Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. This group of vegetables was named for the four equal-sized petals in its flowers that could be viewed as forming a cross-like or crucifix shape. Cauliflower, like many of its relatives, is lauded for its health benefits and nutritional value; but often overlooked is its smooth, slightly nutty flavor and its use in a wide variety of recipes.
The cauliflower consists of white florets attached to a single stem; together, they form a compact, cabbage-like head, called a curd (usually six to seven inches in diameter). The white head is surrounded by long green leaves that are attached to the stem. These leaves protect the cauliflower from the sunlight, and stop chlorophyll from forming in the cauliflower. This protection also helps the cauliflower maintain its pristine white color. A ripe cauliflower – which is edible raw as well as cooked – has a distinctive creamy, semi-sweet, somewhat nutty flavor.
Health Benefits of Cauliflower/p>
If you include cauliflower as one of the cruciferous vegetables you eat on a regular basis, you will receive the fantastic health benefits provided by this family of vegetables. Cauliflower is as good source of fiber and vitamins: Its ingredients may help strengthen bones, boost the cardiovascular system, and prevent cancer. However, people who are using blood thinners should not eat a lot of cauliflower because the high levels of vitamin K could react adversely with these medications.
Cauliflower is rich in phytonutrients, especially glucosinolates. The list of body systems supported by the intake of glucosinolates from cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables include our cardiovascular, digestive, immune, inflammatory, and detoxification systems.
Among cauliflower’s key antioxidant phytonutrients are beta-carotene, caffeic acid, cinnamic acid, ferulic acid, quercetin, rutin, and kaempferol. In addition, cauliflower is one of our best sources of vitamin C. Like most of its fellow cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is also a very good source of manganese—a mineral antioxidant that is especially important in oxygen-related metabolism.
Choosing and Storing Cauliflower
Cauliflower is available year-round, although peak seasons are generally in the spring and fall. When selecting a cauliflower, look for thick, compact heads with creamy white florets. The head should feel heavy relative to its size, and the leaves surrounding it should be bright green and not show signs of wilting. Avoid cauliflower that is blemished or starting to turn brown, which is a sign that the head is getting old. Check the bottom of the head: If it is soft, it is no longer fresh; if the florets have started to flower they are overripe.
Store cauliflower in the refrigerator – unwashed; place it stem-side down in an open plastic bag. Alternatively, punch holes in the bag to avoid excess moisture, which causes the cauliflower to deteriorate faster. You can store cauliflower this way for five to seven days. (Precut florets can be stored for up to two days). Cooked cauliflower should only be stored for two or three days in the refrigerator; however, cauliflower can be blanched and then frozen and kept in the freezer for up to a year.
Raw cauliflower can be accompanied by a dip or cut up and added to salads. When cooked, it can be eaten as a side dish, alone or topped with a sauce. It can also be added to other dishes, such as stir fries, pasta, quiches, omelets, soups, and stews. Cauliflower can be interchanged for broccoli in most recipes.
Cauliflower should not be washed until it is going to be cut up and used. To prepare, remove the outer leaves from the cauliflower head, and then remove the stalk from the head by cutting around it with a sharp knife. When the stalk is removed, the core with the florets attached will remain.
Begin to remove the florets by cutting each cluster from the core, leaving a little of the stem with each cluster. If florets are larger than desired, they can be cut down further by cutting each cluster into smaller pieces.
Cauliflower can be cooked using several methods, including steaming, boiling, sautéing, stir frying, and microwaving. Cauliflower should be cooked until they are tender-crisp. If it is cooked too long, the florets will fall apart and become mushy.
Add enough water to a pot so that it is below the bottom of the steamer basket when it is placed in the pot. Bring the water to a full boil using high heat. Place cauliflower pieces in the steamer basket and place the basket in the pot over the boiling water, making sure that the bottom of the basket does not touch the water. Cover and cook for 5 to 10 minutes for florets, or 15 to 20 minutes for a whole head.
To speed up cooking time, make an “X” in the core of the cauliflower, approximately 1/2 inch deep. Fill a pot with about three quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add the whole cauliflower, core side down, or floret pieces, to the boiling water. Boil gently, covered or uncovered: a whole head for 20 to 25 minutes and floret pieces for 5 to 10 minutes. Check for doneness by piercing with a fork or using the tip of a knife. Cook only until pieces are tender-crisp. Drain on a plate or in a strainer.
Place cauliflower florets in a microwave-safe dish large enough so the florets are in one layer. Pour three tablespoons of water over the florets, cover, and microwave on high for 4 to 5 minutes; then let stand for a few minutes.
When sautéing or stir-frying cauliflower, it is a good idea to parboil the cauliflower first so it is partially cooked ahead of time (see following section). This will allow the cauliflower to be cooked to the proper doneness when sautéed or stir-fried with other ingredients that are faster cooking.
Cut cauliflower into small to medium size pieces and parboil until just tender. Rinse with cold water and pat dry. Heat oil. Using a batter mix, coat the cauliflower and then carefully place the pieces into the hot oil. Fry until the batter turns golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon. Place cauliflower on a plate or cookie sheet lined with paper towels so oil can drain off.
Parboiling or Blanching
The difference between parboiling and blanching is the length of boiling time. When blanching, the cauliflower is boiled for a very short time, usually one to three minutes depending on the size. When parboiling, it is cooked until it is about half done. Parboiling time is generally half of the normal cooking time. After parboiling to desired doneness, remove the cauliflower from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and place it in ice water to stop the cooking action. After parboiling, the cauliflower is ready to be sautéed, added to a stir-fry, or cooked with other vegetables or ingredients.
- Cauliflower contains chemicals that give off an unpleasant odor when cooked. The longer it is cooked the stronger the smell becomes. Cooking the cauliflower quickly and only to a tender-crisp state will help minimize the odor and will also minimize the nutrient loss that occurs from overcooking.
- When blanching or cooking cauliflower, keep it white by adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of vinegar, or 1 cup of milk. The milk will also give the cauliflower a sweeter flavor.
- One pound of cauliflower equals 1 1/2 cups of florets.
- Do not cook cauliflower in an aluminum pot because the chemicals in cauliflower react with the metals in the pot and cause the cauliflower to become discolored.
Baked Breaded Cauliflower
If we could live on just one food, it would be breaded cauliflower (with pizza as a close second). Frying cauliflower is one option, but this recipe for baked breaded cauliflower is easier on the back and more healthful.
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 cups panko bread crumbs
- 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Whisk eggs, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Place bread crumbs in another bowl.
- Dip each cauliflower floret in egg mixture to coat, then dip each floret into bread crumbs to coat; place on prepared baking sheet.
- Bake in the preheated oven until tender and lightly browned, turning once, about 25 minutes.
Cauliflower for All
Cauliflower is often overlooked as a multi-purpose vegetable that can take on many shapes and forms. Most importantly, it is incredibly delicious as a healthy vegetable option. Baked, fried or steamed and served with a cheese sauce, or served raw with a dip, crunchy, nutty cauliflower is the king of the cruciferous vegetables.