I think cauliflower is one of the most overlooked veggies around. But it's time for it to start gaining some culinary status! It can be boiled...

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I think cauliflower is one of the most overlooked veggies around. But it’s time for it to start gaining some culinary status!

It can be boiled, steamed, roasted, pickled or eaten raw. Typical preparations include steamed and topped with cheese sauce or used in a creamed soup. But, hey, there are a ton of ways to cook this tasty and healthful vegetable.

During the low-carb craze, it got a bit more attention by being turned into “whipped cauliflower” as a substitute for whipped potatoes. I really like cauliflower steamed with potatoes until totally tender and then whipped together in the traditional manner to make a great-tasting variation on a familiar side dish.

Most common in our markets is white cauliflower. But a close cousin is the more exotic-looking green Romanesco with spiraling florets, and then there is the newcomer, the sunny-hued cultivars, Orange Bouquet and Cheddar. And occasionally you will find an Italian heirloom purple cauliflower, which turns green when cooked. All can be prepared the same ways, but remember that the vegetable’s color can affect the appearance of the finished dish.

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In some cuisines, such as East Indian, the cauliflower is highly regarded, starring in curries, pakora — those addictive fritters that I love — and rice dishes.

Vij’s, located in Vancouver, B.C., is one of my favorite Indian restaurants; Vikram Vij, chef-owner, is king of this cuisine in the Northwest. Now 12 years old, the restaurant is still humming away, packed night after night. The wonderful thing is that Vikram and wife Meeru Dhalwala have a new cookbook out, “Vij’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine,” full of scrumptious recipes that are really doable for home cooks, too. Their Cauliflower Rice Pilaf, made with the requisite and fragrant basmati rice combined with sautéed cauliflower spiced with cumin, clove and turmeric, is fantastic as a vegetarian entree when topped with the recommended yogurt or raita or as an accompaniment to grilled or roasted chicken.

Moving back to a bit more traditional preparation, but using an innovative seasoning profile, I have created a recipe for a Creamy Curried Cauliflower Soup. Curry powder and cumin give this soup a big flavor “pop,” and a potato cooked in it adds a nice creamy texture.

As a side dish, roasted cauliflower is a particularly underused preparation. When oven roasted, cauliflower’s sweetness is intensified, giving it a delectable new character. This is especially true in my recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Cherry Tomatoes & Olives, where it gets added sweetness from the tomatoes plus a tangy salty bite from calamata olives.

And, as tradition calls for, good old cheddar-and-cauliflower had to come into play somewhere. So I developed a recipe for Cauliflower Cheddar Custard in which chopped cauliflower is cooked in milk, then mixed with egg and cheddar cheese, and baked in individual ramekins. This rich and delicious savory custard is delightful as a light lunch or supper — just serve with a green salad — or as a decadent accompaniment to a juicy grilled steak.

So, however you cook it, I hope you will try some new and exciting variations on that often overlooked veggie, the cauliflower.

Chef Kathy Casey is a food, beverage and restaurant concept consultant and food writer. She owns Kathy Casey Food Studios. Her “Dishing” column appears the first Wednesday of the month in the Seattle Times Food section.

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