Cauliflower, a cousin to cabbage and broccoli, is a cruciferous vegetable and member of the Brassicaceae family. It originated in Europe in the 16th century, was introduced to America in the late 1600’s, but only became commercially available to the United States in the 1920’s. Famous author Mark Twain claimed, “A cauliflower is nothing more but a cabbage with a college education.”
As cauliflower matures, it’s dark leaves begin to surround the white “flowers”, or curds, preventing the absorption of chlorophyll, thus, retaining its white color. While once considered a winter vegetable, now, it is largely grown in California and is available year -round.
Another “superstar” food, the powerful flower is naturally low in sodium, calories, fat, and cholesterol. It offers a host of nutritional benefits including Vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B6. Based on 100g serving, it offers 25 calories and 5% of the RDA for fiber. Surprisingly, cauliflower provides Vitamin C (about 80% of the RDA), as well as folate, potassium, copper, and manganese. Cauliflower also includes phytonutrients, which are plant based micronutrients that have health benefits in warding off cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
In many markets, colored cauliflower is available–orange-hued, purple, or bright green. The differences in these colored vegetables is done through selective breeding, as there are many varieties within each color group. Purple cauliflower is developed from the blue/purple group of antioxidant flavanoids called anthocyanins. Orange is developed from the enhancement of Vitamin A, in the form of beta carotene. The colored curds do not taste drastically different from the white, however, the purple does seem to offer a bit sweeter note.
Cauli-Cakes and Flakes
Since the 1920’s, the general practice of eating and preparing cauliflower was to either eat it raw, or boil it until it was ultra soft, if not mushy. Many a childhood has been scarred by the threat of over-cooked cauliflower on the dinner table.
Thanks to technology, science, and culinary academia, we now know that boiling vegetables to the point of “no return” depletes the nutritional value significantly. In the last few years, recipes have surfaced for “disguising” cauliflower as mashed potatoes, cauliflower rice, etc. Some manufacturers are packaging raw crumbles as an addition to salads, which are available in the packaged salad area of the supermarket.
Selection and Preparation
When selecting a cauliflower, look for firm, tightly-knit curds, or florets, that are free of discoloration and blemishes. Often, a cauliflower will have a few small blemishes that resemble mold. These are usually discoloration from being under grocery lighting. If the majority of the curd is perfect, the blemished area can be scrubbed with a clean vegetable brush or cut away. Certified organic cauliflower is recommended.
When preparing cauliflower, as either a stand-alone or accompaniment menu item, there are a few ways to achieve a semi-firm texture while retaining the nutrients. The most popular method is to blanch the vegetable by placing the whole plant in hot (not boiling) water. This softens the vegetable so that it is easier to remove the green leaves and core, as well as cut the florets. Avoid cooking cauliflower in iron or aluminum, as it will turn gray. When added to hot water, cauliflower will naturally lose a bit of it’s white color; in order to retain the color, add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the blanching water. A second method of softening the the cauliflower is to wrap it in a damp paper towel and microwave for 3-5 minutes.
Once softened by either method, it is easier to remove the leaves and core. Simply tear off the leaves and cut a triangle around the core to remove it. This allows for easier preparation whether it be course-chopping the florets, pulsing them in the food processor, or serving them a la carte for dipping. When storing cauliflower, store it curd-side up, unwashed in the refrigerator.
Spices that go well with cauliflower:
- Caraway, cardamon, turmeric, and cumin
Cauliflower Cakes (serves 2-4)
1 large cauliflower
1 small onion chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 cup whole grain bread or Panko crumbs
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Serving Sauce (optional)
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 teaspoon horseradish
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon smoky paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
- Blanch cauliflower: Bring large pot of water to high heat; place entire cauliflower in water and allow to sit until fork-tender; turn cauliflower occasionally using tongs. Remove from water and allow to cool. Once cooled, remove leaves and core.
- Saute onion until tender; set aside
- In a large bowl, add eggs, caraway seed, onion, cauliflower, salt, and bread crumbs; mix well
- Form mixture into small balls then flatten with spatula.
- Place cauliflower patties in refrigerator for 30 minutes
- Heat olive oil to medium heat, and slide patties into oil. (This may need to be done in batches)
- Allow patties to cook for 3 minutes on one side; gently flip and cook for about 2 minutes on the other side
- Drain on paper towel and serve with sauce (optional)
- Sauce preparation: combine all ingredients
- Organic cauliflower is recommended
- Cauliflower leaves can be stored and later used in soups
- If preferred, these cakes can be baked in the oven on greased baking sheet at 400F for 15 minutes
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