Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Green Kitchen: Mashed Cauliflower and Freezing Food

Green Kitchen is a bi-weekly column about nutritious, inexpensive, and ethical food and cooking. It's penned by the lovely Jaime Green.

Oh man, guys. I just had the best/worst idea for how to start today’s column.

It’s getting icy.

Brr, y’know, cause winter’s coming? But also because I want to talk about freezing food. Like, for storage.

I know, it’s awful. My dad would be proud.

I could also aim this in the direction of Thanksgiving sides. The recipe herein is an amazing Thanksgiving side, and I will be making it for my family next week. (Oh crap, next week?!) But the food-blog corner of the internet is already overflowing with Thanksgiving recipes right now, and they really just serve to make me panic about the fact that Thanksgiving is next week and how am I making two pies and four side dishes and cranberry sauce in half a day in my mom’s kitchen??!?

So, back to freezing.

As fall starts hinting that winter’s on its way, my mind turns toward my freezer. Not for the popsicles and other frozen goodnesses of summer, but because, like a squirrel with its acorns, I’m suddenly compelled to start putting food away. Every week in fall brings another visit to the farmers market, another fearful peek at the produce for sale, to see what’s gone out of season next.

In spring and summer, vegetables go out of season to be replaced by the next round of tasty produce – we go from asparagus to bell peppers to broccoli to kale, strawberries to raspberries to stone fruit to apples – but once we get to fall, foods end their season unreplaced. Or replaced by apples, onions, and potatoes. Piles and piles of apples, onions, and potatoes.

Now’s when I start to panic. What can I freeze? What can I save? Come February I’ll be wandering the supermarket aisles, pallid under the fluorescent lights, trying to decide between California kale and Mexican Brussels sprouts. I’ll make eggs with frozen spinach. I’ll mix frozen cherries into my yogurt. And I will feel sad, disconnected from my local growing season, like a poor steward of the Earth, and broke.

So I’m trying, this year, to shore up my stores of local, seasonal, cheap vegetables, to pack them away in ways they can last, and last tastily. (Let’s not talk about the frozen beet greens fiasco of 2009.) Sure, just about any home-frozen vegetable can feature passably in a soup, but I want food that actually tastes good.

The trick to freezing most vegetables is blanching. When you freeze raw vegetables their cell walls burst – thanks to waters magical expands-as-it-freezes-ness – and burst cell walls equal mush. Blanching vegetables – a quick boil or steam – eases that problem and neutralizes enzymes that can wreak havoc on icy goods. Unfortunately, I don’t like a lot of vegetables blanched – I rely on hot sautéing to make things like kale and Brussels sprouts delicious, and once you’ve blanched, you can’t go back. (Sorry, is that not an awesome new catchphrase?)

So far I’ve found two awesome recipes that freeze well. They’re easy to make in large batches, defrost without any degradation, and are preparations of these foods that I actually love. Points there. One is the spiced applesauce I wrote about a little while ago.

The other is mashed cauliflower.

Ignore any bad connotations it carries as a sad low-carb substitute for mashed potatoes; mashed cauliflower is delicious in its own right. It satisfied the creamy, salty, comfort food part of your heart/stomach/brain, but with a bit more flavor than plain potatoes. It’s still a great vehicle for anything mashed potatoes play with well, and, oh right, it’s a giant pile of super-good-for-you vegetables.

This is the time of year for cauliflower. At the big Union Square farmers market in New York City, giant 5-pound heads are going for two or three bucks each, and they’re fresh and gorgeous. I’ve got a stack of little one-cup containers of this stuff lining the back of my freezer (interspersed with apple sauce, of course). A few more weeks, a few more massive cauliflowers, and I should be set for winter.

I mean, set in terms of cauliflower. I can’t quite live on apples and cauliflower alone, though. So I ask you, dear readers – how do you freeze or store fall produce to last into the winter? Jaime-in-February-without-vitamin-deficiencies thanks you.

