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It’s never good to change up a holiday menu —but there are many reasons to make cauliflower a new holiday tradition. Photo by Cynthia Hochswender

Don’t Panic But … Maybe Cauliflower For Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving

There are two things we know for certain about Thanksgiving dinner.

One is that there is usually a lot of food, and aids to digestion can be helpful.

The other is that it’s important not to tinker (too much) with the traditional menu. You have roughly 360 other days of the year when you can experiment with new flavors and combinations; you should avoid doing so on Thanksgiving and other important annual holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays).

And so I present this menu alternative with some trepidation. In my opinion, if you want to try something new this Thanksgiving and wouldn’t it be great if it were an easily digestible food, then cauliflower is the answer.

There are many things to love about cauliflower for this most food-centric holiday meal. First, it’s one of the most readily available starch/vegetables, sold in every grocery store in America.

And because it’s  not an obvious choice, you can probably buy one at the last minute.

Unlike potatoes, cauliflower is easy to cook and it mashes and purees beautifully. They are a very worthy substitute for mashed potatoes (I personally never mash my own potatoes any more, I buy Simple Potatoes, which are fantastic and actually better than homemade, IMO).

This is a vegetable that not only can be cooked the day before Thanksgiving, it absolutely should be cooked a day early. Like many members of the brassica family, it has a strong odor when it’s being cooked. If you make it ahead of time, you won’t have the scent hanging over your gathering.

It’s extremely easy to cook a cauliflower. And if you are having a small group for dinner, cauliflower florets are excellent in a crudité plate; cook half but serve the other half raw with dip.

To cook your cauliflower, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Put some parchment paper or foil on a cookie sheet. Cut the stem out of the bottom of the head of cauliflower; don’t worry if some of the florets break up while you’re doing this — in fact, if you plan to make puree, you can just break the cauliflower head into florets.

But the whole head looks very impressive when you roast it whole.

And here’s another factor in favor of cauliflower: You can cook and serve it in many ways. It’s like a little black dress; you start off with roasted florets or a roasted whole head and adapt them in different ways depending on your mood and energy level.

As noted, you can serve it raw with dip. You can add small florets to a crunchy salad.

You can roast the whole head for about 25 minutes, until the top is brown and you can easily insert a knife into the florets.

Before you roast, you can top the cauliflower with some olive oil and coarse salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of your favorite spice (curry is good!).

Third, you can puree your roasted florets with some cream and butter.

Fourth, you can slice your roasted cauliflower and serve it in a stir fry with bread crumbs, dried currants, slivered almonds, maybe some chopped fresh parsley left over from making stuffing.

Fifth, you can make a creamy bisque with cauliflower, roasted fennel, roasted leek and sauteed pears. This might be a good way to use any leftover cauliflower on the day after Thanksgiving because, really, no one needs soup when there’s a turkey and 10 side dishes on the table. If you serve bread with your dinner, and make soup the next day, use some slices for croutons.

And as noted, cauliflower is known as a digestive aid, which is always welcome when you’re eating a large meal and then sitting around watching football and old movies after (and perhaps before) dinner.

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