For those of you also enduring the results of Nemo with me here on the East Coast, you have my sympathies. It’s been a long weekend – with impassable sidewalks, closed gyms and yoga studios, and post-apocalyptic grocery stores – it’s easy to feel isolated even on a main drag in a big city.
To battle Cabin Fever, I set about tackling a revived food trend – taking vegetables out of the medley and transforming them into the focal point of main dishes.
My friend Josh, Executive Chef at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro, recommended I try out the Cauliflower Steak, one of the newest food crazes to hit the streets. With thick-cut slices of grilled cauliflower turning up in sandwiches, or served over mashed cauliflower, or in a steak-sauce made straight from the cooking process, there’s no reason to look to artificial proteins for a hearty bite.
The Wall Street Journal listed cauliflower as one of many “meaty vegetables,” and Grub Street New York called it the “Vegetable Most Likely to be Mistaken for a Piece of Meat.”
With only 200 calories in a whole head of cauliflower, you can easily make four solid steaks for only 50 calories each – leaving plenty of room for decadant sauces and extra sides. Cauliflower is also high in protein for a vegetable – about 4 grams per steak – and loaded with vitamins and minerals.
Fortunately, I still had a half a head of cauliflower leftover from my Curried Cauliflower Dip. With no transportation or access to fresh groceries, I made due this weekend with the miscellaneous vegetables and leftover ingredients rolling around in my fridge. Trader Joe’s Marinara Sauce, half an onion, a few borrowed olives from my roommate and some leftover spinach were key players in my last two dinners.
For my first attempt at Cauliflower Steak, I brushed with a little butter substitute, and a generous dash of salt and fresh cracked black pepper. While this seared in a hot pan for about 15 minutes, I made a thick sauce of seared onions, garlic, marinated black olives, grape tomatoes, wilted spinach, and marinara.
Tonight, I took another pass at the meal. This time, I let the Cauliflower Steak cook along with the juices from the onion, green bell peppers, marinara, and butter. There are a dozen different ways to prepare the cauliflower – next time, I’ll drag out the mini George Foreman and grill the steak, or braise it first in vegetable bouillon.
For another popular way to make vegetarian entrees that stand alone, look to the poached egg. Top a variety of foods with this rich, protein-packed ingredient and transform any dish from simple side to super-satisfying main course.
Recently, I’ve found soft-poached eggs all over menus of every kind. Back at Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro for An Everlasting Meal, honoring the words of Chef-Writer Tamar Adler, I enjoyed a soft-poached local egg on creamy polenta with mascarpone. One of my favorite tapas-style dishes at Barcelona in West Hartford is a poached egg broken on garlicky wild mushrooms.
Last week, I met my wonderful friend Sirma for brunch at Gaslight Brasserie, and ordered their shaved beet and watercress salad with dijon and creme fraiche. To transform this into something exponentionally more meal-worthy, I ordered a poached egg on the side, and broke the yolk over the beets.
If the idea of Cauliflower Steak appeals to you, try portobello mushrooms, or thick, baked slices of rutabega. If you start looking at vegetables as more than just walk-on roles on your plate, you’ll have a whole sweeping isle of entree-options open up to you. Making vegetables the focal point will help keep artifical nonsense out of your vegetarian, vegan, gluten and grain-free meals.
While we slowly thaw here in New England, stay safe, warm, and well-fed!