A note on this recipe: This is a very basic version. The options for embellishment are nearly endless. Anything you can do to mashed potatoes, you can do to this. Possible additions: roasted garlic, red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, shredded cheese, olive oil, a little milk (cow, soy, or otherwise), paprika, scallions, roasted kale, sautéed zucchini, baked tofu, bacon, bacon bits, etc. I find that, just as with potatoes, a little fat goes a long way as long as the food’s thoroughly salted.


If you like this, get a load of:

Mashed Cauliflower
Serves 4
NOTE: The picture didn't come out too great, so this is an amazing facsimile taken from Flickr Creative Commons user roolrool. Needless to say, it's the stuff on the left.

1 large head of cauliflower (about 8 cups chopped)
1 Tablespoon butter
Salt and pepper, to taste

1) Chop cauliflower into florets.

2) Steam cauliflower until very tender, about 8-10 minutes. (Alternately, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add cauliflower, and boil until tender. Timing here depends on the power of your stovetop to bring the cauliflower and water back up to temperature. Maybe 15-20 minutes? Or maybe my stovetop is weak.)

3) Drain cauliflower, and let cool until not too hot to touch. Pat cauliflower dry with paper towels.

4) Return cauliflower to pot, or to a big bowl, add butter, and puree with an immersion blender until creamy. (Alternately, puree in food processor.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, Protein, and Price per Serving
76 calories, 3.1g fat, 5g fiber, 4g protein, $0.54

8 cups cauliflower: 200 calories, 0.8g fat, 20g fiber, 15.8g protein, $2.00
1 T butter: 102 calories, 11.5g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.10
1 T salt: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.03
1 t pepper: 0 calories, 0g fat, 0g fiber, 0g protein, $0.02
TOTALS: 302 calories, 12.3 g fat, 20g fiber, 15.8g protein, $2.15
PER SERVING (Total/4): 76 calories, 3.1g fat, 5g fiber, 4g protein, $0.54

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Melissa said...

OMG, mashed cauliflower is the best! I add a little heavy cream if I have it, it really helps to smooth out the lumps which my husband doesn't care for. A little garlic in the mix really punches it up too.

jjerry said...

This looks great - I don't like the texture of cauliflower but pureed it'd be great.

Pureed squash freezes well, as does pear sauce (make it like apple sauce).

Jenny said...

I just wrote a post about freezing foods as well! Haha. My thoughts are at: http://www.enjoyyourcheerios.com/2010/11/frugal-friday-frozen-foods.html
I like the tips you shared as well!

Lacey said...

Cauliflower is my "new" favorite meal maker! CHG provided this link awhile back and I have made this hearty soup many a time since: http://sundaynitedinner.com/curry-cauliflower-soup-honey/

This recipe sounds equally budget and taste bud friendly :)

miriam said...

What a great idea. I love cauliflower, but never tried it mashed. I found you post looking for some original recipe for mashed potatoes - I am glad I found this instead. Thanks.

kelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kelly said...

I freeze sauces that use fresh herbs like chimichurri and pesto. I also invested in a cheap Reynolds vacuum sealer that helps with a lot of smaller foods, like peppers, herbs, or scallions, both fridge or freezer. I wish I had the patience to can or pickle.

eatclosetohome said...

Kale. Totally kale. It's in season - just rinse, shred, and throw in a pan until it's thoroughly wilted. Freezing in bags makes it easier to get just how much you need come February. I "hide" kale in almost everything - soup, especially, and also rice-based skillet dishes. Adds great color to meals that might otherwise be shades of white: rice with cauliflower, cabbage, and chicken...

Sue said...

For Thanksgiving 10 years or so ago I made mashed cauliflower as a side. My whole family looked at me like I was nuts and wouldn't touch it! I thought it was delicious. After I pureed the cauliflower with a little cream I put it in a casserole dish and topped it with fresh grated parmesan then baked at 375 for 20 minutes. Yum - wish I could send this to all my relatives and say SEE!!!

Mother Rimmy said...

I'd forgotten about mashed cauliflower. Cauliflower is always so affordable. Thanks for the reminder!

Insightful Endeavors International, Inc said...

Thank you! Just harvested three GIANT heads of cauliflower from the garden and was thinking "perhaps I could make mashed cauliflower and freeze it?" --- went looking for the yay or nay on that and found your post -- many thanks!!!