For too long, vegetables have been relegated to the side, backing up the meaty headliner. A modest pile of peas or steamed broccoli, adorned with a melting pat of butter, gave the plate some color, and something to eat between bites of steak. But thanks to interest in plant-based cuisine, the vegetables we long relegated to second class are stepping up to center stage.
Meet the cauliflower steak. Why not butcher a brassica to make a meaty slab, sear it like a cut of beef, and roast it to tenderness? The switch in technique accomplishes three details: The sear gives the vegetable a hint of char, adding more complexity and a meaty-umami quality. Roasting concentrates the juices of the vegetable, rather than the watering- down that happens when you boil or steam it.
But the fun starts when you plate a cut of cauliflower like the star of the show. Cauliflower transforms into a main course when it’s seared and sauced and you cut it with a steak knife.
Yes, a steak knife. It’s part of the show.
Cauliflower is the chameleon of the vegetable world. Thanks to low-carbers, we have seen it transformed into pizza crusts and flatbreads. Grind the florets into rice-sized bits, and it can stand in for rice on the plate. Purée it for a creamy soup, or pickle it for Italian giardinera and serve it as a relish. You can even blend it up for a mashed potato stand-in.
The pristine whiteness of the cauliflower makes it a blank canvas for color. Bright yellow turmeric, almonds and the florets leftover after you cut the “steaks” are puréed to make an eye-catching and flavorful base for the steak. Steaming the cauliflower makes it mild and soft, so it takes on the spices and becomes creamy.
Once you try this version of cauliflower steak, let your imagination run wild. Coat the steak with Cajun spices before searing, for a blackened steak. Add other colorful seasonings to the sauce, like red tomato paste or beets, or go green with pesto or spinach. You’ll have extra sauce to try over rice or on veggies, and you may just like the sauce so much that you make it on its own.
The cauliflower dish fills a dinner plate, so serve some bread for mopping up, and a side salad for a colorful plant-based meal.
Note: To carve out your steaks, you’ll be bisecting the cauliflower from the crown down through the center of the stem, and making parallel cuts an inch or more from that center cut. It’s easier if you make the side cuts before you cut the center one. Depending on the size of your cauliflower, you may have 3 or 4 cups of florets leftover when the steaks have been cut. Either way, just season to taste. From Robin Asbell.
• 1/2 c. slivered almonds
• 1 1/2 lb. cauliflower (1 medium)
• 1 tbsp. fresh ginger
• 2 tsp. lemon zest
• 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
• 3/4 tsp. turmeric
• 1 c. coconut milk
• 1/2 c. fresh mint, packed
• 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
• 1 large jalapeño, seeded
• 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1 tsp. sugar
• 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
• 1 tsp. brown mustard seeds
• 2 tbsp. canola oil
Place the almonds in a heat-safe cup and pour boiling water over them to cover by an inch. Let stand for 30 minutes, then drain.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim the leaves from the cauliflower, trim the bottom flat and stand it up on its base. Cut out 2-inch-thick steaks from the center of the head and reserve. Break the remaining cauliflower into florets.
Put 4 cups of the florets in a steamer, and steam for 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is very soft. Place the steamed cauliflower, drained almonds, ginger and lemon zest in a food processor and process to purée. Scrape down and repeat until smooth. Add the curry powder, turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and process. Then add the coconut milk and process until very smooth. Transfer to a small pan to heat on the stove (this makes more than you need for 2 steaks; reserve the rest for another use).
Wash the processor and place the mint, ginger and jalapeño in the bowl. Process to mince, scrape down and mince well again. Add the lemon juice, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
In a small pan, place the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and place over medium heat. Swirl the pan until the seeds are fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop. Transfer to the food processor, then process until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Scrape the chutney into a small bowl.
To cook the steaks, have a baking sheet handy. Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Slide the steaks carefully into the oil and sear on each side, pressing down with a sturdy spatula to make sure the cauliflower is in contact with the pan. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, until evenly browned. Transfer to the baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, until you can insert a paring knife into the fat part of the stem with no resistance.
To serve, spread 3/4 cup of the sauce on each dinner plate, and place a cauliflower steak on top. Sprinkle with chutney and serve immediately. Provide steak knives for carving.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 390 Fat 31 g Sodium 120 mg
Carbohydrates 26 g Saturated fat 10 g Total sugars 11 g
Protein 9 g Cholesterol 0 mg Dietary fiber 9 g
Exchanges per serving: 2 vegetable, 1 carb, ½ high-fat protein, 5 ½ fat.
Robin Asbell is a cooking instructor and author of “Big Vegan,” “The Whole Grain Promise” and “Great Bowls of Food.” Find her at robinasbell.com.