Cauliflower: New Star of the Show

And why is it so popular?  Because you can substitute it for several kinds of carbs like rice and pizza bases, though I don’t really see the point of making a pizza base that uses cheese as glue and pretending it’s better than homemade dough, and I rather like adding cauliflower rice to real rice! Stick that in the carbometre, however it is a brilliantly versatile vegetable that tastes good both cooked and raw. It’s great to see it back with a starring role.

More ways with Cauliflower

Dry spiced cauliflower and potato curry with whole cumin, coriander, fennel seeds plus turmeric and garam masala

Chargrilled cauliflower salad with spinach tomatoes, dill and lemon dressing

Cauliflower, onion and roasted garlic soup using chicken stock and a bit of cream at the end

Cauliflower pakoras (chickpea flour fritters) with minty yoghurt sauce

Cauliflower cheese but add watercress to the sauce

Asian pickled cauliflower with rice vinegar, chilli and sugar

Warm cauliflower (also good raw) with Aioli

Cauliflower pasta with feta, lots of garlic, roasted walnuts, olive oil and lemon juice

Roast a whole cauliflower (1/2 inch water, foil on top for 30 mins remove for 10 more) with cumin, sumac, turmeric, garlic salt

Cauliflower rice Tabbouleh

Cauliflower Tikka Masala

Cauliflower, leek and cheese gratin

Coconut cauliflower rice (good with extra real short grain brown rice added!)

As an almost instant, tasty bowl food using left-overs in the fridge (that’s how I discovered it) try this:

Cauliflower and Feta Mash

I large                          Cauliflower

1 pack 200g                Feta cheese

old end of                    parmesan, grated, (1 heaped tablespoon)

lots                               freshly cracked black pepper

salt                               to taste

a drizzle                       olive oil

Break the cauliflower into small pieces and steam (do not boil, never boil) it until it is tender.

Remove from the steamer into a large bowl or Magimix while still hot.

Crumble the feta into the bowl, add the Parmesan and mash it with the cauliflower with a potato masher. You may want to use a whisk at the end to really fluff it up. /Or whiz in a Magimix.

Add lots of cracked pepper, a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

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Rhubarb Fool (for 4) Rhubarb Gin and Tonic (for 1)

Rhubarb is Mongolian, Siberian even, cousins with the Chinese and with Tibetans on the side. This only seems odd to me because somewhere along the way rhubarb became ‘Britishified’, who would have thought our favoured nursery dishes: rhubarb crumble, tart, pie, rhubarb and custard, had their origins in the vicinity of the Himalayas and the grassy steppes. No one even ate it as a dessert in this country until the eighteenth century.

The Chinese have cultivated rhubarb as a medicinal plant for thousands of years, used to relax the digestion or as an astringent tonic for liver and gall bladder complaints, bad skin and even the plague. It was traded along the silk route and reached Europe in the 14th century and England in the 16th but it was sold only as a medicine.

The first recorded mention of an English food recipe is in Glasse’s ‘Compleat Confectioner‘ of 1760: “These tarts may be thought very odd, but they are very fine ones and have a pretty flavour….To make rhubarb tarts. Take stalks of English rhubarb, peel and cut it the size of gooseberries; sweeten it, and make them as you do gooseberry tarts.” So rhubarb must have begun to be establishes before this was published, but continued to be a bit of a novelty for some years yet. I believe the moment we really took rhubarb into our hearts was when we began to ‘force’ it as a winter foodstuff and that happened by accident in 1815. I love this story.

The horticulturists were growing rhubarb at the Chelsea Physic Garden, in London, as part of their collection of medicinal plants. A bed of rhubarb became buried under the earthy spoil of thrown up by some workman digging a trench. When they came to clear the up the mess they found the rhubarb had produced long thin stems in the light deprived environment. The gardeners ate it. I love that bit, I can just imagine them huddled around the long pink stems “Oi, Dave, come and look at this, do ya think it might be tasty winta vegetable?” They discovered it had a fine and sweet flavour. The news was hastily shared in the trade literature at the time and fervent gardeners began to experiment with buckets and all sorts. Joseph Whitwell, a market gardener from Leeds took up the baton and created a forcing business, constructing candle lit sheds devoted to the plant. His neighbours followed suit and the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire (between Wakefield, Morely and Rothwell) became famous for early forced rhubarb, with a special train laid on to rush the stems to London from December to March. It was known as ‘Champagne Rhubarb’ and they are still producing it, but sadly the train has gone.

Rhubarb now has a firm place in British cuisine as a dessert but top chefs are rediscovering it as a foil for new flavours (asparagus with rhubarb hollandaise, beetroot and rhubarb salad) and the latest craze, of course, is to add it to gin. I use it in many ways: rhubarb trifle; rhubarb Eton mess; as a savoury vegetable to add the sour element to Asian Lao fish soups; I also enjoy eating it raw with salt and chilli. My favourite is rhubarb fool which is so delicious it’s painful to wait for it to cool so why not make a cocktail while you do. My mother used to make vats of this (fool not the gin) which we scooped up with ginger biscuits and then turned the excess into ice-cream!

Rhubarb Fool (for 4) with Rhubarb Gin (for 1) on the side

I prefer a rougher, sharper fool so I don’t mash it up too much or add as much sugar as some I’ve seen (1/2 weight of sugar to weight of rhubarb, too much) but the choice is up to you.

400g rhubarb, roughly chopped

65g of caster sugar or vanilla sugar

a couple of drops of pure vanilla essence

300ml double cream, whipped

  1. Place the rhubarb in a WARMED pan with the sugar and the vanilla essence. DO NOT ADD WATER. Cover with a lid and heat gently on a low heat until tender which should take about 5-8 minutes depending on your rhubarb.
  2. Now taste for sweetness and add a tablespoon more sugar if you prefer. Drain the rhubarb in a sieve and reserve the juice in a bowl underneath. Allow to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, whip the cream to soft peaks.
  4. Mash the cooled rhubarb with a fork and add back ½ the juice (rhubarb syrup).
  5. Now make a Rhubarb Gin and Tonic – 50ml gin, about 25ml rhubarb syrup, tonic, a squeeze of lime juice and a sprig of mint if you have some.
  6. Fold the rhubarb into the cream and allow to cool in the fridge for at least an hour which will give you ample time to enjoy your cocktail (or mood-shifter as my husband would call it).
  7. Serve the fool. It won’t last for long.

More Ways with Rhubarb

The tartness makes stewed rhubarb a natural partner for creamy vanilla crème anglaise or ice cream

Bake it with a little water, caster sugar, two green cardamon pods & the zest and juice of an orange.

Rhubarb crème brulee, trifle or Eton Mess

Use it green as the sour ingredient in sour Asian fish soup

Smoothie- coconut water, rhubarb, mango, ginger

Ottolenghi’s Beetroot and Rhubarb salad

PS. Remember rhubarb leaves are poisonous do not eat them.

Rhubarb Gin and Tonic