June 17, 2007 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Foodies of AskMe, help me with a food-substitution puzzle-- specifically, Tater Tots. (Any other healthy substitution suggestions also welcome).

I am looking to try to make a tot-like item (knowing full well they are not entirely replicable). I am thinking of using cauliflower, but I need some advice for shaping/molding/extruding the tot. I am also looking for ideas on binding the ground/mashed cauliflower.

The back story is that DH is going away for a month this summer and I would like to take this time to adjust my eating habits (and then by extension, his). Left to my own devices, I enjoy healthier foods, but separate preparation in our tiny kitchen is near impossible. I also work a lot. The good news is that we are moving and I got a better job. So, I have plans for a month's worth of culinary experimentation.

We both have put on weight and are not getting any younger. He has a family history of heart attack, and I have one of diabetes...and so on. However, Mr. Oflinkey was raised on a very middle-American diet, where potatoes rule, meat is king and every meal ends with a sweet. He was in college before he had ever tried rice-- and spices? Imagine Marge Simpson: "Or uh ga no? What the hell is that?" Bread must be bleachy-white. Forget yogurt in place of sour cream or mayo. Tofu? Right.

While we have made strides in the last couple of years and we eat more fish and almost no beef or chicken (this is in part because of a desire to not eat factory-farmed meat), we need to move away from some things. One thing I know he will have difficulty with is Tater Tots.

Any other advice from those of you who have moved your SO to more healthy eating would also be greatly appreciated.
posted by oflinkey to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Homemade oven fries are AWESOME.
posted by pullayup at 7:57 PM on June 17, 2007

If it helps with your seaching, Tater Tots are basically a potato croquette. You can substitute many things for the potatoes, but the breading and frying are the real problems. I'd suggest not trying to replicate Tater Tots in shape so much as pinpoint what it is about them that is desired: it is the crunchiness, the greasy, the starchy potato goodness (mmmm...) and look for that in a healthier recipe. That said, if he just wants the tots, they're probably not that bad (baked, not fried) in small portions (though I admit I've never looked at the ingredients). It's also possible that if you put enough good-tasting healthy alternatives in front of him, your husband might be willing to restrict things like Tater Tots to an occasional treat. I love them, myself, but can't remember the last time I ate one.
posted by libraryhead at 8:00 PM on June 17, 2007

Tater tots (and any fried food, really), done right, are not inherently little nuggets of fatty death. Alton Brown explains proper frying in an episode on fish and chips.

Join us as we rediscover frying. We'll find the right vessel to FRY in, choose the right FAT to FRY with, produce the perfect plate of fish-and-chips and hopefully silence forever those FANATICS who would defame FAT and FRYING as four-letter words when, indeed, they are truly good eats.
posted by frogan at 8:04 PM on June 17, 2007

you need some starch to make the tot crispy, and potatoes themselves aren't evil at all--in fact, they're quite good for you.

i would grate potatoes (something waxy, about a cupful) and finely chop some raw cauliflower (about a cupful) and onions (maybe a quarter cup). mix with an egg (or egg substitute) and a tablespoon or two of flour (whole-wheat or cornmeal would be fine). make golf-ball sized balls and flatten into patties. dust with flour and fry with nonstick spray.

remember, lots of salt and pepper will make them super-tasty. they won't be as crunchy as tater tots.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:09 PM on June 17, 2007

Or you could just make roasted cauliflower popcorn.

You miss out on the little pillows of fatty goodness, but the savory yummy crunch is all there.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:42 PM on June 17, 2007

I really can't tell if the potatoes are what you're trying to replace, or just the processed version of potatoes that is tater tots.

I LOVE this recipe. I double it, make it in a 9x13 pan, use olive oil instead of butter, and mix in carrots and sweet potatoes along with the red potatoes. (Don't you hate it when people do that? Use a recipe and then change everything? Me too.)

It's delicious, and I've always had a hard time getting roasted potatoes to be cooked but not burned. This one does it. Takes a long time to cook, but only about 5 minutes prep. Goes great with roasted chicken since they take about the same time to cook, if you have room in the oven.
posted by peep at 9:36 PM on June 17, 2007

Response by poster: peep, I suppose I am trying to hit a few things. The succulent potato is first, the crunch is second. I suppose the shape has some nostalgia associated with it (since tots were often served in DH's household). But your suggestion looks yummy.

Also, I don't mind if people change the recipe as long as they tell me about the improvement :)
posted by oflinkey at 9:53 PM on June 17, 2007

I'm not a huge cauliflower fan. I have only recently come to accept it as a vegetable, and not a mutant that takes up room.

Cauliflower nuggets: Cut it into flourets (or buy them, but I don't mind chopping it up - it makes me think of braaains,)
Steam. This is how you get a slightly mushier inside.
Dip them in milk very briefly.
Dip them in bread crumbs. I don't aim for total coverage, and you can use slightly healthier or spiced bread(crumbs) as desired.
Spritz the oven pan with olive oil, spritz the nuggets, and toss in medium-hot oven (400?) until brown and crunchy.

You end up with slight crunch on the outside and the mushy inside. It's not a substitute, but I've actually eaten almost half a brain like this. I mean, half a cauliflower. Yeah.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:12 PM on June 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by BrotherCaine at 11:52 PM on June 17, 2007

If you want to change his diet, make tasty things for yourself and then play on his laziness to get him to play along. It took me a while to come around to enjoying things I didn't grow up with, but I've gotten to the point where I prefer the new things over the old. It helps that I got over my aversion to trying anything new. I now have a rule that I'll try anything at least twice. If I don't like it the first time, I'll have another bite of such a thing 6 months down the road. If I still find it disgusting, I won't try it again.

