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The 1980s version of myself would have rather headed off to bed without dinner than to consume the soggy, sorry excuses for side dishes to my white bread and margarine. To my six-year-old taste buds, beets were like dirt from a can; Brussels, only served as the boil-in-a-bag variety, were suffocated in a cheese sauce until they became a slime-like mess; and spinach, no matter how many times I was told that a certain cartoon sailor got off on it, still tasted like something that was scraped from the bottom of his boat.
But those days are over. In recent years, our foods, like our taste buds, have grown up. From beet, goat cheese, and arugula (did arugula exist in the 80s?) salads, to Brussel sprouts and kimchi, we’ve worked foods that were once hated into our weekly repertoire of culinary goodness.
In 2015, we will rekindle our relationship with the cauliflower.
As a kid, this broccoli relative looked weird and tasted bland. But we weren’t eating it right. When cooked correctly, you’ll quickly learn that this brassica is very versatile. Hailed as the “new kale”, cauliflower continues to dominate recipe blogs and publications because of its ability to absorb flavors and its high antioxidant properties. But did you know that texturally, cauliflower can transform its shape into just about anything you could conjure up? Chances are you’ve tried cauliflower as a mashed potato substitute, but now home cooks are using quickly food-processed pan-fried cauliflower as replacement fried rice, “mac” and cheese, and risotto, to keep carbs out of a diet. My favorite is to make a whole vegetarian meal out of cauliflower “steaks” by pan-frying thick slices with oil and garlic in a hot cast iron and topping with capers and olives.
So when eating this year, keep an open mind and give old foods a chance. Watch out liver, you’re next.
Cauliflower Steaks with wilted Garlic Spinach (serves 4)
- 1 large head of cauliflower
- 4-6 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
- 2 cups baby spinach
- About 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup blue cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Smoked paprika
Clean and trim a large head of cauliflower, leaving core in one piece. Place core-side down and cut four to five ½ inch “steaks”, all-the-way-through the head. Save any small florets that have fallen apart and reserve for topping.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Add a big splash of olive oil and at least three cloves of garlic to cast-iron pan, (or any oven-proof skillet) and heat on medium-high heat. Working in batches, quickly place “steaks” on pan to caramelize the cauliflower, about two minutes per side. I like to add lots of black pepper at this point. Be careful as the cast iron will get very hot. Keep a close eye on the sizzle and add another splash of oil when needed to control the heat. When times up, transfer “steaks” to large rimmed baking sheet. Add a sprinkle of smoked paprika to each. Finish cooking the “steaks” in oven for about 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, turn the heat to low and place the cast-iron back on your stove top. In pan, melt about 1/2 tablespoon of butter and two cloves of garlic. Sauté for about two minutes. Add spinach and sauté until wilted; you’ll notice a beautiful bright green color; about two minutes. Next, use tongs to move spinach to the side of pan and add another 1/2 tablespoon of butter, chopped walnuts, and the remaining florets of cauliflower. Sauté for about five minutes. Turn off heat and add blue cheese to pan to create a chunky topping, another two minutes.
Finally, divide wilted spinach among each plate and place one or two cauliflower steaks gently on top; spoon blue cheese and walnut topping over. Serve hot. Enjoy!