Putting together an interesting vegetable side dish on a time-cramped weeknight is not an urban myth. After a quick chop and short sizzle in the pan until golden, this cauliflower sauté takes mere minutes to cook, and packs in potent anti-cancer and healing benefits. A last scattering of lemon zest and fresh herbs affirms the genius of keeping things simple.
Cauliflower deserves more hype for its abundance of the antioxidant sulfurophane, which activates genes that protect cells from inflammation, cell damage, and cancer. Try this dish with broccoli instead, another cancer-fighting powerhouse, and experiment with swapping in different fresh herbs and oils.
Caramelized Cauliflower with Lemon & Herbs
1 medium-sized head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
¾ teaspoon sea salt
1 lemon, zested
¼ cup any kind of chopped fresh herb: cilantro, parsley, chives, etc.
Freshly ground black pepper
- Set the cauliflower on a cutting board with the stem end facing you. Cut the cauliflower in half and set one half aside. Place the flat side on the board and slice in half again, into quarters. Remove the core in each quarter by cutting down with your knife at an angle. Working with one quarter of the cauliflower at a time, chop the cauliflower florets into very thin ¼-inch slices; if it breaks up and crumbles quite a bit while cutting, all the better. Repeat with the rest of the cauliflower.
- Warm oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Test oil by adding in one piece of cauliflower; if oil sizzles immediately, it’s hot enough to proceed. Add all the cauliflower, and let sit—without stirring—until sides touching the pan are golden-brown, at least 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the salt, and toss to brown the rest of the cauliflower, repeating the stir-rest procedure until all sides are golden and the cauliflower is tender, about 5 to 7 more minutes.
- Remove from heat, and stir in lemon zest and herbs. Taste for seasoning.
- Golden Cauliflower. Add 1 teaspoon of turmeric after sautéing cauliflower.
- Cumin & Carrot Sauté. In place of cauliflower, slice 4 to 6 large carrots into rounds no more than ¼” thick. Add 2 teaspoons cumin seeds to the hot oil before adding the carrots, and cook for just 15 seconds, until fragrant. Add carrots, and cook as above in step 2.
- Herbed Potato Hash. In place of cauliflower, cut 2 pounds of fresh waxy potatoes (like Yukon Gold) into a dice no greater than ¼”. Sauté as above in step 2, until potatoes are golden and soft throughout but not mushy.
Getting the pan nice and hot before adding the food is critical to getting that sweet, caramelized surface on any vegetable. To tell if your oil is hot enough to sear, tilt the pan back and forth and look for a wavy, shimmery pattern. At this point, you can test a small piece of whatever you’re cooking to see if it sizzles. If so, strike while the oil is hot and start cooking immediately—it will soon end up in smoke, which damages the oil and your health when you consume it.
The sulfurophane in cauliflower up-regulates genes that protect cells against oxidative cell damage, inflammation, and DNA damage. What does this mean? Eating cauliflower can help prevent chronic illness such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis and diseases like cancer.
One of the best things to remember when you’re short on time but are scrambling to cook is this: make it mini. Smaller pieces take less time to cook. Craving sweet potato but don’t have an hour to bake one in the oven? Simply shred it on a grater—it takes less than 5 minutes to sauté. Ditto with carrots, beets, potato, turnips, squash—virtually any vegetable! Finish your sautéed vegetables with garlic, salt, and pepper to taste—that’s all anything really needs, after all. Eat it as a simple side, or try it piled into warm tortillas or folded into eggs. Now you’ve lost your “too-busy” excuse for not eating more vegetables!