Sat, Jan 23, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Nutritional powerhouse

Although packed with health benefits, cauliflower has often been seen as the poor relation of celebrity vegetables such as broccoli

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Contributing reporter

Spicy roasted cauliflower with lemon yogurt makes an excellent side dish but can also serve as a delicious vegetarian main course when served with rice.

Photo: Ian Bartholomew

Over the years I have met many people who claim to dislike cauliflower, which never really surprised me as I had always found it a rather tasteless vegetable, nothing more than a vehicle for various qualities of cheese sauce, and if overcooked, downright unappetizing. But once again cauliflower season is upon us, and the beautifully buttery white heads stacked on the grocer’s stall could not look more tempting.

It should be said right up front that it is worth making an effort over cauliflower, for they pack a powerful nutritional punch and excellent locally grown varieties are currently available. They come in a variety of colors, most commonly white, though many that I have seen from small vegetable patches in Hualien have a lovely yellow or orange tint.

Cauliflower belongs to the Brassicaceae (also known as the Cruciferous) family, which includes cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, mustard and many more healthy greens. Even among this impressively healthful lineup, cauliflower has a great advantage. According to Alan Davidson in The Penguin Companion to Food, the cauliflower is a plant “in which flowers have begun to form but have stopped growing at the bud stage. … The thick stems under the buds act as storage organs for nutrients which would have gone into the flowers and external fruits had their development not been aborted. [It is] therefore richer in vitamins and minerals than other brassicas.”

As one of the healthiest members of a nutrient-packed family, it really is a pity that cauliflower is often neglected, and my own experience of its use in Taiwanese cooking has not been very positive. Deborah Madison in her recent book Vegetable Literacy suggests that cooking cauliflower can take two directions, either as a very simple preparation, such as simmered together with leek, or steamed with butter and chopped parsley. The other option is to introduce the cauliflower to strong flavors such as aged cheddar, mustard butter or curry.

My own discovery is that cauliflower really comes into its own when roasted, a process that intensifies its subtle flavors. To my own way of thinking, boiling and steaming don’t do it any favors, and I have tasted too much waterlogged cauliflower in various lunchbox permutations to want to revisit that place.

That said, it is still remarkably versatile, and its firm texture when roasted have led to the creation of the cauliflower steak, in which a thick slice of cauliflower dressed with various herbs and spices can make quite an impressive vegetarian dish, and culinary maestro Yotam Ottolenghi does his own take on another party dish in which the cauliflower is roasted whole with a gratin coat.

These are all legitimate ways of accessing the package of nutrients and antioxidants contained in cauliflower. In promoting the benefits of cauliflower, The Healthiest Foods in the World Web site (www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=13) lectures readers about the importance of cauliflower to a long and healthy life: “If we fail to give our body’s detox system adequate nutritional support, yet continue to expose ourselves to unwanted toxins through our lifestyle and our dietary choices, we can place our bodies at increased risk of toxin-related damage that can eventually increase our cells’ risk of becoming cancerous. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to bring cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables into our diet on a regular basis.”

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