Japanese Simmered Cauliflower Leaves with Potato
Cauliflower is part of the diverse (and somewhat bizarre) group of vegetables clustered within one remarkable species – Brassica oleracea. Amazingly enough, this single species has been carefully selected and bred over centuries to yield incredibly disparate cultivars. Kale, cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, and more have all been bred from this single species. A single species that, I should point out, basically looks like a mangy bundle of kale leaves in its wild form.
Looking at that long list of vegetables, you may notice that many are designed to be eaten in their entirety (or nearly so). Certainly there are those who avoid kale and broccoli stems, but there’s no reason to think of these as inedible. In fact, unless something is just unimaginably tough (Brussels sprout stalks come to mind), every little bit of a brassicaceous vegetable can be eaten, including the delightful leaves surrounding a head of cauliflower.
So why then, do we not eat cauliflower leaves more often? I don’t have any direct evidence to point to, but I would comfortably bet that the reason is quite simple: shipping cauliflower heads in big boxes would tend to mangle any attached leaves, so they’re removed (except for the tightly adhering stalks). We’ve become so accustomed to this sort of presentation, most of us probably wouldn’t even think about eating the leaves if given the chance.
I’m lucky enough to live very close to a very large farm-based market that brings in a lot of local cauliflower with the leaves on. I’m always pleased to get my hands on some, because I love top-to-tail (or root-to-shoot) cooking and I get to try out fun recipes like this. But I’ve also stood there and watch as people pull out a nice creamy white head only to strip every leaf off and throw them into the provided bin. It breaks my heart a bit… but at least it gives the farm’s resident piggies something to munch on.
Oh, and do be sure to try to work the word “brassicaceous” into your conversations this week.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to buy local cauliflower (or to grow your own), there’s a good chance that you can get it with all of the big green outer leaves still attached. Even some big-box grocery stores might leave enough of the stalk-portion intact to give this recipe a shot. And if you do happen to find yourself at a farmer’s market, try to seek out cauliflower — it may be one of those commonplace vegetables, so easily taken for granted, but it can really shine when it’s fresh from the ground.
If you want to try the recipe but don’t have access to cauliflower leaves, try using kale or savoy cabbage.
One last note: I’ve indicated that this is a vegan recipe, but that’s only true if you use a vegetarian dashi. Feel free to use any (good) dashi that you like, but if you do go for a purely vegetable-based stock, try using a combination of dashi and dried shiitake mushrooms for the greatest depth of flavour. If you want to take a shot at making your own dashi from scratch, it’s quite simple, though you will need to familiarize yourself with a couple of ingredients, namely kombu and katsuobushi.
Fat and carbohydrate levels are likewise very low, making this an extremely healthy side or stew.
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