Liz West CC BY
It’s (probably) scientifically proven that we’ll do damn near anything to feel like the food we’re putting into our bodies is “healthy,” whatever that even means. We’ll stick with juice cleanses that don’t really cleanse anything other than our wallets, and convince ourselves that spaghetti squash tastes “just like” pasta. If it promises to save a few calories or throw a few antioxidants into the old bloodstream, you can damn near guarantee that it will become a wildly popular diet trend.
By the looks of everyone’s Pinterest boards and healthy recipe websites and that annoying girl at Pilates, the most popular way to sneak your way around carbs and calories is to substitute cauliflower for a variety of starches. According to these liars—I mean, home cooks—you can make everything from rice to pizza crust with just a head of cauliflower and a little patience. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to lighten up your food, but you’ve got to stop lying to yourself and pretending that you can substitute cauliflower for pillowy, rich mashed potatoes or the delicious crunch of a perfectly-charred pizza crust.
Cauliflower is not rice, or potatoes, or pizza crust, and it never be. In fact, I feel a little bad for cauliflower—it does not deserve to be maligned in this way. Cauliflower is a perfectly great vegetable, especially when roasted with a little lemon and oil, smothered in cheese, or dropped into a deep fryer. Hell, even raw cauliflower served without any accoutrement is more desireable than the mushy, watery concoctions that Pinterest chefs and dieters everywhere are making with cauliflower. As much as I love your at-home creativity, this injustice has to stop.
I used to lie to myself and pretend that mashed cauliflower was an acceptable substitute for mashed potatoes. I would steam a head of cauliflower until it looked appropriately shriveled, then push it through a potato ricer to create small bits. Then, I would add a little milk and sour cream, maybe some fresh herbs I had on hand. The resulting dish was perfectly acceptable—if a little lacking in texture — but it wasn’t anything close to mashed potatoes.
And then you have those God-forsaken cauliflower pizza crusts, which I am unable to verify that anyone has ever successfully been able to slice, and then pick up and eat. Cauliflower is, by nature, very watery, which means that you have to cook it beyond the point of no return to even get it close to sticking together, even if you’re using a binder like eggs. You may be able to shape it into a circle and top it with cheese and pepperoni, but if you call this travesty pizza, you’re committing a serious culinary sin, and every pizzaiolo in Italy has the right to kick your ass.
You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t believe you when you say that your cauliflower fried rice tastes “just like” the stuff with actual rice that I pick up from the Chinese take-out joint around the corner. I also don’t believe that you’re as satisfied with that dish as you would be even half the amount of fried rice—it just doesn’t make any sense. Once you subtract all of the carbohydrates, fiber, and (yes) good fat that comes along with making fried rice, you’ve just got a pile of stinkin’ cauliflower that isn’t going to keep you full for very long.
Most importantly, though, you’re not a toddler. You shouldn’t have to trick yourself into eating veggies or sneak them into your food. If you want to eat cauliflower, just eat some damn cauliflower! You can even rice it, if you prefer that texture, or whip it into a luxurious mash or gratin with butter and cream. Just be a grown-up and call your food what it is.
Or—and here’s a thought—if you don’t like the natural taste of cauliflower, just don’t eat it!
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She really hates it when food pretends to be other food. Tweet her your favorite (non-disguised) cauliflower recipes @aemccarthy.