Watercress, cauliflower and other once-disdained forms of edible plant life are gaining prominence as superfoods that can now even merit center-of-the-plate showcasing.
Many recently published predictions by food writers around the world for trends to watch in 2015 focused on the expanding role of vegetables as featured dishes—and sometimes even as center-of-the-plate items around which entire meals are built.
An article in the Miami Herald focused on how watercress, which had “previously languished on plates as a mere garnish,” has risen to new prominence after it was rated the top superfood among fruits and vegetables in a study published in the Centers for Disease Control’s Chronic Disease Prevention journal.
For that study, the Herald reported, researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey ranked 41 fruits and vegetables by their amounts of 17 critical nutrients, such as fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, folate, vitamins B12, A, D and others.
Last year’s trendiest vegetable, kale, didn’t even make the top 10 of the study’s list, the Herald noted—another reason why chefs may not want to spend too much trying to find palatable ways to make it possible for their diners to choke down its fibrous stems and bitter flavor.
But watercress emerged at the top of the study’s ratings for fighting chronic disease, followed by Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, parsley, Romaine lettuce and collard greens. (The complete list can be found at www.cdc.gov.)
The study, the Herald suggested, provides another reason that chefs might want to pay more attention to using watercress, a tiny leafy green that once was found only growing wild in streambeds from April to June, but now is greenhouse-grown and generally available year-round. Usually found near the fresh parsley in the supermarket, watercress can keep for about five days once picked, the Herald reported, and can provide a “peppery accent and sweet-bitter flavor balance” for salads (it pairs well with avocado) and smoothies. It can also be tucked into a sandwich or substituted for basil in a pesto, used to make a wonderful hot or cold soup, or tossed at the last minute into rice or risotto or a stir-fry. (Chefs will learn that watercress wilts quickly, like spinach, the Herald noted.)
The Herald also reported that cauliflower, while ranking only 24th on the study’s list, is also getting traction on restaurant menus— particularly the exotic-colored varieties such as purple, orange, yellow and green (the Romanesco variety, it was noted, can bring an “alien look” to dishes and plates).
Cauliflower has also become “the new darling of the gluten-free and calorie-conscious,” the Herald noted, because its bland flavor and ivory color (in its most familiar form) lends itself to “all kinds of culinary trickery.” As a result, it’s becoming a vegetable that’s moving to the center of the plate, “fueled by its appeal to gluten-free, paleo and calorie-cutting diets.”
The Herald’s article highlighted an “Alfredo” sauce recipe as an example of how cauliflower can appeal to calorie-conscious diners, by taking out a lot of the fat and calories as a substitute for cream. Other ways to make diners learn to love cauliflower, the Herald suggested, include roasting a whole head and lightly brushing it with a flavored olive oil, for a presentation that can be sliced or pulled apart at the table. Or, it can be mashed and flavored as an alternative to baked or mashed potatoes.
A gluten-free pizza crust made from cauliflower is now also available, the Herald noted.
Other food-and-beverage trend forecasts for 2015 highlighted “ugly root vegetables” such as celery root, parsnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga and beets. “Fried, mashed, pureed, gratineed [and/or] flavored with cured pork or smoked honey, these humble [vegetables can] replace humble potatoes with lots more inherent flavor,” said the food industry consulting firm Baum+Whiteman in its 2015 Food & Beverage Forecast. “Better yet, consumers have no notion of how to cook them, so they’re becoming ‘cheffy’ ingredients.”
These “old-school vegetables” really aren’t that hard to prepare, it was noted, and plenty of recipes can be found for using them in inventive and appealing ways. But perhaps the simplest and best preparation technique for any of them is to simply scrub them, coat them with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and perhaps some citrus juice, and roast until fork-tender.
A food trend forecast from Canada’s CTV News also highlighted how celebrated chefs are set to focus on vegetables in restaurants and cookbooks in 2015.
“Vegetables have grown so much as being the focus on dining out or the dinner plate,” Christine Couvelier of Culinary Concierge told CTV News. “We have seen it coming the last few years, but it’s really going to explode this year.”
New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is reportedly opening a restaurant devoted to vegetarian and vegan fare, CTV News reported, and the U.K.-based, Jerusalem-born Yotam Ottolenghi has followed up his popular book “Plenty” with “Plenty More,” which puts an even greater focus on the expanding world of vegetables, grains and legumes.
Food writer Julie Van Rosendaal told CTV News that she expects veggies “are going to be the new whole grains.”
“A few years ago, whole grains were the big thing and now people are realizing that vegetables are really high-fiber, as well as being loaded with nutrients and low in calories and everything that everybody needs to eat more of,” said Van Rosendaal.
Finally, a food trends report in The Telegraph, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, highlighted how “vegetables will continue to excite us – and this is making us better cooks as we have to think about what to do with them.
“Cauliflower is the big boy making all the noise,” The Telegraph added. “Roasted florets are gorgeous; a whole roasted head of cauliflower is a revelation, sweet and nutty with tones of nutmeg. Even cauliflower ‘steaks’ have been appearing (the whole cauliflower is cut into thick slices, then browned until caramelized like a meaty steak).”