Going Plant Based: Cauliflower, the “It” Vegetable of the 2020’s
by Karen Pullen
Cauliflower is enjoying a hip makeover from a boring side dish into “wings,” “steaks,” and “rice.” New fans have discovered its mild flavor, “meatiness,” and versatility. It’s being used as a gluten-free substitute for bread and pasta and is popular in low-carb diets.
The growing popularity of cauliflower makes nutritionists happy, because the health-promoting power of cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower is extraordinary. The Brassica family of veggies—Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage—contains compounds that turn into sulforaphane, a powerful cancer-fighting phytonutrient. Cauliflower is also full of disease-fighting nutrients that have been studied for their ability to fight off germs, to help with blood clotting, and to regulate calcium balance. Its antioxidants support a healthy immune response. Its prebiotic fiber helps to feed the good gut bacteria in your digestive tract.
White varieties remain pale because they are covered by their leaves as they grow. Green varieties are actually a broccoli-cauliflower hybrid that is crunchier and nuttier. The orange variety has more beta-carotene, and is sweeter and creamier—look for it on the shelves around Halloween! Purple varieties come in a range of beautiful hues. Any of these can be used where you would use white cauliflower.
In cooking, cauliflower is incredibly versatile. The maximum health benefit comes from eating it raw, for example, as florets dipped into hummus. But it can be prepared in any number of ways. Cut into florets and roast it with onions, carrots, turnips, peppers—whatever you have in the veggie drawer. It makes wonderful pureed soups. I boil it with potatoes and mash them together for a healthier, more flavorful side dish. If I want to get a little fancy, I’ll roast a cauliflower “steak” (a thick slice) that’s been seasoned with Cajun spices and then top it with a creamy avocado sauce and some toasted pepitas.
Next time you have the gang over, serve a batch of Buffalo Cauliflower with Tofu Ranch dip. It will be the star of the party.
Buffalo Cauliflower with Tofu Ranch
- 1 small head of cauliflower
- ¾ cup flour (all purpose or gluten-free)
- ¾ cup unsweetened almond or soy milk
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- ½ cup Frank’s Red Hot Buffalo Wings sauce
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 6 oz silken tofu
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup water
- 2 teaspoon dried dill
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
Preheat the oven to 425 °F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
Cut the cauliflower into one-bite-sized florets. In a large bowl, make a batter by combining the flour, plant-based milk, water, garlic powder, paprika, salt, maple syrup, and Frank’s sauce. Stir until well combined.
Dip the florets into the batter, so they’re completely coated. Roll them in the panko breadcrumbs. Lay the cauliflower florets on the baking sheet, not touching. Bake for 30 minutes.
To make the creamy tofu ranch, add all ingredients from the tofu to the water (everything except for the dill and parsley) to a food processor or high-speed blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Add the dill and parsley. Blend for 30–60 seconds until they are mixed into the creamy ranch dressing, but not completely blended, or you’ll have a green ranch!
Taste for additional seasoning (lemon for more tartness, dill for more herb flavor, etc.). For a thinner consistency, add more water, 1–2 tablespoons at a time.
Refrigerate to let flavors develop. Serve the cooling ranch with the spicy cauliflower.
Karen Pullen is a plant-based cooking instructor, certified in plant-based nutrition from Cornell. Learn more at EverydayPlant-Based.com.