Healthy CHOICES: Cauliflower is versatile and nutritious


A rainbow of cauliflower choices

A rainbow of cauliflower choices

As you are approaching the produce section of your local supermarket or browsing the colorful selection at the farmer’s market, you may come across a compact head of crowded white flowers, surrounded by green leaves and thick stalk. Cauliflower, of course.

A white food may seem less attractive to the eye. You may be more interested in placing other bright-colored foods in your cart, or you may be unsure how to prepare it. There are many ways to enjoy cauliflower, including simply steaming or roasting it.

Cauliflower is a vegetable from the species Brassica oleracea, in the mustard family. Cabbage, collard greens, kale, Brussels sprouts and broc­coli are also from the same species. You may know these to be crucifer­ous vegetables. Cauliflower originated in the northeast Mediterranean. The name is from the Italian caoli fiori, or “cabbage flowers,” ultimately originating from the Latin words caulis (cabbage) and flos (flower).

Erika Graziani is a registered dietitian and Lee Health’s outpatient nutrition program coordinator.

Erika Graziani is a registered dietitian and Lee Health’s outpatient nutrition program coordinator.

Hundreds of varieties exist. While many may know cauliflower to be white, you can also find it in vibrant orange, green, and purple. The orange gets its pigment from beta-carotene, which has antioxidant properties. Green cauliflower, which looks similar to its white counter­part in its physical attributes, is sometimes referred to as “broccoflower.” Another type, one with fractal patterns of the flower head, is Romanesco broccoli. Purple cauliflower gets its pigment from anthocyanins, a type of phytonutrient.

While each color or type of cauliflower has its own unique set of plant phytochemi­cals and healthful nutrients, there are many benefits of cauliflower in general. It is rich in antioxidants that can provide protection from many chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. It can keep your immune system in good working order, which is especially important considering the current pandemic, and can induce the production of detoxifying enzymes. It provides sulforaphane, which helps boost enzymes that detoxify the liver. Cauliflower contains gluco­sinolates and isothiocyanates (phytonutrients), which have been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells. Additionally, cauliflower may provide protection for eyesight and brain function, and reduce inflammation.

Cauliflower is rich in vitamins and fiber but low in calories. Fiber promotes digestive health and feeds the good bacteria in the gut. One cup of cauliflower provides approximately 25 calories, 3 grams of fiber, and is rich in vitamin C and vitamin K. It is also a good source of folate and other B vitamins. It is low in carbohydrates, containing only about 5 grams per cup.

A simple way to enjoy cauliflower is to eat it raw. Wash it, remove the green leaves and thick stem (although the leaves and stem are edible), and cut into small florets. If you don’t want to mess with cutting it, most grocery stores have pre-washed and pre-cut varieties. Steaming and roasting are great ways to enjoy cauliflower. It has become popular to grate or chop cauliflower into small “rice-like” pieces and use in place of rice. Mashed cauliflower can also be used in place of mashed potatoes. Here is a recipe for a roasted cauliflower soup (accessed from www.loveandlemons.com).

The information in this column is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Ingredients

1 medium head cauliflower (2 lb.)
2 shallots, peeled, and sliced into quarters
4 unpeeled garlic cloves
4 cups vegetable broth
Leaves from 5 fresh thyme sprigs
½ tablespoon white miso paste
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Trim the cauliflower head into florets and cut the core into pieces. Spread the cauliflower and the shallots on the baking sheet and toss with a drizzle of olive oil and pinches of salt and pepper. Wrap the garlic cloves, along with a drizzle of the olive oil and a pinch of salt, in a piece of aluminum foil and place it on the baking sheet with the vegetables.

3. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes or until the cauliflower is browned around the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Set aside 1½ cups of the smaller cauliflower florets for garnish.

4. In a blender, combine the roasted cauliflower, shallots, peeled garlic, vegetable broth, thyme leaves, miso paste and Dijon mustard and blend until smooth. Add the olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper and blend. Taste and adjust seasonings adding more lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. If the soup is too thick, add water a few tablespoons at a time, and blend to desired consistency.

5. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the reserved cauliflower florets.

Notes and twists:

Tamari or soy sauce can be used in place of miso paste. Extra-virgin olive oil can be omitted or reduced. To add a delicious twist, I like to garnish the soup with pomegranate seeds. They add a pop of vibrant red color and create a great flavor profile. Furthermore, you get a great nutritional boost as they are high in antioxidants, adding even more nutritional benefit to this delicious soup.