing of old ingredients, and has surged into popularity because it satisfies not just one of those needs, but all three.
It’s flown under the radar for too long, and now the food world is ready to give it the respect and attention it deserves. But this plant has been around since as early as the sixth century BC, so why is it having a moment in 2015?
It Can Substitute For So Many Other Ingredients
You’ve probably eaten it hundreds of times in your life, but have you ever really examined cauliflower before? We’re betting not, so let’s get the two of you acquainted. Cauliflower is a member of the cabbage family, placing it alongside vegetables like broccoli, mustard, parsnip, radish, and watercress. It’s extremely low in carbs and fat, but high in fiber and vitamin C. It also has the texture of a starch, which makes it extremely versatile as a substitute for less healthy ingredients.
The two easiest food items for cauliflower to replace are potatoes and rice, as cauliflower’s natural starchiness and mild taste make it a dead ringer for either one, minus the calorie count. Instead of a heavy mound of mashed potatoes, swapping in a light, creamy dish like the cauliflower mash in Plated’s Mushroom-Crusted Flatiron Steak with Cauliflower Mash, which will leave your guests feeling sated instead of weighed down.
But cauliflower’s skills at replacement aren’t limited to other vegetables; in fact, it’s even proven itself as a substitute for meat. Because it holds together so well in the oven during cooking, you can cut and season slabs of cauliflower like you would a steak—the pieces caramelize up beautifully. And don’t rule out using it as a replacement for a meat, as in our Buffalo Cauliflower with Ranch Wedge Salad recipe, which starts off by grilling this underrated vegetable, then infuses it with a spicy kick.
It Responds Well To Almost Any Preparation
One of the most compelling of cauliflower’s many positive qualities is its incredible range. Cauliflower is delectable raw, in a puree, roasted, boiled, in a soup, fried, steamed, riced, grilled, marinated… the list goes on and on, with virtually limitless possibilities.