Last year, kale was known as the nutrition superstar, but this year the crown goes to cauliflower — a versatile vegetable. Eat it raw, cooked, roasted, baked into a pizza crust or cooked and mashed as a substitute for mashed potatoes. You can even prepare cauliflower riced as a substitute for regular rice. You can buy it by the head or, for convenience, you can get the florets already cut.
As far as nutrition goes, cauliflower is high in vitamin C and a good source of folate. It’s fat free and cholesterol free and also is low in sodium content. Additionally, cauliflower contains only 25 calories in 1/6 of a medium head. This portion size also contains 2 grams of dietary fiber and only 5 grams of carbohydrate.
Cauliflower is a member of the cruciferous vegetable family along with Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga, turnips and bok choy. These vegetables possess a compound that has a strong, distinct odor that many people find unappealing, but they also can offer health benefits that may reduce the risk of various types of cancer.
If you find cauliflower pale in appearance and boring to look at on your plate, it’s also available in a few different colors — purple, green and orange.
CHOOSING THE BEST HEAD OF CAULIFLOWER
Look for a cauliflower that has tight-fitting, creamy-white curds and bright-green, firmly attached leaves. Avoid choosing a head that has brown spots or loose sections that are spread out. Cauliflower wrapped in a cellophane bag can promote rot by trapping in moisture. Unwrapping and transferring cauliflower to a loosely sealed bag with a paper towel inside helps absorb moisture. Whole heads of cauliflower can be kept in the refrigerator for four to seven days. Throw out precut florets after four days.
The goal is to make up half your plate with fruits and vegetables. So, why not give cauliflower a try? If you have a food processor, experiment with making a cauliflower pizza crust or creating rice-size pieces to serve with your next stir fry. And be sure to get the kids in the kitchen so they can learn some nontraditional ways to use this common vegetable.
Here’s a recipe that puts a cauliflower twist on a popular side dish:
Potato Cauliflower Au Gratin (serves 8)
- 1 large potato, chopped into pieces the size of a nickel so the dish bakes evenly
- 1 head cauliflower, chopped
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 cup sliced leeks
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup skim milk
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese or Swiss cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Heat oven to 375 F. In a medium saucepan, boil water. Once boiling, add potato and cauliflower to parboil. Drain, cool and set aside in a medium bowl.
- Preheat a medium saute pan on medium heat; add olive oil. Saute leeks and garlic until tender. Using a whisk, add flour and stir to incorporate well. Deglaze the pan by adding in milk and chicken stock. Let come to a boil, whisking regularly. Stir in the thyme, onion powder, salt and black pepper.
- Lightly coat a baking dish with cooking spray. Place potatoes and cauliflower in the baking dish. Pour leek and milk mixture over potatoes and cauliflower. Sprinkle with cheese and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are fork tender. Uncover and bake for an additional 5 minutes to brown the top. Garnish with parsley.
Nutritional analysis per 1/2-cup serving: Calories 106, total fat 4 grams, saturated fat 2 grams, trans fat 0 grams, monounsaturated fat 2 grams, cholesterol 10 milligrams, sodium 223 milligrams, total carbohydrate 12 grams, dietary fiber 2 grams, total sugars 3 grams, protein 6 grams
Linda Carruthers is a registered dietitian-nutritionist at in Springfield, Minnesota.