“Training is everything ... cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” — Mark Twain
As a kid, nobody wanted to have anything to do with the lumpy, bumpy, boring albino cousin to the bold, bright green broccoli. So our mom’s cleverly smothered the cauliflower florets in Cheez Whiz as a food fake-out. It didn’t really work as we soon learned to peel off and devour the melted cheese and discard the vegetable.
Today the crucifer has a big fan following led by charter club member Oprah Winfrey, who touts cauliflower recipes in her cookbook, “Food, Health and Happiness,” and in her line of prepared and frozen foods, (O, That’s Good!), including cauliflower crust pizza.
This virtuous vegetable that has blossomed into a modern day culinary rock star is really a Methuselah crop that originated in Asia Minor, emerged through the Mediterranean region, particularly Italy and Spain, then trickled to France and Britain, and finally crossed the ocean to America in the 1600s. The tightly compacted immature flower buds that sprout from a chunky stalk make up the “head” or “curd” of the crucifer.
Besides the most popular white variety, cauliflower comes in vibrant Technicolors. The lime green Broccoflower is a hybrid cross with broccoli, the orange “Cheddar,” with a rich store of beta-carotene, is a mutant strain from our neighbors to the north, while the purple curd, called “Graffiti,” with a load of deep pigmented anthocyanins found in blueberries and dark grapes, is a cool-season biennial that gives a pop of eye candy and antioxidant oomph. Of course, pale green Romanesco, which resembles a prehistoric breed with tightly packed spiky florets, although a broccoli hybrid, resembles cauliflower more in flavor and texture.
All varieties of cauliflower (there are more than 100) are low-fat, high-fiber Herculean healers packed with immune- and blood-boosting Vitamins C and K, a bunch of B’s to keep the nervous system humming and energy levels high, folate for growth and cellular development, along with calcium, potassium, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids for healthy bones, fluid balance and brain function.
There’s more. The crucifer contains a sulfur compound found to ward off cancer cells, maintain stable blood pressure and heart health, while acting as a digestive aid, and anti-inflammatory agent to ease creaky, achy joints. Cauliflower has also been found to be a diabetic-friendly food with its B6 load amping up tolerance to glucose, and its potassium supply stabilizing the metabolism of the sugar to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
One word of cauliflower caution — if you have thyroid problems, check with your doctor as the vegetable has been found to tinker with the body’s absorption of iodine needed for the healthy functioning of the gland.
Cauliflower is wonderfully versatile, eaten raw and crunchy in salads or crudités, mashed as a low-carb potato substitute, sliced, slathered with barbecue sauce and grilled as a vegan “steak,” riced and diced for risottos, pilafs, stews, and casseroles, curry dishes, stir-fries, and tempuras, ground as a “flour” for flatbreads and other crusts, fried in patty form like a latke, or pureed in soups or a creamy low-fat gravy (see recipe below).
For a quick and hearty side, break florets into bite-size pieces, coat with olive or avocado oil, a squirt of Meyer lemon juice, a handful of autumn herbs and spices, and roast until crisp. As cauliflower is mellow in flavor, unlike its other Brassicaceae relatives that tend to be bitter and gassy, it lends itself to sweet flavors, too. For light, low-cal just desserts try blending steamed and pureed cauliflower in zesty lemon or chocolate mousses, pecan mocha brownies, coconut rice puddings, berry cheesecakes, or in a chocolate almond crust for a dessert pizza.
Pick a winner by choosing tightly packed heads without blemishes or dark spots. As cauliflower is delicate and spoils quickly, store well wrapped in the vegetable or crisper drawer of the fridge.
Recipe: Creamy Cauliflower Gravy
• Ingredients: 1 small cauliflower head, trimmed, cut in florets; 2 garlic cloves, minced; 2 cups mushroom or onion broth; 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped; 1/2 teaspoon flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped; 1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
• Method: In a medium saucepan, heat oil on low and sauté garlic and cauliflower for a few minutes. Add broth, herbs and spices. Bring to a boil. Simmer for several minutes until cauliflower is tender. Process in a blender or food processor until creamy and smooth. Add more broth if desired. Add peppercorns for a more robust gravy for beef, sage for turkey, or dill for fish.
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com