Cauliflower, once unpopular with most consumers, is becoming common in food products, with sales on the rise, according to The Wall Street Journal. New innovations using the classic vegetable as a substitute for other foods have helped it approach a new heyday. Get to know cauliflower and how to use it in your meals.
The Wall Street Journal piece on cauliflower offered several reasons why cauliflower is getting some time in the spotlight. “It is one of the fastest-growing food products as consumers substitute the versatile vegetable for meat and carbohydrates,” the article said. “Rich in protein and fiber but low in calories, cauliflower is benefiting from the rise of keto and paleo diets that advise people to avoid grains and seek high-fat foods.”
While it’s unlikely to become everyone’s favorite food, cauliflower has never been more popular. An educator for The Great Courses, Chef Bill Briwa, had offered us his thoughts on cauliflower before his unfortunate passing in 2018.
Basics and Blanching
Cauliflower is a kind of inflorescent—”vegetables that are also flowers that also get eaten,” said Chef Briwa, who was a Chef-Instructor at The Culinary Institute of America. Other inflorescents include squash blossoms, artichokes, and broccoli.
Chef Briwa said that cauliflower has been recently bred into several colors, including yellow, purple, and green, but its original color was the classic white with which most of us associate it. It gets its color partially from the leaves that surround it.
“These leaves, when the cauliflower is growing, reach up and surround the cauliflower and protect it from light so that it doesn’t turn dark,” Chef Briwa said. “Most cauliflower is self-blanching.”
However, blanching a vegetable like cauliflower can help soften it up for any other preparation it may need. “[With] blanching, you just drop it into boiling water and let it cook or partially cook,” Chef Briwa said. “I’m going to put some salt in [the water as] it’s just coming up to a boil, and in goes the cauliflower. The question is ‘How long do we blanch it?’ I could give you a time—let’s say about two minutes—or you could also take a piece of cauliflower and see how tender it’s become.”
Keeping Cauliflower Interesting
Besides coming in different colors, there are several other ways to make cauliflower more interesting. One is to use Romanesco cauliflower.
“Romanesco cauliflower is made up of tiny little spirals,” Chef Briwa said. “The large head is the same as the smaller heads that make up the large head, and then there are smaller heads still that make up the medium-sized heads. As you stare at it, it becomes a little hypnotic.”
Chef Briwa also recommended substituting cauliflower in for starches and even proteins in certain dishes. Many home chefs have taken to making “cauliflower rice,” but he had a more dramatic example.
“In the Eastern Mediterranean, they make a dish called shawarma, which is grilled meat, usually chicken or lamb,” he said. “But I’m going to do it with cauliflower instead.”
The rest of the process of making shawarma is the same as using the meat-based version. The customary spice mix is made of salt, pepper, turmeric, cumin, Aleppo pepper, cinnamon, coriander, allspice, and paprika. When mixed with olive oil and melted butter, it makes for a marinade for blanched cauliflower. Some aggressive grilling will char the seasoned cauliflower a bit. Before long, it will be ready to go on pita bread with a yogurt sauce just like any other shawarma.
Blanched cauliflower helps to heat and soften the cauliflower, a first step in leading it to better possibilities than the kids feeding it to the family dog under the table. Making cauliflower rice and cauliflower shawarma are just two ideas to substitute in the healthy, white vegetable over less desirable carbs and calories. If the sales trend continues, cauliflower could be a household ingredient for a long time.
Material by Chef Bill Briwa for The Great Courses was used for this article. A popular chef-instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, Bill Briwa worked in the hospitality business as a professional chef and culinary instructor for experts and laypeople around the world for more than 30 years.