The hardest part of cooking is figuring out what to fix. We all get into ruts with a regular routine of about twenty or so favorites that we rerun. I rely a great deal on taking a cue from the supply at hand—the freezer inventory, what’s in the vegetable drawer or in the garden, in the pantry, what leftovers need transmogrifying, what looked tasty the last time I went to the store.
Eating out, visiting someone for dinner, or attending a potluck can all help jolt us out of our accustomed routines. And nowadays, we have the web. Plenty of you tell me that you do not use the web yet. Thank goodness, you read this column instead to get new ideas.
The Internet is a really mixed blessing. I can almost always get a quick answer to a question I might have. I can also end up with too much information: put “carrot recipes” in the search engine box and stand back. I just did it: 32,000,000 responses. I’ll never live long enough to look at them all. So if I need a new idea I have a couple favorite places to go to on the Internet where I find intriguing recipes, often a little quirky, and not always something I want to eat, but almost always something there prompts an experiment. My current favorite is Food52 which is where I found this idea for cooking cauliflower.
Good old cauliflower, low carbohydrate, low fat, low everything except fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C. Only 146 calories in one medium head. What a nice vegetable.
So, I saw a recipe on Food52 that treats cauliflower a little like a steak. You cut a couple of slabs out of the middle using the core to hold it together. Each slab looks like a tree, very pretty. The rest of the cauliflower, you can cut up into the usual florets to steam; or, the recipe suggested, mash and season them, to make a puree on which to float the steaks. I adapted the recipe to use a mixture of spices to fry the steaks with that gives cauliflower a rich, pungent flavor. No law says you have to use the spices; you can cook it in olive oil, and/or butter, salt and pepper.
I merely sprinkle paprika (smoked, of course), cumin, a whisper of chili, some coriander, salt and pepper, over the olive oil on the old cast iron frying pan. I lay the cauliflower steaks on it, keep it over a medium heat, turn them once, and cook just until they are fork tender. Meanwhile, I boil or steam the rest of the head, mash it, sometimes add garlic, usually butter, salt and pepper. I spread that on the plate, lay the steaks on top, add another vegetable or salad, or maybe rice, and it is dinner for two, usually done in half an hour, and as wholesome as all get out. Of course, if your family members are die hard meat and potato people, you are going to have to make this as a side dish. It also works for vegans, if you don’t use butter.
If you are an Internet user, check out Food52.com. Lots of fun ideas there.
P.S. Looking for…..Kendra Newcombe wrote to say, “My mission group has been asked to bake goodies to send to Kuwait. Any suggestions for good travelers that will stand up to the heat?” Good question. Do any of you have a recipe for a baked item we can send to armed forces that won’t run into rancid crumbs enroute?
Cauliflower Steaks on Cauliflower Puree
One 1 1/2-pound head of cauliflower
½ cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Your choice of paprika, cumin, coriander, chili
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut two one-half to three-quarter inch slabs out of the center of a head of cauliflower. Cut the remaining cauliflower into florets. Put the florets into a saucepan with the milk plus a little water, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the florets are tender. Drain, set aside, and reserve the cooking liquid. Put the florets in a food processor (or use a masher). Add a little of reserved cooking liquid and puree until smooth, adding more liquid to taste. Season puree with salt and pepper, and butter. Set aside.
Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy frying pan or skillet, sprinkle the oil lightly with the spices, and lay the steaks on the pan. Cook until the steaks brown lightly and are fork tender, turning once.
Reheat the puree and spread on a dinner plate, and lay the steaks on top to serve.
Makes two servings.