I’ve gotten some notes from some readers who scoff at the stories I have done recently about cutting up vegetables. Who, you ask me, needs someone to tell them how to break down a carrot or onion or eggplant? Aren’t these fairly intuitive? And my reply is always that what is intuitive for you, is not for many others.
And while you might be very cocksure about your skills when it comes to breaking down a zucchini, there are some vegetables that bring some serious awkwardness to the party. I’m looking at you, brassicas. Cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco. These delicious heads of healthy produce can be something of a bear to break down if you don’t do it regularly. And I know that you can often find them prepped for you, whether it is florets or riced, but knowing what to do when faced with a whole head is a good skill to have.
Choosing your brassicas
You always want these hardy vegetables to be firm, heavy for their size, and without discolored areas or soft parts. They should fairly squeak when you squeeze them, and not be at all wilted. The heads should be tight, and if you see any flowers or yellow or black spots, pick another one.
Prep the heads
Snap off any leaves that are attached to the stem. These are edible, but sometimes aren’t in the best shape. You decide whether you want to discard or not. Remove the stem flush with the base of the head, leaving florets connected.
Prep the stem
If you want to use the stems, peel the thick and fibrous outer layer of skin, and then cut up the remainder in whatever size or shape you like. These are good in stir-fries or shredded or grated for slaws or for pickling.
Using a small paring knife, and going from the underside, cut the florets apart from each other. If you end up with large florets that are too big for your purposes, you can cut them into halves or quarters, leaving the stems attached to hold them together. These are good for crudité platters, steaming or roasting.
Get the recipe: Soba Noodles with Chicken and Broccoli
You can create “steaks” of these vegetables by slicing thick planks across the heads, with the stem holding them together. These are great for grilling or pan-frying or smoking.
Making small pieces of these vegetables to take the place of rice is very easy. Either grate the heads on a box grater or, even easier, pulse in your food processor until you have small rice-sized pieces. This is great for replacing all or some of the rice in recipes like fried rice or rice salad, or for mixing into raw salads.
Get the recipe: Turmeric Cauliflower Rice