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Cauliflower, Carrots, Coconut & Coriander over Coconut Basmati Rice!

Cauliflower is a misunderstood vegetable that rarely seems to shine. Sure, it takes its place on vegetable trays or as a stand-in for mashed potatoes, but too often it’s the last resort of the vegetable world, like, “All we have is cauliflower, so I guess we’ll have to eat that.” It’s kind of sad.

But it doesn’t have to be. Cauliflower actually has two flavors. The florets have the tiniest bit of delicious cruciferous bitterness (say that three times fast!) while the stalks are slightly sweet. Together, they’re a great bite that holds its own with strong spicy flavors.

Like this vegetable dish. Reminiscent of Indian cuisine with coriander seeds, cumin, and coconut milk, this cauliflower is complex in taste but very simple to make. Several of the spices are whole and I toast and grind them myself. I also blanch the cauliflower ahead of time but you don’t have to do either of these things. Just see the suggestions at the end of the recipe--and if you're not a fan of coriander, you'll see some friendly substitutions there as well.

While the cauliflower is cooking, make the Coconut Basmati Rice and they should be ready at the same time.

I hope you enjoy this cauliflower. I know I did: it makes eight servings and I ate three of them in one sitting!

1 small head of cauliflower

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds (I used yellow, but use whatever color you prefer)

1-1/4 tsp cumin seeds

¼ tsp ground cardamom

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 TBS brown sugar

1 TBS grapeseed, canola, coconut, or vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)

½ large onion, peeled and chopped

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

3 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

Juice of ½ lime

½ cup vegetable stock, homemade or low-sodium

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Salt & pepper to taste

2 TBS fresh cilantro, chopped or torn

1 TBS coconut flakes (I used unsweetened but use sweetened if you like)

Coconut Basmati Rice (recipe follows)

Blanch the cauliflower:

When you cut raw cauliflower into florets, bits and pieces will fly everywhere. One way I get around this is to keep the head of cauliflower intact and blanch the entire thing.

Pull the leaves off of the cauliflower, cut off the stem, and discard. Rinse the cauliflower under water and if there are any small brown spots, gently remove them with a paring knife. Fill a large stockpot with water and cover with a lid. Heat on high and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, remove the lid and add 1 TBS salt. Carefully submerge the head of cauliflower and cook for 3 minutes.

While the cauliflower is cooking, fill a large bowl with cold water and one dozen ice cubes.

Carefully remove the cauliflower from the boiling water and gently plunge it into the ice water for 5 minutes. Remove the cauliflower from the cold water and pat dry with a lint-free or paper towel. Cut the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Toast the spices:

Heat a large dry pan on medium. Add the coriander, mustard, and cumin seeds. Gently shake the pan for a few minutes just until the seeds are lightly browned. Remove the pan from the heat and the seeds from the pan (they will continue cooking if you don’t and could burn and turn bitter). Pour the seeds into a mortar, a coffee grinder devoted to spices, or a blender and grind as fine as you like.

Remove the seeds and place in a small bowl. Stir in the ground cardamom, red pepper flakes, and brown sugar. Set aside.

Prepare the vegetables:

Return the pan you used to toast the spices to the stove and heat on medium. Add the oil. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes just until the onions become translucent. Add the cauliflower florets and carrots. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper on top of the vegetables. Stirring occasionally, cook for 8 minutes or until the vegetables turn golden brown.

Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the lime juice and the combined spices and stir until the vegetables are coated. Add the vegetable stock and the coconut milk.

Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Stirring occasionally, cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until the carrots are fork-tender but not mushy. Remove the lid from the pan and cook for 5 more minutes in order to thicken the sauce. Remove the pan from the heat. Allow the vegetables to cool for a few minutes and then taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed.

Serve the vegetables over Coconut Basmati Rice. Garnish with chopped cilantro and dried coconut.

Coconut Basmati Rice

1 TBS grapeseed, canola, coconut, or vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)

½ large onion, peeled and chopped

1 cup basmati rice

1 cup vegetable stock, homemade or low-sodium

¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk

Salt & pepper to taste

Rinse the basmati rice several times, drain well, and set aside.

Heat a large pot on medium and add the oil. Add the onion and cook for 5 to 8 minutes or until the onions are golden brown. Add the rice and stir to coat in the onions and oil. Add the vegetable stock, coconut milk, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover the rice with a lid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed and the rice is tender but not mushy. Remove the rice from the heat. Taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed.

Fluff up the rice with a fork before serving.

Don’t Freak Out!

1) If you don’t have whole spices, use 1 tsp of dried coriander powder and 1-1/4 tsp cumin powder. For the mustard seeds, substitute ½ tsp dried mustard powder (it’s quite a bit hotter than the seeds); or my preference, stir in 1 heaping teaspoon of whole grain mustard when you add the coconut milk and stock to the veggies.

2) You don’t have to blanch the cauliflower. Simply cut it into florets or bite-sized pieces and add according to the recipe. You may need to increase the cooking time by 5 minutes.

On the other hand, you can use a 16-oz. bag of frozen cauliflower. Defrost the cauliflower completely, drain well, and pat dry with a lint-free or paper towel. If you use frozen cauliflower, add to the pan after the carrots and other ingredients have been cooking for 10 minutes. If you add it with the carrots, the cauliflower will be too mushy at the end.

3) I like the buttery nuttiness of the basmati rice but feel free to use your favorite. Or, save yourself some time and buy packaged prepared rice from the market or even a container of rice from a Chinese or Thai take-away. If you like, stir in a little bit of unsweetened coconut milk before reheating it.

4) Make it sugar-free. Omit the brown sugar completely or add ½ TBS of agave nectar when you add the vegetable stock and coconut milk.

5) If you don’t like coriander/cilantro, substitute 1 tsp granulated lemon peel for the coriander seeds and garnish with flat-leaf parsley and 1 tsp lemon zest for the cilantro leaves. Or you can simply squirt the juice of a lime over the dish right before serving.

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