BY TERESA TAYLOR

Cauliflower is sort of a freak of nature or, as Mark Twain more eloquently described it, “a cabbage with a college education.”

This brainy-looking vegetable is a variety of cabbage and also a branch of the brassica tree (genus). Like broccoli, its flowers have begun to form, but growth is arrested in the bud stage.

Its origin is not clear, though some believe it first may have been grown in the Near East or China. The name is from the Latin caulis (cabbage) and flower.

Early on, cauliflowers were small, about the size of a tennis ball.

But selective breeding has increased their girth considerably over time.

Most cauliflower that comes to market is a creamy white, though lovely green, purple and orange types occasionally can be found.

Just last weekend, Blackbird Market on Johns Island was selling a “Cheddar” cultivar. Not only does it have the same orange hue, some claim it tastes faintly of cheddar cheese. It’s a stretch, but the flavor is a bit more robust.

Cauliflowers have a good nutritional profile, too, being low in calories and carbohydrates but high in dietary fiber, folate and vitamin C.

At my house, we often mash steamed cauliflower florets, add salt and pepper and grated Parmesan cheese. It’s a delicious, guilt-free stand-in for mashed potatoes.

A James Island reader emailed about seeing cauliflower on sale and desiring options for preparing it other than just plain steaming. She would welcome recipes for making it more of a “dish.”

Maxwell Mowry of downtown Charleston writes, “These two recipes are for the reader who wanted cauliflower recipes. Although both call for frozen vegetables, fresh can be used if cooked beforehand.

“This first recipe always earns compliments when I prepare it.”

Gratin of Cauliflower

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 pounds frozen cauliflower

1/3 cup milk

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper to taste

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cook cauliflower according to package directions. Drain and puree in food processor with milk, butter and mustard.

Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Place in a shallow baking dish and cover with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes until a golden crust forms.

Cheesy Broccoli-Cauliflower Casserole

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 pound frozen broccoli pieces

1 pound frozen cauliflower

2 slightly beaten eggs

¾ cup cottage cheese

2 ounces (1/2 cup) grated sharp cheddar

2 tablespoons finely chopped onion

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs

1 tablespoon melted butter

Directions

Let frozen vegetables defrost in a colander. Combine eggs, cheeses, onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper.

Arrange vegetables in a shallow 1½-quart baking dish.

Spoon cheese mixture over vegetables. Stir together crumbs and butter, then sprinkle over cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until egg mixture is set.

Marie-Louise Ramsdale of Sullivan’s Island says this is a simple recipe “and oh-so-good.”

Curried Cauliflower and Chickpea Soup

(Moosewood Restaurant)

Ingredients

11/2 cups chopped onion

Olive oil for sauteing

11/2 tablespoons grated peeled ginger root

11/2 tablespoons curry powder

Sea salt to taste

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 to 4 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)

1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into small pieces

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

Cilantro for garnish

Directions

Saute chopped onion in a deep soup pot with a small amount of olive oil until tender. Add the ginger, curry powder and salt and cook a few more minutes, stirring continuously. Add the chickpeas and stock and bring to a boil.

Add the cauliflower and tomatoes. Cover and simmer over medium low heat 10-15 minutes or until cauliflower is tender. Blend about 3/4 of the soup with an immersion blender. Garnish with cilantro.

“My family has loved this cauliflower recipe for years,” writes Bobbye Wilson of Hollywood.

“My sister and I included this recipe in a cookbook we put together for our family and friends in 2010.”

Bobbye adds that this can be used as a main dish salad and that it’s also good the next day.

Cauliflower Salad

Serves about 8 as a side

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower

½ pound bacon, cooked and crumbled

3 tomatoes, diced

1 bunch green onions, sliced (white and some of the green)

1 cup diced cheddar cheese

½ cup sliced pimiento-stuffed olives

½ cup mayonnaise

Directions

Remove outer leaves and break cauliflower into florets; wash them thoroughly and pat dry.

Toss cauliflower with remaining ingredients. Can chill or serve at room temperature.

Ron Pollitt of Kiawah Island offers this idea.

“The peanut sauce is typically served with Thai satays (along with cucumber sauce), but it’s versatile and I find it really works well with raw cauliflower as an appetizer.”

Cauliflower and Peanut Sauce

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets, washed and dried in salad spinner or kitchen towel

For peanut sauce:

1 cup coconut milk

3 tablespoons (or less, to reduce heat) Thai red curry paste

1/2 cup peanut butter (chunky or smooth)

1/2 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons tamarind liquid, or fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Prepare the peanut sauce by bringing the coconut milk to a slow boil in a small saucepan and whisking in the curry paste until dissolved. Then whisk in the peanut butter, chicken stock and sugar, reduce the heat, and cook until smooth, stirring constantly.

Remove peanut sauce from heat and stir in tamarind liquid (or lime juice) and salt. Cool sauce to room temperature.

Serve raw cauliflower florets with peanut sauce as an appetizer.

Who’s got the recipe?

Jane Charles, a professor of pediatrics at MUSC, recalls an article in this paper last year about eating cheaply with beans and grains. “I’ve tried to move our diet that way and am always on the lookout for more recipes. Can you solicit some through your Sunday article?”

Looking for a recipe or have one to share? Email food@postandcourier.com or call Food and Features Editor Teresa Taylor at 937-4886.