Cauliflower, an old staple, has just had a new flowering and is the hip vegetable restaurants are featuring these days. Baked, fried, riced, and diced, cauliflower is on many menus and is touted as the new healthy food to eat.
I used to dismiss cauliflower because it was bland and boring. The only cauliflower dish that made my taste buds sing was smothered in cheese. I notice that even now restaurants mostly mash cauliflower with butter, yogurt, and sour cream, or top it with gravy or cheese. But that's not the only way to eat it.
Once alert to the cauliflower craze you will see it everywhere. And if you’re willing to be adventurous and discerning it’s good news for your health*. One cup of cauliflower has 29 calories, one-third the calories of potatoes and one-eighth the calories of white or brown rice with one-ninth the carbs. You also get a heaping dose of manganese, vitamins C, K, B6, and folate. In addition to the detoxifying virtues of cauliflower, it’s a powerful anti-cancer veggie. That’s because it’s rich in sulforaphane, a compound shown to kill cancer stem cells. It slows tumor growth and can even prevent one from taking hold. Bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach cancers have all been studied using compounds in cauliflower with impressive results.
In the last five years cauliflower sales have doubled. Riced cauliflower is now the fourth most popular frozen food at Whole Foods supermarket. And Trader Joe’s is enforcing a two bag limit on sales. Maybe that's because 3/4 cup is the recommended daily consumption — the equivalent of approximately 5 cups of cauliflower a week.
With all the focus on cauliflower, there’s now a "correct way" to cut it, and improved cooking suggestions to preserve its nutrients. New recipe books are filled with ethnic cauliflower dishes including: pizza crust, bagels, tortillas, mac and cheese, General Tso’s cauliflower, Tater Tots, curries, steaks, tabbouleh, Sicilian pasta, and tacos.
Here are some quick tips I’ve gleaned from my reading:
As you see in the photo, cauliflower comes in many colors with white the most plentiful. When buying it, look for clean compact bud clusters that are not separated. Search for heads protected by thick green leaves. With most food purchases, buy organic when possible to lower the likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals.
Store uncooked cauliflower in the refrigerator in a paper or plastic bag. It will keep for up to a week without losing any of its nutrient value. To prevent moisture from developing in the floret clusters, store it stem side down.
Cauliflower florets are the part of the plant most people eat. Remove the outer leaves then slice the florets at the base where they meet the stalk. Trim any brown coloration from the edges. You can cut the florets into pieces that are as small and uniform as you like. The stem and leaves are edible and are especially good for adding to soup stocks.
You’re on your own! I say this because in one study microwaving did a better job preserving quercetin than steaming did. But steaming did a better job of preserving kaempferol — another flavonoid — than microwaving. In terms of retaining antioxidants, 5 minutes of steaming produced better results than longer exposure to high heat. Boiling cauliflower for 10 minutes retains 60% of total glucosinolates.
After analyzing these nutrient trade-offs and taking texture and flavor into account, the best suggestion seems to be to cut the pieces into small enough segments to allow quick sautéing on top of the stove, but it's really up to you.
Oh, one last thing. If I'm fortunate enough to be invited to your table, please don’t serve me cauliflower. Along with all its wonderful nutrients it gives me gas!
Sources: whfoods.com, patriothealthalliance.com
*Everything has contraindications for some of us. Cauliflower is no exception. It's a cruciferous vegetable and can interfere with the healthy function of the thyroid gland.