Calm, Cool Cauliflower

March 8, 2016

Considered by many to be the mild-mannered Clark Kent of vegetables, cauliflower is actually a true superhero of nutrition…and one of my favorite veggies.

A garden plant with origins in Asia Minor, cauliflower migrated to Italy, where it was transformed into the plant we enjoy so much today through traditional hybridization.  Historical evidence suggests that cauliflower was cultivated more than 2500 years ago and cultivated in Egypt during the 4th century.  France discovered the joy of this simple plant in the late 16th century, with the rest of Europe following suit.  Still greatly appreciated in European cuisine, cauliflower is produced primarily in China, India, France, Italy and the United States.

Cauliflower consists of a compact head or curd made up of numerous undeveloped flower buds that are attached to a short, central stalk.  If allowed to develop to maturity, these buds turn into yellow flowers, with a very unsavory flavor.  Cauliflower is usually white, but certain varieties are purplish, which turn green during cooking or orange which adds a very cool color to any dish. 

Cauliflower heads are nestled in a cluster of green leaves that actually serve the purpose of shielding the buds from the sun, preserving the white color.  The outer leaves are long and coarse, with a bitter taste, while the inner leaves are tender and sweet.

Picking a tasty cauliflower is easy…choose a cauliflower with a firm, compact head, with a creamy white color and nestled in bright green leaves.  The condition of the outer leaves is indicative of the freshness of the cauliflower.  Bright crisp leaves mean a fresh cauliflower, as does a bright white color, with no brown spots. 

To prepare a cauliflower, remove the outer leaves and gently break the florets off the center stem and cut if they are too large.  Cauliflower is delicious raw or cooked…eaten in salads, with dips…lightly cooked, stir-fried, creamed in sauces and soups…in stews, casseroles, pasta and quiche. I love to steam the head whole and serve it with a spicy tomato sauce.

An excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, niacin and vitamin B6, as well as copper and citric acid, cauliflower is part of the cruciferous family and is rich in anti-cancer compounds.  Unwashed, cauliflower will keep, refrigerated for about 10 days, but cooked, it will not last more than 2-3 days. You can freeze it after blanching, but it will become watery.

The Clark Kent of veggies? I think not.