While we are accustomed to finding cauliflower year-round in the grocery store, it is also a favorite cool season vegetable that can be found as farmers markets are winding down for the season. Many people might find this vegetable bland on its own, but cauliflower is rapidly gaining attention and popularity for its versatility.
Cauliflower is member of the Brassica family, making it related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. The word cauliflower literally means ‘cabbage flower’. It originated from the island of Cyprus in the 13th century before making its way to western Europe in the 16th century and eventually to the United States in the 1900’s. Today, California is the top producer of cauliflower, as well as Arizona, Florida, and Texas. The cooler climate states of Michigan, New York, Washington, and Oregon also make the list of top producing states.
Cauliflower is a good source of vitamins C, K, B6 and folate, as well as the minerals potassium, phosphorus, and calcium. While white cauliflower is most common, selective plant breeding has also produced green, orange, and purple varieties. The various color varieties also supply unique phytonutrients found in their color families: beta carotene in orange, anthocyanins in purple and chlorophyl in a green variety also known as broccoflower.
Even the standard white cauliflower provides the phytonutrient sulforaphane, which is found in the colored varieties as well. Sulforaphane is the compound that gives a bitter taste to vegetables in the Brassica family, particularly when overcooked. With this rich nutrient profile, cauliflower joins the list of vegetables that provides protection against diabetes, heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, and other inflammation related health conditions.
When selecting cauliflower look for heavy, dense heads that are four to six inches across, with bright green intact leaves. No matter which color variety, there should be no discoloration on the florets, also called ‘curds’. Cauliflower wrapped in sealed plastic can hasten mold and spoilage, so it is recommended to transfer to a loosely sealed bag with a paper towel to absorb moisture for storage up to seven days.
For maximum flavor, nutrition, and color retention, choose steaming, sauteing or roasting over boiling. A bit of acid such as lemon juice also aids in keeping white cauliflower from darkening. Because of its neutral flavor, cauliflower can be easily combined with other vegetables in a mixed sauté and is also commonly used in curry dishes.
It has also become a popular replacement for rice when finely chopped or as a main ingredient in low carb pizza crust. A favorite preparation at my house it to mix with mashed potatoes, which reduces the carbohydrate count and increases the fiber content (and no one will really notice).
Because this involves boiling the vegetables to get them soft enough to mash, I like to save the cooking water and freeze for use in soup or stew. I hope you will give this recipe a try!