Vegetables: Cauliflower, as its name implies, is a flower growing from a plant. In its early stages, it resembles broccoli, which is its closest relative. While broccoli opens outward to sprout bunches of green florets, cauliflower forms a compact head of undeveloped white flower buds. The heavy green leaves that surround the head protect the flower buds from the sunlight. The lack of exposure to sunlight does not allow chlorophyll to develop. Therefore, color is not produced, and the head remains a white color. Cauliflower contains a high amount of vitamin C, folate, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. It is also a cruciferous vegetable being studied for its role in reducing cancer risk.
There are two types of cauliflower on the market today. The creamy white florets are more abundant in the United States but some markets sell a recently developed cauliflower-broccoli hybrid. This type of cauliflower has a green curd and resembles broccoli. The green variety is less dense than the white, cooks more quickly, and has a milder taste.
Cauliflower is generally available year round, but it is usually more plentiful in autumn. When selecting cauliflower, look for heads that are white or creamy white, firm, compact, and heavy for their size. There should not be any speckling of discoloration on the head or leaves. Avoid cauliflower with brown patches. A medium-size head, that is 6 inches in diameter and weighs about 2 pounds, will serve 4 to 6 people.
Cauliflower will keep for up to five days if stored in the crisper section of the refrigerator. If the head is not purchased wrapped, store it in an open or perforated plastic bag. Keep the head stem-side up to prevent moisture form collecting on it. For the best flavor, cauliflower should be eaten as soon as possible. Precut florets do not keep well, and they are best when eaten within a day of purchase.
Cauliflower can be served cooked or raw. Peel off stem leaves. Turn cauliflower upside down. Cut the stem just above where the florets join together. Separate the florets into equal sized pieces. Cut if necessary.
When cooking cauliflower, you may leave the head whole. Rapid cooking time not only reduces the odorous sulfur compounds but also preserves crispness, color, and reduces the loss of nutrients that will leach into the cooking water when vegetables are overcooked. Steaming and microwaving cauliflower will better preserve its vitamin content, especially the B vitamins, than if it is boiled. To microwave cauliflower, put 2 cups of florets in a shallow microwavable dish, or cover a whole head of cauliflower with plastic wrap. For florets, cook for 3 minutes on high, then let stand for 2 minutes. For whole cauliflower, cook on high for 3 minutes, turn head over, and cook for an additional 2 to 4 minutes. Let stand for 3 minutes. To steam cauliflower, place it in a steamer basket, and then place in a pot with 2 inches of water. Cover and steam. Florets will take 3 to 5 minutes to cook. A whole head of cauliflower (1 ½ pounds) will take 15 to 20 minutes to cook, but begin checking for tenderness after 12 minutes.
Cauliflower may turn yellow in alkaline water. For whiter cauliflower, add a tablespoon of milk or lemon juice to the water. Do not cook cauliflower in an aluminum or iron pot. The chemical compounds in cauliflower will react with the aluminum and turn the vegetable yellow. While in an iron pot, it will turn a brown or blue-green color.
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