Once mainly served as a colorless counterpoint to its brassica kin broccoli, cauliflower has emerged as a celebrated culinary chameleon. Maybe it was in 1998 when Australian chef Ben Ford (son to actor, Harrison) made it into a steak and served it with roasted chickpeas and chimichurri sauce. Maybe it was when New York City’s Le Bernardin chef Eric Ripert turned it into couscous in a 2010 episode of his PBS cooking show. Maybe it was the subsequent push by the paleo and low-carb eating sets to serve it as a rice substitute, an effort so successful the actual rice-growing industry threatened to make a stink about the imposter to the FDA in 2017. Or maybe it was when Oprah in 2018 rolled out a cauliflower-based pizza crust in her O. That’s Good! grocery line.

Whatever it was, it has driven American eaters crazy for cauliflower! From a health standpoint, that’s good news. A non-starchy, complex carbohydrate, cauliflower is high in fiber, low in sugar and loaded with nutrients, including folate (also known as vitamin B9 and is essential for healthy cell growth and function), vitamin K for bone health, and vitamin C for the immune system.

A recent consumer products report issued by The Nielsen Company noted over three dozen different categories of products across the grocery store in which cauliflower is an ingredient. Sales of “cauliflower-centric” refrigerated dishes doubled in 2018 while cauliflower baby food sales increased by 34 percent. Market predictions say the cauliflower trend is likely to continue through 2027, and some industry analysts predict cauliflower will graduate from trend to become a kitchen staple well beyond that.

Don’t toss, or even compost, the leaves and stems. You can eat the entire cauliflower. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When you buy a head of cauliflower, especially in this time of high demand (its price in Maine grocery stores ranges from $3.49/head for conventional to $4.99/pound for organic), it’s both sustainable and economical to approach it with a waste-not, want-not attitude.

Firstly, a large head of cauliflower, florets and chopped stem, pulsed for a minute in a food processor, will yield about six cups of cauliflower rice. You would have to buy 2-3 bags of frozen cauliflower rice at an average price of $2.50/bag to get the same yield. In addition to its lower cost, DIY cauliflower rice lets you reduce the amount of plastic you bring into your home and the amount of sodium you put into your body. I did a little label reading in the frozen foods section at Hannaford and found that even plain, packaged cauliflower rice from multiple brand-name companies had between 20 and 200 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Like the florets, the tender, light green leaves have a peppery flavor. Save them to include in a green salad. Or roast them along side the florets for a contrasting texture. They crisp up like kale chips. The thicker, stringier leaves and their ribs can be chopped up and boiled or roasted with any florets destined to be pureed.

The only bit of the cauliflower that needs to be trimmed as discard is the very end of the stem where it was severed from its stalk. Those bits are typically dried, cracked and quite hard. But they are perfectly useful in the compost pile, where they can go on to help nurture the next generation of brassicas in your garden.

Christine Burns Rudalevige is a food writer, recipe developer, tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. She can be contacted at: [email protected]

Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic Soup

I first tasted cauliflower in 1979 when my best friend’s dad made cream of cauliflower soup. It was snow white, silky and had a slight peppery bite. This version is darker and tastes meatier because I roasted almost every bit of the head in the oven before adding it to the soup pot. But I promise you, it’s as silky as any cauliflower soup you’ve ever tasted.

Makes 9 cups

1 head cauliflower
Olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
1 head garlic
1 sweet onion, such as Vidalia, peeled and chopped
1 waxy potato, washed and chopped
6 cups vegetable broth or chicken stock
5 sprigs of thyme, tied together with a piece of kitchen twine

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Chop the whole head of cauliflower, florets, stem and all the leaves into roughly 1-inch pieces. Spread the pieces out on a baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and the Aleppo pepper.

Slice the garlic head in half crosswise to expose all the cloves. Place both halves into a piece of aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Wrap the foil tightly around the garlic halves. Place the foil bundle on the baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower and garlic in the preheated oven until the chunks of stem are tender, and the florets are slightly browned, 15-18 minutes.

While the cauliflower roasts, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and potatoes, cooking them until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the broth or stock and the thyme and simmer. When the cauliflower is roasted, add it to the pot to simmer for 5 minutes. Keep the garlic in its bundle as it will continue to soften while it cools.

Remove the bundle of thyme from the soup pot. Transfer the soup to a blender. If your blender canister is small, you might have to do this in batches. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and into the blender canister. Compost the garlic skins. Blend the soup until silky smooth. Adjust salt to taste.

Serve hot, garnished with a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper.

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