I got to like tabouli, hummus, and all sorts of other things that way. (BTW, tabouli is awesome and relatively healthy)

As a person who grew up on meat and potatoes (and other rib sticking fried southern food), it's just a matter of getting him to try some other tasty things.

My Spanish/Dominican SO has me eating all sorts of incredibly tasty things that I never would have eaten 10 years ago. Back then, the most "out there" I got was eating americanized chinese food every once in a while.

Basically, anything can be good, as long as you season it. Just last night we had chicken and rice. That's canned chicken and white rice with some tomato paste and seasoning. Tasty. Not healthy but very tasty, I was just having some plantain shepherd's pie. Shepherd's pie, but with ripe plantains instead of potatoes.

BTW, plantains have to be one of the most awesome things out there. When they're green, they're like potatoes. When they're ripe (almost entirely black skin, actually), they're sweet like a banana, only better and can be made into awesome desserts.

As far as tots go, don't try to replace them, just roast some potato chunks in the oven in a baking pan with a bit of olive oil, salt, rosemary, and whatever other seasonings you like. If you're worried about hardened arteries, replace some of the real salt with potassium salt, unless of course either of you have a problem with potassium. ;)

Anyway, when made right, they're crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, and taste freaking awesome. They have become our number one side with steak. (I don't think I've mentioned yet that I love meat, and probably eat too much, but that doesn't mean I can't eat relatively healthy and tasty sides with my steak!)

Personally, I've taken to eating reasonably healthy salads with vinaigrettes instead of ranch, but keeping some feta and nuts so that I don't feel like I'm getting nearly nothing. When I'm cooking for myself, I'll often chop some carrots, onion, and celery, sautee it for a bit in a small amount of butter, then toss in some cauliflower and some worchestershire and whatever else strikes my fancy at the time. Pretty plain, but again, anything can be good if it's seasoned properly.

99% of the time, that's the problem people run into with their food, not enough seasoning. Even tofu is good if you season it, and I say this as a devout meat eater.
posted by wierdo at 2:38 AM on June 18, 2007

Anything that's the color of tater tots, the size, shape, and texture of tater tots, and is oily like tater tots, is likely to have almost the same nutritional value of tater tots.

That said, you might try making tater tots using sweet potatoes.

(One other suggestion for healthier eating -- if you want to like whole wheat bread, get a wheat grinder and bread maker and make it from 100% freshly-ground wheat. A qualitatively different and wonderful experience. I never liked whole wheat bread until I tried this.)
posted by amtho at 5:16 AM on June 18, 2007

You can also just bake Tater Tots, which is lower calorie and lower cholesterol overall than frying them. It takes about the same amount of time, and you don't have to drain anything. Roll them off the pan and eat! Lazy wins!
posted by headspace at 5:35 AM on June 18, 2007

I've always subscribed to the theory that good eating is about making sure you're getting enough of the good, vitamin- and anti-oxidant rich stuff, rather than restricting the bad. In that vein, I love country-fried potatoes (cook some potatoes--I'm partial to the little red new potatoes--in the microwave for a few minutes, then cut up into pieces and fry in some olive oil in a pan) with good spices (especially paprika!) and veggies thrown in while frying. Chopped up red bell peppers and onions are good.

That way, even if you're eating fried potatoes, you're still getting a heaping serving of healthy vegetables too. As a bonus, the sweet bell pepper is a perfect complement to the starchy goodness of potatoes.
posted by iminurmefi at 7:01 AM on June 18, 2007

I'm a firm believer in portion size. It's about the calories you take in. If you want to have a 600 calorie dinner, only cook (and I recommend baking) a portion of tater tots that fits in with the caloric guidelines. That way you won't feel, nor your SO, that you are being deprived from anything you enjoy, you are just having it in smaller portions.
posted by Elaisa at 7:08 AM on June 18, 2007

I dug up this recipe for you from a church recipe cookbook. Now, it's going to need some adjustments to cut the fat, but I think the method is probably what you're looking for:

Cauliflower “Tater�? Tots
Prep time: 15-30 minutes
Cooking time: about 20 minutes

1 (1-lb) Cauliflower florets, fresh or frozen
4 tablespoons or 1/2 stick butter
2 large egg yolks
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons of Lipton onion soup mix or other seasoning blend

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Steam cauliflower until tender. Place cauliflower in blender or food mill.
Add butter, egg yolks, seasonings, and parmesan cheese. Process until mixture is smooth.

Place mixture in a cake decorator tube fitted with NO TIP, to create tator tot size.. Pipe cauliflower mixture in 1-inch lengths onto greased baking sheet. To help retain shape, freeze baking sheet before placing in oven. (If you don’t have time for this step, the recipe works without it.) Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until slightly browned."

First of all, I'd use a food processor as it will be much easier than using the blender or food mill. You can also probably use a stand mixer or hand mixer if that's what you have on hand. Just make sure your cauliflower pieces are cut smaller and mash them a bit with a fork before you mix them.

What I'd also do is replace the butter with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and a slice of whole grain bread soaked in skim milk. That's a technique I've used in the past to bind ingredients together without adding that heavy or "leaden" quality to things like turkey or mushroom loaf. You squeeze out the milk before adding it to your steamed cauliflower and process it as you would in the recipe above.

Also, I'd add 3 egg whites and one whole egg. I'd also sautee a small sweet onion with two or three cloves of garlic, a little parsley, some salt, pepper and a bit of cayenne instead of the onion soup mix. That way, you can control the sodium content. And I like fresh ingredients better, anyway.

If you don't have a pastry bag, just use two spoons and mold the "tots" into little balls. You could also use a cookie scoop or a melon baller if you have one of those tucked in a drawer somewhere.

Good luck! Hope it works out.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:27 AM on June 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, I wanted to add the link where I found it. It's a fun read, at any rate...Here it is.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 7:36 AM on June 18, 2007

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