Endless, uninspired trays of crudités and dips have tarnished the reputation of cauliflower. The glamorous white florets add artistic interest, but after a couple of hours of sitting out, they tend to brown and are usually left uneaten.
Cauliflower is a spectacular cruciferous vegetable with a history that has been traced to Asia Minor and the Mediterranean region. Dishes made with it have been an important part of Turkish and Italian cuisine since 600 B.C. Not too many vegetables carry such a pedigree. Cauliflower deserves respect and preparations that showcase not only its beauty, but also its mild, nutty flavor.
Low maintenance, the plant is a hardy choice for a winter garden. Once the huge leaves open, depending on which colors you’ve planted, your eyes are treated to bright orange, green, white, or purple heads. The various colors have not been genetically modified; they are natural mutants of the white variety.
Don’t let those pretty faces fool you. Cauliflower is considered a superfood for its nutritional values, full of phytonutrients and health-promoting compounds not found in many other vegetables. The veggie is an excellent source of vitamin C, vital B-complex vitamins, and vitamin K. It is also high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Many studies link cauliflower consumption to cancer prevention.
Because of its mild flavor, it is easy to cook and can be steamed, boiled, mashed, roasted, sautéed, or cooked on a wood grill, a technique Woodshed Smokehouse owner and chef Tim Love made popular several years ago. Now cauliflower “steaks” are found on many Dallas menus, a phenomenon that delights vegans and vegetarians. Mash it, and you’ve got an excellent healthy alternative to mashed potatoes.
When you peruse the produce display in the grocery store, look for clean, creamy white heads with compact curds. The bud clusters should not be separated. Pass over any with spots or small flowers. Look for the same qualities in the colored versions. There is no relation between the size of the head and quality, so choose based on how much you plan on preparing. Once you’ve got it home, store it in the refrigerator in a paper or plastic bag. Chances are good it will last at least a week. Once you’ve cooked it, eat the leftovers quickly—it spoils fast.