I don’t often praise or recommend white foods: white bread, white rice, white chocolate muffins, or meringues are not very high up on the list of healthy foods. Instead, nutritional therapists (including me) are forever going on about how you ought to cover all the colours of the rainbow when it comes to fruit and veg. And that is true, but there are a few exceptions and cauliflower is one of them (the others are mushrooms and white fish).
Due to its white colour, cauliflower is not quite as nutritious as its more colourful cousins from the brassica family (red, white, savoy and pointed cabbages, spring greens, broccoli, cavolo nero, romanesco, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, pak choi and Chinese leaves – also known as ‘cruciferous vegetables), but it's a very healthy vegetable nonetheless. It contains lots of vitamin C, B vitamins, and vitamin K and is a great source of fibre, potassium, phosphorus and particularly boron.
Like the other brassica, cauliflower is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant compound known to help protect from cancer. Within minutes of eating brassica, sulforaphane enters the blood stream and travels to the liver, where it activates certain detoxification enzymes, which in turn disarm carcinogenic chemicals. But that’s not all: cauliflower and the other cruciferous vegetables also contain indole-3-carbinol, another cancer-fighting compound. It speeds up the rate at which the liver breaks down and detoxifies old hormones by about 50%. A word of caution: If you have an underactive thyroid or a known iodine deficiency, make sure to always eat your cauliflower (and other members of the cabbage family) cooked. Brassica contain compounds called goitrogens, which are harmless unless eaten in vast amounts and unless you have thyroid issues. Cooking inactivates them.
Although cauliflower is available year round, local cauliflower is in season right now, so it’s a great time to buy it. It’ll be super-fresh and affordable. You’ll get the best price on farmers markets or the greengrocers. Note though, that because cruciferous vegetables are susceptible to pests, they are often heavily treated with pesticides. (The EU is banning more and more of those, but that won’t concern us for very much longer.) So, if you can afford to, buy organic cauliflower. If you can’t, soak the whole cauliflower in the sink in clear water with a splash of white vinegar for a while, then lift out to dry before storing it in the fridge, stalk side down.
If you saw Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s programme “War on Waste” last week (still on the BBC iPlayer) you will already know that the colour of cauliflower has no impact on its taste. It can sometimes come out in a yellow tinge, which is apparently a reason for supermarkets to reject it, leading to entire crops having to be destroyed. Normally, the cauliflower’s large leaves protect it from the sun. If it has had some light exposure, it can turn green or slightly purple, but again: this does not impact flavour at all. Just make sure that when you buy it, it hasn’t got any grey/dirty looking patches, as that’s a sign that it is past its best. Note that cauliflower will keep longer if you buy it in one piece, rather than pre-chopped.
Speaking of waste: Did you know that the stalk and leaves of the cauliflower are edible, too? The stalks go into all of my cauliflower dishes – I don’t care that they are not in ‘floret shape’. The chopped leaves are a great addition to vegetable soups and stocks.
With grain-free diets, such as Paleo, GAPS, or SCD, gaining popularity, the humble cauliflower has experienced a revival. It is used to replace grains or other starches in countless dishes. As it is low in starch, it is low in carbohydrates, and so it makes a great addition to low-carb diets, too.
You can use cauliflower to make …
- … mash – to eat as a side or a topping, e. g. for fish or shepherd’s pie.
- … ‘rice’ – chop into florets, pulse in a food processor until the cauliflower bits have reached a rice-like size. You can use it as is or season. I included a ‘cauliflower rice’ recipe in Nutrilicious News a few weeks ago.
- … ‘pizza base’
- … ‘bread sticks’
- … and of course use it in a more traditional way: soups, steamed or roasted as a side, as an addition to curries, stews, and stir-fries, raw with a dip.
Foods that go well with cauliflower: almonds, anchovies, broccoli, capers, chilli, cumin, garlic, hard cheese, nutmeg, potato, saffron, shellfish, truffles, and walnuts.
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