Cooks Corner

Watercress, cauliflower lead food trends into 2015

New-year superfood: Watercress.
New-year superfood: Watercress. Renee Comet

Bored with quinoa, and so over kale, I thought the start of the new year was a good time to look at what the food pundits are pontificating re: 2015 trends. What “new” tastes will we embrace?

Watercress: Previously languishing on plates as a mere garnish, it recently has been crowned Superfood No. 1, topping the fruit-and-vegetables chart as a nutrient powerhouse.

In a study published in the Centers for Disease Control’s Chronic Disease Prevention journal, researchers at William Paterson University in New Jersey ranked 41 fruits and vegetables by the amounts of 17 critical nutrients, such as fiber, potassium, protein, calcium, folate, vitamins B12, A, D and others.

Kale, which we’ve been choking down despite its fibrous stems and bitter flavor, didn’t even make the top 10! But watercress, that tender and pretty frippery, with its peppery accent and sweet-bitter flavor balance, is at the top of the chart with 100 points for fighting chronic disease. The next few include Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens, spinach, chicory, leaf lettuce, parsley, Romaine lettuce and collard greens.

(You can find the whole list at

For those unfamiliar, watercress is a tiny leafy green that once was found only growing wild in streambeds from April to June, but now it is greenhouse-grown and generally available year round. It’s usually found near the fresh parsley in the supermarket. It keeps for about 5 days once picked.

How to use it: Salads (I love pairing it with avocado) and smoothies, of course, but that’s just the beginning. Tuck it into a sandwich or sub it for basil in a pesto. It makes a wonderful hot or cold soup; or try tossing it at the last minute into rice or risotto or a stir-fry. It wilts quickly, like spinach.

Cauliflower: While only No. 24 on the powerhouse list, cauliflower is getting traction on restaurant menus, particularly the exotic colored varieties such as purple, orange, yellow and green (I love the Romanesco, with its alien look).

It also is the new darling of the gluten-free and calorie-conscious, since its bland flavor and ivory color (in its most familiar form) lends itself to all kinds of culinary trickery. The New York Daily News quotes Christine Keller, who maps food trends at the CCD Innovation culinary product development agency, as saying, “Cauliflower is moving to the center of the plate” fueled by its appeal to gluten-free, paleo and calorie-cutting diets.

The “Alfredo” sauce recipe here is an example of the way cauliflower lends itself to diets — it takes out a lot of the fat and calories by substituting for cream. It’s from a new cookbook from Woman’s Day that hits a lot of the trends — and I appreciate the quick-to-the-table approach: Easy Everyday Lighter Dinners.

Other ways to love cauliflower: Try roasting a whole head, lightly brushed with a flavored olive oil, for a fantastic presentation you slice or pull apart at the table. Or try mashing and flavoring as you would baked or mashed potatoes, as we suggested in an earlier column.

New in stores is a gluten-free pizza crust made from cauliflower. Absolutely Gluten Free, available with mozzarella or non-dairy mozzarella-style toppings weighs in at 60 calories a serving, 2 grams of fat and sells for $5-$6. For information:

Celery root, parsnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga and beets: Food industry consultant Baum+Whiteman’s 2015 Food & Beverage Forecast says “ugly root vegetables” are on the new year’s radar.

“Fried, mashed, pureed, gratineed; flavored with cured pork or smoked honey ... humble themselves, they replace humble potatoes with lots more inherent flavor. 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, and recipes abound. My favorite treatment is to simply scrub, coat with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs and perhaps some citrus juice and roast until fork-tender.

Lesser-known Asian cuisines: Kara Nielsen, culinary director at the brand development company Sterling-Rice Group, says Americans will be discovering some flavors they haven’t tasted before, from Filipino cuisine to Northern Thai dishes, as reported by CBS News. Nielsen, who has been analyzing trends for more than eight years, told Supermarket News, “Some trends will be a continuation of existing ones, such as local foods and Asian foods, only more pronounced. But mainly we’re seeing a return to authenticity, including products that were or have been around for centuries but are making a comeback and are centered on health and wellness.”

Broth: Fiscal Times says more Americans are drinking savory broths to put protein into their diets, and notes that the first take-out window devoted to sippable bone broth recently opened in New York City. It mentions the Pacific Foods brand. I’m partial to Swanson’s aseptic boxes of ethnic flavor broths, such as the Thai ginger (which is even vegetarian) and the hot and sour.

