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Cauliflower

Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Cauliflower is indeed, a flower. It grows from a plant that, in its early stages, resembles broccoli, its closest relative. Like broccoli, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable; members of this family have been associated with reducing the risk of cancer. However, while broccoli opens outward to sprout bunches of green florets, cauliflower forms a compact head of undeveloped white flower buds. As it grows on a single stalk, the head (known as the "curd") is surrounded by heavily ribbed green leaves that protect it from sunlight, so that the flower buds never develop chlorophyll. With some types of cauliflower, however, the head pokes through the leaves and the grower periodically will tie the leaves over the head to shield it from the sun. Otherwise, exposure to sunlight would discolor the florets and also cause them to develop an undesirable flavor.

Some markets sell a cauliflower-broccoli hybrid that looks like cauliflower but has a green curd. Less dense than white, this recently developed variety cooks more quickly and has a milder taste. Still, white cauliflower remains more plentiful in the United States.

Availability

You can usually obtain cauliflower year-round, although it is typically more abundant in autumn. (California and New York are the major producers.) Before they are shipped, the heads are trimmed off their outer leaves and packed in protective plastic wrap that has been perforated to allow carbon dioxide to escape. (If the gas builds up, the cauliflower will discolor and taste unpleasant when cooked.)

Shopping

Select clean, firm, compact heads that are white or creamy white. (The size of the head doesn't affect its quality.) Any leaves that remain should be green and crisp. Avoid heads with major spots, speckles, bruises, or loose, open floret clusters. Some stores also sell packaged florets that have been trimmed off the head, and these, too, should be free of bruises or spots. Small leaves growing between the florets are not a sign of poor quality; just pull them out before you cook the cauliflower.

A medium-sized head is 6" in diameter and weighs about 2 pounds--enough to serve four to six people after trimming off the leaves and stem.

Storage

Refrigerate cauliflower in the crisper, where it will keep for up to five days (although you should eat it as soon as possible for the best flavor). If the head is unwrapped, store it in an open or perforated plastic bag. Keep the head stem-side up to prevent moisture from collecting on top. Precut florets don't keep well, so use them within a day of purchase.

Preparation

The head can be easily separated into florets for serving raw or cooked. For cooking, you can also leave the head whole; however, it takes longer to cook than the florets and so more nutrients may be lost.

First, trim the cauliflower: Pull off any outer leaves and cut off the protruding stem end close to the head. If you find that the florets have started to turn brown at the edges, trim off these areas. To cook the head whole, trim the stem even with the bottom of the head of cauliflower. To prepare florets, slice off the florets around the inner core. Split any larger florets in half and slice up the inner core pieces.

Like broccoli, cauliflower contains plant acids that form odorous sulfur compounds as the vegetable is heated; these odors become more intense the longer the cauliflower cooks. Rapid cooking not only reduces the odors, but keeps the texture crisp, preserves the vegetable's color, and reduces the loss of nutrients. Cook until crisp-tender, but be aware that cooking times vary considerably, depending upon the size of the head or florets.

Boiling: Cooking cauliflower in a large uncovered pot of boiling water disperses the odorous compounds and produces a mild flavor, but this method destroys about half the vitamin C content. If you do boil the vegetable, keep the cooking time short. For a whole cauliflower, submerge the entire head by lowering it into the water with the stem side up, so that the florets don't bob above the surface. Add lemon juice or vinegar to retain whiteness. Cooking times: for florets, three to six minutes; for whole cauliflower, 10 to 15 minutes.

Microwaving: Put 2 cups of florets in a 9" microwavable dish, add 1/4 cup of water, and cover. Place a whole 1 1/2-pound cauliflower in a deep microweavable dish with a cover; add 1/4 cup water to the dish. Cooking times: for florets, three minutes on high, then let stand two more minutes, covered, to complete cooking; for whole cauliflower, three minutes on high, then turn it over and cook for two to four minutes, then test underside for doneness with a fork. Let stand for three more minutes to complete cooking.

Sauteing: Cauliflower needs no precooking if the florets are thinly sliced. Use a small amount of oil in a skillet or wok, or lightly coat the pan with a vegetable oil spray. If you need to add more liquid to prevent sticking, you can use one or two tablespoons of water, broth, or vinegar. Cooking time: three to four minutes.

Steaming: Use a conventional steamer basket for florets. For steaming cauliflower whole, place the vegetable, stem-side down, in a steamer basket or steam-boil it in a pot containing 2" of boiling water. Cauliflower may turn yellow in alkaline water; to keep it uniformly white, add the juice of half a lemon or a teaspoon of vinegar to the cooking water. After the first few minutes of steaming, remove the cover for 10 to 15 seconds to allow the odorous compounds to escape. Cooking times: for florets, three to five minutes; for a whole trimmed cauliflower weighing 1 1/2 pounds, 15 to 20 minutes, but begin checking for tenderness after 12 minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Cauliflower/1 cup cooked florets

29
Total fat (g)
0.6
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.3
Dietary fiber (g)
3.4
2
Carbohydrate (g)
5
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
19
Vitamin C (mg)
55
Folate (mcg)
55


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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