Recipes that use cauliflower as a secret ingredient

In case you haven't heard, cauliflower is all the rage. No longer stuck playing second fiddle to broccoli, this nutrient-rich vegetable has been enjoying some much-deserved love from the public as of late, adding to the pedigree of the cruciferous family, which boasts big-name celebrities like arugula, kale, and cabbage. To boot? It is incredibly versatile to cook with and delicious in many forms.

Sneaky cauliflower is the perfect healthy ingredient to use in many unexpected dishes. While you probably already know how tasty it is roasted with olive oil on a cold winter's night or enjoyed raw as part of a bountiful salad, you may not realize its full culinary potential. From decadent desserts like cheesecake and brownies to fan favorites like pizza and fried rice, you might never guess that the secret to their great taste can be attributed to cauliflower.

As I am a sucker for foods that surprise and delight, I want to share with you some of the less obvious ways you can incorporate cauliflower into your cooking routine. In addition to being fun to prep in seemingly strange ways, cauliflower is also a joy to serve to people who don't expect it in the chocolate cake!

Non-dairy and paleo strawberry cheesecake

This clever dessert recipe from The Healthy Foodie turns expectations on its head in the most devilishly scrumptious way. Creamy, rich cheesecake is made using cauliflower (with an assist from some cashews) instead of cheese. Wait, what? Before you call black magic, let me explain! A warmly spiced nut crust is filled with an impossibly luxurious and smooth custard made using cashews, coconut milk, and grated cauliflower. Yes, cauliflower is the secret weapon that binds the filling and helps to imbue it with a subtly nutty and sweet flavor profile. You can pick your jaw up from the floor now. Garnish with some pretty glazed strawberries for a picture-perfect finish.

Chocolate cake

Calling all chocolate lovers. This recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie is practically hollering at you. This chocolate cake is so good you'd never guess at the presence of any vegetables, much less cauliflower. Moreover, it's the cauliflower that makes the cake soft, moist, tender, and irresistible. Huh! Made with spelt or gluten-free flour, flax, cocoa powder, and cauliflower, this can't-miss treat bakes up like a dream. Straightforward to make but oh so exquisite, this recipe is ideal for those afternoons when you crave an effortless chocolate cake baked in a square pan — and fast.

Cauliflower pizza crust

If you've never enjoyed cauliflower pizza crust, you're in for a treat. It's nutty, hearty, and quite pizza-like. Go figure. This recipe from The Lucky Penny produces a delicate vegetable crust that's super addictive. As a gal who loves her carbs (a lot), I can attest to the unique allure of this gluten-free version of one of my favorite carb canvases. Here, cauliflower florets are processed until fine, then combined with egg, cheeses, and Italian seasonings. Mmmm. While this pizza crust probably won't have you writing off classic bready pizza, you should try it out when you're looking for a lighter alternative to traditional pizza.

Better-for-you fettuccine Alfredo

If you have a soft spot in your heart for beloved hot carbs like fettuccine Alfredo, you might appreciate Clinton Kelley's healthier alternative to the creamy Italian-American classic. Instead of heavy cream, this innovative version uses cauliflower puree to recreate the cream sauce you crave. With inherently less fat and fewer calories, this superb veggie-forward take on Alfredo is a cinch to prep, too. Just blend cauliflower florets and milk in your trusty blender, then use some of the starchy pasta cooking water to pull the sauce together. Toss with noodles and enjoy your guilt-free creation.

15-minute cauliflower 'fried rice'

By the now, you've probably heard some chatter about cauliflower rice, but have you tried making cauliflower fried rice yet? To start, check out this recipe from Pinch of Yum. If you're a fan of fried rice but want to skip the grease, then this dish is for you. Shredded cauliflower florets have the amazing ability to transform into coarse grains that closely resemble regular rice. Combined with carrots, edamame, and eggs, this dish beats takeout any day. Nourishing and fast to prepare, I recommend this recipe to anyone looking for a cleaner alternative to oil-laden fried rice.

Loaded baked potato soup

All I want come winter is hearty soup to warm me from the inside out. This recipe from Popsugar fits the bill. By replacing some of the potatoes with cauliflower, you get to enjoy the creamy taste without all the carbs, fat, and calories. Cauliflower, milk, and chicken broth are blended until smooth, then combined with garlic, onion, chives, and turkey bacon. The result is a surprisingly decadent bowl of soup that manages to be satisfying without making you feel overly weighed down. I could honestly eat this soup all season long.

Brownies

Brownies made with cauliflower? Yes! This awesome recipe from Modern Haven has made me a believer in the power and versatility of the cauliflower. This fun and tasty twist on classic brownies is naturally more nutritious and quick and easy to make. Cauliflower, milk, melted chocolate, butter, eggs, and maple syrup are pureed in the blender to create a smooth wet mixture. Combined with pecans, coconut flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt, the batter is now ready to be baked into uniquely nutty, perfectly fudgy brownies. Tell your friends.

Decadent chocolate smoothie bowl

2016 has been the year of the smoothie bowl. In case you're unaware, just type in #smoothiebowl on Instagram to see a gazillion photos of said food. If you're ready to get in on the big smoothie bowl trend, then you should try this irresistible plant-based one from Super Fit Babe. Soft-boiled cauliflower is blended with cacao, cinnamon, maca powder, espresso, and your sweetener of choice. That's it! Transfer the smoothie to a bowl and garnish with add-ins of your choice. Think fresh-cut fruits, nutty granola, chocolate chips, or coconut flakes.

Mock mashed potatoes

Mock foods are usually suspect, but not always. This recipe from Food Network for mashed potatoes sans potatoes is a case in point. It's terrific! As a less starchy version of America's favorite side dish, this version makes the grade. Boiled cauliflower is pureed with garlic, cream cheese, Parmesan, and chicken base until smooth, rendering it very close to the texture of mashed potatoes. Served with butter and garnished with chives, this dish is surprisingly tasty. While you probably won't want to give up the real thing, I highly recommend going with cauliflower every now and then.

Cauliflower rice meatballs

Meatballs are amazingly versatile little things and as such, you should experiment with them. To that end, why not sneak in a little bit of cauliflower? This recipe from The Movement on the Menu is clever, vibrant, hearty, and delectable. Lean beef, salty bacon, greens, and riced cauliflower are combined with coconut cream, egg, onion, and ginger to form meatballs that are truly alive with flavor. Baked in the oven and served with a savory browned butter sauce, this meal is certainly a keeper.

I bet you'll never look at cauliflower the same way again. Whether you try out one or all of these recipes, I have no doubt you'll enjoy every bit of your time in the kitchen. Getting creative with secret ingredients like this one can be a delightful and eye-opening experience.