Global Flavors: Now in its 15th year, the McCormick Flavor Forecast 2015 says global blends will capture our interest, as in the combination of cumin, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and black pepper used to make the Middle Eastern street food, shawarma, here. Another interesting taste exploration is Japanese 7 Spice (Shichimi Togarashi), described as “a pungent combination of chiles, sesame, orange zest, nori and more.” The Flavor Forecast — which has been pretty spot-on in the past (it gave the nod to chipotle before most of us knew what it was) — also says Middle Eastern dips, slow cooking, salt and sour pairings, smoky flavors and umami vegetables will gain traction this year. You can find more of the blend recipes at

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Top Google recipe searches: 2014

1. Chicken

2. Meatloaf

3. Banana bread

4. Pancakes

5. Chili

6. Crock-pot recipes

7. Lasagna

8. French toast

9. Guacamole

10. Pork chops

Main dish

Chopped Watercress Chicken Salad with Asian Orange Dressing

1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders

1 1/2 cups orange juice

2 teaspoons honey

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 teaspoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

2 tablespoons water

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

4 cups watercress, washed and chopped (arugula may be substituted)

2 cups romaine hearts, washed and chopped

1 bunch green onions, sliced

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

2 tablespoons peanuts, chopped

Rinse and trim chicken. In a small saucepan, bring orange juice to a boil over medium heat. Boil to reduce by half, about 5 minutes. In food processor or blender, combine juice, honey, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, water, ginger and garlic. Process until smooth. Cool to room temperature.

Remove half of mixture and place in a large plastic, sealable bag. Add red chili flake and chicken tenders. Marinate for 30 minutes. Reserve remaining dressing. In a large serving bowl, combine watercress, Romaine, onions and cilantro.

Warm large sauté pan over medium high heat. Remove tenders from marinade and add to pan, along with marinade. Sauté tenders until cooked through and caramelized brown, about 3-4 minutes per side, turning.

Toss reserved orange mixture with greens. Top with grilled chicken and sprinkle with chopped peanuts before serving. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 305 calories (23 percent from fat), 17.6 g fat (1.3 g saturated, 3.1 g monounsaturated), 88 mg cholesterol, 40.5 g protein, 17.7 g carbohydrates, 1.7 g fiber, 770 mg sodium.

Source: The National Chicken Council’s The Chicken Roost.

Main dish

Chicken Shawarma

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 teaspoons shawarma spice blend (recipe follows)

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt

2 tablespoons tahini

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

2 cups diced English (seedless) cucumber

1 cup diced radishes

1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onion

8 pocket-less pita, lavash flatbreads or flour tortillas (8-inch)

8 lettuce leaves

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

For the chicken: Mix oil, vinegar, lemon juice, Spice Blend and salt in small bowl. Place chicken in large resealable plastic bag or glass dish. Add marinade; turn to coat well. Refrigerate 1 hour or longer for extra flavor.

Make the yogurt sauce: Mix yogurt, tahini, lemon peel and salt in small bowl until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cucumber garnish: Mix oil, lemon juice, mint, sea salt, garlic powder and pepper in large bowl. Add cucumber, radishes and green onion; toss to coat well. Cover. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Remove chicken from marinade. Discard any remaining marinade. Place chicken on foil-lined baking pan. Roast chicken 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked through. Slice chicken into thin slices. Serve on pita with lettuce, chopped mint, yogurt sauce and and cucumber garnish. Makes 8 servings.

Spice blend: 2 tablespoons ground coriander seed, 1 teaspoon ground allspice, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Mix ingredients and store in airtight container. Makes about 3 tablespoons.

Per shawarma serving: 328 calories (49 percent from fat), 20 g fat (3.7 g saturated, 8.7 g monounsaturated), 88 mg cholesterol, 27 g protein, 19.7 g carbohydrates, 1.4 g fiber, 810 mg sodium.

Main dish

Fettuccine “Alfredo”

1/2 head cauliflower (about 1 pound), chopped

12 ounces fettuccine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

Kosher salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 cup 1 percent milk

1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, for serving

Place the cauliflower and 2 1/2 cups water in a pot and simmer until the cauliflower falls apart when squeezed, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower and any remaining water in the pot to a blender and puree until smooth, adding extra water if necessary.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting salt. Reserve 1 cup pasta of the cooking liquid, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Stir in the milk and simmer until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Romano.

Add the milk mixture and cayenne to the blender; puree until smooth. Toss the cauliflower mixture with the pasta, adding some of the reserved cooking liquid if the mixture seems dry. Top with pepper and parsley before serving, if desired. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 488 calories (22 percent from fat), 11.6 g fat (3.3 g saturated, 6.0 g monounsaturated), 13.4 mg cholesterol, 19.1 g protein, 77g carbohydrates, 5.5 g fiber, 211 mg sodium.

Source: Woman’s Day Easy Everyday Lighter Dinners (Hearst Books, $16.95).