If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times, even the most basic vegetables can take on loads of new flavor notes if cooked properly. With football season fully underway, watch parties and the accompanying foods are calling our names. I think it's time to create a new playbook of healthy game foods other than just the standard Buffalo Cauliflower.
In past posts, I spoke to the amazing world of mushrooms and how to optimize their flavors with high temperature roasting. As mushrooms have the amazing balance of carbohydrate and protein, we can create that joyous umami flavor once the water is removed from the equation. Oddly enough, people forget that cauliflower and many other veggies also have a relatively high amount of protein as well.
What makes the biggest difference between tasty veggie dishes and just another plate of soft colorful stuff is the temperature you cook those vegetables at. Water boils and evaporates at 212°F which is not difficult to achieve in any cooking form. The browning of proteins begins at about 280°F and continues at a high rate as it increases from there. Caramelization begins, depending on the type of sugars, around 320°F.
With these three facts you can deduce that we need to have our ovens at 400°F or higher for the proper roasting environment. You may ask “Why do you need it so hot if both proteins and sugars will denature at 320°F?” If your oven is set to 320°F, then the water will be evaporating as well. With the humidity elevated in the oven, the temperature can not climb efficiently and the longer it takes for the vegetables to reach the optimum cooking temp the more water is released in the vegetables cell structures. Once the water has been released, they will literally be boiling from the inside. This is what makes the soft, mushy, flavorless vegetables that many people have come to resent.
With the oven higher in temperature, you are increasing the rate of evaporation drastically. As the food cooks from the outside in, the outsides of the veggies can begin the caramelization and protein denaturation. Faster cooking means the veggies don’t get mushy since the insides will just barely reach fully cooked and maintain that pleasing crunch.
There are many variables in this equation, such as not overcrowding your veggies on the pan, not overloading your oven with too much (i.e. creating a veggie sauna) and being sure to give them all a nice coat of oil to conduct that heat better. However, any of these rules will produce a better product than that low temp roast.
Now that we have clarified why and how to make our roasted veggies the proper way, the rest is easy. Find a fun sauce, use a neat seasoning blend or just toss them in a simple dressing, and you have a surprisingly popular party snack. I have added a fun recipe for making a tasty curried cauliflower salad which is sure to leave everyone at your watch party surprised.
Curried Cauliflower Salad
1 head cauliflower, cut to ½ inch florets
2 stalks celery, small diced
1 red pepper, small dices
½ red onion, small diced
2 Tablespoons dried curry powder
1 Tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 ½ Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon jarred curry paste
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Fresh herbs (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 420°F.
2. Trim the cauliflower into half inch sized pieces and don’t forget to include the stems!
3. Toss the cauliflower with the dry curry spice, salt and pepper and high temperature oil such as grapeseed oil.
4. Spread this mixture onto a baking sheet and be sure not to overcrowd the vegetables. Roast until browned thoroughly, about 18-25 minutes.
5. While the cauliflower is roasting, dice the celery, peppers and red onion.
6. In a large bowl, mix the whole grain mustard, apple cider vinegar, curry paste, toasted sesame oil and any fresh herbs you want to incorporate.
7. After the cauliflower is finished roasting, allow it to cool slightly and toss all veggies into the large bowl. Season to your liking.
For more ideas on how to make healthy food taste delicious, join us for one of these upcoming classes at The Chopping Block:
- The Non-Diet Diet Saturday, September 28 10am Lincoln Square
- Quick and Healthy Weeknight Meals Saturday, October 5 11am Merchandise Mart
- Healthy Harvest Saturday, October 19 12pm Lincoln Square