Tuesday, January 30, 2007

15 Minute Mashed Cauliflower

I have trouble with portion control. I'm often way too hungry to eat the small amount of recommended food, but I don't want to fill up on junk calories -- be it potato chips or an extra slice of chicken breast. That's why I adore vegetables. It's pretty difficult to eat too many veggies, which means that I can fill up my plate with cauliflower, spinach, green beans, peas... the list is endless. And vegetables are tasty, too, and can be very hearty while being simple to prepare.
Take last night, for example. We made some Amy's Chicken Sausages, which aren't entirely healthy on their own due to their high sodium content (although they are made from chicken rather than beef, which makes them better for you than standard sausage) and had some leftover onion soup. One sausage and a half a bowl of soup probably wouldn't fill me up, especially since my lunch usually consists of a pita, two small slices of cheese, a tablespoon of hummus, and a handful of baby carrots. So we boiled some broccoli, serving with 1/2 tablespoon of butter and a healthy sprinkle of black pepper. It was fantastic and provided the perfect accompaniment for the spicy sausage (we had the gouda and apple flavored kind, by the way. The cheese melts in little pockets when you boil rather than grill and oozes out deliciously.) The texture of well-cooked cauliflower or broccoli is really the most important thing, in my opinion, because you're going to be eating it as a side dish anyhow. I never add salt because it just detracts from the healthiness of the dish.
At the grocery store, we tried to buy cauliflower, but it was mostly brown-spotted. You want your cauliflower to be firm and perfectly white. Brown spots indicate that it's going bad, and it doesn't look as nice when it's on your plate if it is spotted. I prefer cauliflower -- I can't really say why, just that I'd rather eat it than broccoli. I think it has something to do with the texture, really, and cauliflower seems to take slightly longer to cook and is less prone to turning mushy.
I love that cauliflower is high in vitamin C -- just one cup provides more than 90% of your daily intake value -- is low in fat, and is in season during the winter, when many vegetables and fruits are not. It keeps for about a week in the fridge after purchasing it, which is an ample amount of time to get around to cooking it as opposed to a lot of other vegetables purchased during the wintertime. Store it stem side down to make sure that the florets don't accumulate moisture and spoil.
I saw this recipe when watching Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way (link plays sound effects) a show on our local PBS affiliate. I really enjoy watching this show, because he prepares everything from scratch and does it really fast -- not like Rachel Ray, whose "30-minute meals" would take at least 45 after you prep all the ingredients. He does almost everything right there and doesn't seem to rely on an unseen sous-chef to prepare his ingredients. There's nothing wrong with a sous-chef, but when you're touting "fast food" or "30-minute meals," it's important to deliver a product that actually meets those standards.
This recipe only takes about 15 minutes from start to finish and most of it is hands-off, leaving you free to prepare the main course as the cauliflower boils. We serve this as a side to nearly everything, but I prefer it with fish or poultry. It is so easy to make and it turns out spectacularly well that I don't think you need much vegetable experience to make it successfully. If you're wary about cooking veggies, try a simple recipe (such as this one) and you'll find that the product practically delivers itself, both in taste and simplicity.

15 Minute Mashed Cauliflower
Begin by bringing 1-1/2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. As the water heats up, turn a whole small cauliflower so the stem is facing up and cut through the core to remove the stem and leaves. Separate the cauliflower into bite-sized florets and wash throughly. Drain.
Add the florets to the boiling water and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Do not stir, as stirring breaks up the florets. Drain the water and add 1-1/2 tablespoons of butter and some ground pepper to taste into the pot. Using a knife, chop the florets in a stirring motion to break them apart, chopping into fair-sized chunks.

Can you believe how easy that is to make? I suggest serving it with a dish that has a sauce because it will soak that right up from the plate. You can also serve it as is with some extra ground pepper for spice, or with some chopped chives for added zest. It's a delicious and nutritious side dish for many meals, and it's so very easy to prepare.

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