Let's be honest. Potatoes are very healthy and full of vitamins, but most people use them simply as a vehicle for fattening sauces, cheese, sour cream, butter and bacon.
We also have to admit that here in the northeast/midwest, unlike more southern parts of the country, potatoes are the most traditional side dish. Not rice, and definitely not vegetables. But when we couple those potatoes with all of the ingredients that restaurants describe as ''loaded'' on their menus, we do what we always do and pile on the calories making this once-healthy side dish as much a heart attack on a plate as a bowl of carbonara. To make matters worse, if we aren't loading our potatoes with unhealthy options, we are deep frying them in trans fat oils and serving them in greasy bowls with lots of salt.
My stomach hurts just thinking about it.
When I was a little girl, my mother served cauliflower in a thick cream sauce. I loved it, but that is the only way I ever had cauliflower as a child. When I grew older I began to see it served raw in salads and on crudite platters with dips. But the first time I saw it mashed, just like potatoes, was many years ago when my family was invited to Thanksgiving dinner with friends. It was potluck, and one of the other guests brought a huge bowl of mashed cauliflower. I couldn't wait to try it and was delighted that it was just as good as it looked.
Members of my own family aren't fans of cauliflower. In fact, I was the only one who ate vegetables from the brassica family. Other than sauerkraut, my family wouldn't eat cabbage prepared any other way. They turned their nose up at broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale. And like most young mothers, I cooked to please my family, so these vegetables weren't on any of our menus.
But after having the mashed cauliflower at my friend's Thanksgiving dinner, I wanted to try it for myself, so I figured out a way to make it a one-serving side dish just for me. Instead of cooking the entire head of cauliflower, I would only cook enough for myself. Instead of going to the trouble of hauling out the large food processor, I would use a small electric food chopper or the blender that sat unused on the countertop. A blender works just as well if you don't have a food processor, but large amounts would have to be done in batches. (I haven't tried a hand mixer or a hand held potato mashing utensil, so I can't offer an opinion as to how those might work to mash cauliflower).
1 large head cauliflower
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons water or as needed
Salt and pepper to taste
Core and wash the head of cauliflower and cut or break into small pieces. Simmer cauliflower in a large saucepan in enough water just to cover. Cook the vegetable until the tines of a fork slide through without effort. Strain. Put the pieces into a food processor with standard blades inserted and process until the vegetable is finely grated. Add the butter and just enough water to obtain the consistency you want. Salt and pepper to taste.
1 recipe mashed cauliflower or leftover mashed cauliflower
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, of choice
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine the first five ingredients until well blended. In a non-stick frying pan or griddle, drizzle about one teaspoon of the oil. Drop the mixture by spoonfuls onto the heated pan and cook over moderate heat until heated through and the pancakes are browned on both sides. Flatten slightly while cooking to form pancakes. As each batch is cooked, use another teaspoon of oil if needed. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with your favorite toppings.
It wasn't long ago that I wondered what to do with my leftover mashed cauliflower. And then last December, after writing a food feature about potato pancakes, I began to wonder if my leftover mashed cauliflower would make good cauliflower pancakes. I decided to experiment a bit and came up with the recipe here. It never dawned on me to check the Internet as since then I have found there are a lot of cauliflower pancake recipes all over the Internet.
With my first batch, I only used one egg, but after cooking a few and having them fall apart, I added a second egg to bind the pancakes together a little better. Still, it's best to be gentle with the cauliflower pancakes. I used a non-stick pan and cooked them in very little oil.
There are about 25 calories in one cup of cauliflower versus about 120 calories in one cup of potatoes. Cauliflower also is a good source of vitamin C, contains many of the B-complex groups of vitamins and is a good source of minerals. It also has been linked to helping with the side effects of sodium when dealing with high blood pressure.
Replacing that potato once in a while with a good dose of cauliflower sounds like a good trade-off to me.