When I discovered I was intolerant of certain food groups, in particular carbohydrates, I thought I was in for a lifetime of miserable, boring diets and, for a time, I wallowed in self-pity. That was over ten years ago. For a while there was the glimmer of a reprieve during the Atkins' bubble, when there was a reasonable amount of choice and variety of low carb foods available in the shops; not least because all the supermarkets had jumped on the Atkins' bandwagon, in order to oust their successful rival. As they succeeded, and the Atkins' empire retreated in defeat, the victors quickly lost interest and, once again, the supermarket shelves ran bare and it was back to scouring the small print on the back of food packaging.
Now, I have a large, food-loving but sporting family, who see carbohydrates as essential dietary fuel and I had to continue providing the foods they all loved, but which I could no longer eat myself. Since then the family has grown (in every direction!) and I've learned to adapt so that I don't miss out on the gourmandising - and they don't miss out on their dietary needs.
One of my greatest assets has been cauliflower! That may sound odd, but cauliflower is extremely nutritional, being a great source of essential B vitamins such as folic acid, riboflavin and thiamine, which are essential aids to the nervous system as well as the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat and protein. Being low in saturated fat, cauliflower is good for the cholesterol. Cauliflower is not just good for you, it can help the immune system's battle against certain cancers and diseases like cystic fibrosis. It contains the trace mineral boron, which helps create healthy bones. And, as an added bonus, it actually tastes pretty good, when it's not been boiled half to death!
I was making a cauliflower and cashew nut curry one day when I started nibbling tiny pieces of the raw florets and had the idea of substituting this for rice for myself. White rice was one of the first things I had to omit from my diet and, although I didn't miss it too much, when it came to curries without rice or Indian breads, my plate definitely looked sad compared to everyone else's. I kept back a few florets from the fresh cauliflower which I then whizzed in a food processor, using a steel blade, for a few seconds until they resembled grains of rice. I then poured these into a microwavable bowl and microwaved for one minute.
As time went on, I experimented more by adding a few pine nuts, chopped cashews or grating in a very small amount of fresh coconut or a pinch of garam massala to acquire the taste I wanted. To counteract the smell of the cauliflower in the microwave, I added a sprinkle of lemon juice and, just before serving, a handful of chopped, fresh coriander leaves. It was tasty, effortless and meant that I never envied the rest of the family their bowls of basmati rice.
Having discovered that raw cauliflower actually tasted quite nice, I started adding tiny florets to salads, and one particularly successful creation was a mix of cauliflower, avocado, chicory (endive) and finely sliced radish (celeriac works well too). Mix this together with a good mayonnaise (preferably home-made) and some chopped, fresh dill or parsley and voila! You have a lovely salad, or coleslaw base to add to just about any seafood or meat dish; or enjoy just on its own.
When the cauliflower is at is freshest and sweetest, it makes a delicious addition to the usual crunchy crudites, like celery and carrots, for all sorts of dips. Use it with hummus, tzadiki, soured cream and chives - the dips are as endless as your imagination.
Fortunately my kids love broccoli and so a mixture of caluiflower and broccoli in a a cheese sauce always goes down well wtih them. Cheese sauces, however, can be tricky for carbohydrate counters, but I have now developed one that is fool-proof and suits my low-carb requirements.
So, by far my favourite cauliflower recipe (and my family's) is cauliflower souffle. I thought that anything with flour-based sauces was out of the question for me, until I learned a few cheats! My family loves this and it makes a pefect accompaniement to those special occasion roasts. Here is the recipe:
Cut cauliflower into florets and lightly boil in salted walter. Drain and set aside. When cool, put into a bowl and mash lightly with a fork, adding freshly ground pepper and pinch of paprika. If you are not watching your carbs, make your usual cheese sauce. If, like me, you need to avoid flour and milk, substitute 250 ml double cream, or, the far more healthy version- soya cream (e.g. Alpro soya). Heat gently until the edges of the cream start to frill. Add a teaspoon of French mustard and stir. Remove from the heat and add in 75-100 g of grated cheese (I like to add a mixture of strong Cheddar, Gruyere or Emmenthal and a little grated Parmesan). Next separate two large eggs. Add the yolks to the cream and cheese mixture and stir. Pour the cream, cheese and egg mixture into the mashed cauliflower. Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold these into the cauliflower and cheese mixutre using a metal spoon. Pour into a 2 pint souffle dish (lightly buttered) and bake in the centre of a pre-heated oven (180o C) for 30-40 minutes and serve.
Cauliflower puree is another tasty way to eat cauliflower. You can find plenty of recipes for this on the internet, so there is no need for another one of mine! The flavour can be as intense or delicate as you like, but it will always add an extra touch of creamy luxury to accompany your special dinner.
So there you have it...all my cauliflower secrets. I do hope you will try some of these ideas and discover for yourself that cauliflower is not just a healthy component of your 5 A Day - but also a truly delicious dish for carb counters who enjoy a little bit of gourmandising occasionally.