November 20, 2016
All hail the star of my Thanksgiving feast: the lowly cauliflower. Rise up, you lumpy, white cruciferous. Dazzle us with your transformation into cauliflower steaks.
That’s right. A meatless steak. Actually, even better than real steak.
Instead of 500 calories for an 8-oz. beef steak, a plate of that much cauliflower weighs in at barely 50 calories. Even if you drown your veggie alternative in a full tablespoon of olive oil (119 calories), you’re still in fine, healthy shape.
I learned to make this simple-yet-satisfying dish in a cooking class. We hacked whole heads of this common kitchen staple into big, firm slabs. After roasting them in the oven to a nice, brown finish, we drizzled and dressed with creative touches. The results had me in shock.
Really? This was cauliflower — the boring, hard, chunk of produce that I usually steamed or stir-fried as little florets? Wow.
This is why I love cooking classes. They challenge me to see the ordinary through fresh eyes. I stop taking things for granted and reboot, feeling more in touch with my surroundings and relationships. Yup, all this from slicing the common cauliflower.
My cauliflower moment came as part of a three-day vegan cooking course that I took in 2014. The experience opened me up to eating less meat and more plants without feeling deprived. If anything, the recipes we learned from instructor Peter Berley were filling, innovative and visually beautiful.
Peter is a versatile chef who teaches a variety of classes at the Institute for Culinary Education, which is where I found him. A master of magnificent meatless meals, he had us whipping up vegetable and bean patés, vegetable soup stocks and even tarts baked without eggs, butter or cow milk. Of course, I now own one of his cookbooks, “Fresh Food Fast.”
The book, like Peter’s courses, are all about his passion for sustainable food. He grows his own vegetables and uses every bit of them to avoid waste. After taking his class, I’ve never bought another can or carton of broth.
Instead, I throw vegetable scraps in a pot of hot water instead of the garbage, boiling everything from seeds scooped out of butternut squash to woody turnip peels and too-tough celery stems. Home-made veggie broth is the best!
He even offered a new idea for scallions, which I’ve been using forever as a garnish. I grew up in Chinatown where the restaurants sprinkled chopped scallions everywhere. What’s to know? Well, guess what — slicing them into diamond shapes was another first for me. We had them on hand when we pulled the roasted cauliflower from the oven.
First, we arranged our steaks on a platter, gently laying them down, round and round. The trick is to roast them just right; too long in the oven and they fall apart. (We tucked broken pieces in here and there; they were still worth eating.)
Then, we drizzled on the red, cayenne-paprika vinaigrette. Final touch, the bright green scallion diamonds. Once you set these babies on the table, watch them disappear.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
1. Slice the cauliflower into steaks about 3/4″ thick.
2. Brush the steaks all over with the 2 tablespoons of olive oil combined with cumin. Season with 1 teaspoon salt.
3. Place the cauliflower on a roasting pan and roast 25 to 30 minutes, until carmelized (it turns brown and tender).
4. Remove the cauliflower from the oven and drizzle with vinaigrette.
5. And now, make the vinaigrette: In a small skillet over medium heat, combine the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil with 1/4 cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon paprika. Sizzle the spices for 30 seconds then stir in the lemon juice.
6. Pour vinaigrette over the cauliflower and serve.
So, this dish is my contribution to the Thanksgiving table. My daughter is in charge of the menu for the first time. I’m excited to see what she comes up with! And how are your plans going? Whatever you do, I hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with peace, love and some much-needed rest. xo