Everything You Need to Know About Cauliflower
In Ontario, cauliflower is in peak season throughout September and October, making it ideal for adding to school snacks and quick-cooking family dinners. Despite the short season in our province, cauliflower is readily available in most markets and grocery stores throughout the year with supplies primarily imported from the US.
Related to dark and leafy greens like broccoli, collards and kale, cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, which is known to help the body absorb iron from iron-rich foods. To maximize the nutritional benefits of this cruciferous veggie, why not pair cauliflower with its dark, leafy green cousins for a vegetarian iron-rich dish?
If you have friends or family who aren’t keen on eating their vegetables, cauliflower is a master of disguise. It can be hidden in a variety of dishes, used to lighten up mashed potatoes, replace “pasta” in a mac & cheese dish, and even puréed into lightened up sauces. For those with gluten sensitivity, cauliflower can also be “riced” and sautéed with vegetables and a protein of choice, and for those who are little more adventurous it can easily be turned into a pizza crust.
The Snow Crown and Polar Express varieties of cauliflower are characterized by the classic and familiar white florets. However, certain varieties do have a purplish hue, which tends to turn green with cooking. Purple cauliflower is very similar to broccoli in that it cooks faster than white cauliflower and also has a milder flavour.
How to Select and Store Cauliflower
Choose firm, tightly-flowered and creamy white (or bright purplish green for purple varieties) heads with fresh looking green leaves. Evidence of a yellow tinge and/or spreading florets indicate over-maturity, and should be avoided. The freshness of the outer leaves is the best indication of the freshness of the head. Avoid dull coloured cauliflower, as well as cauliflower that has started to flower, but don’t fear those that are blemished with brown spots; that’s likely just water marks and the vegetable is still fine for consumption.
Cauliflower can be kept unwashed in a perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator for about a week. Cooked cauliflower spoils more quickly and should be enjoyed within three days. Important to note: the odour and taste of cauliflower becomes more pronounced as it ages so take this into consideration when deciding how long the cauliflower will be stored.
Cauliflower can also be frozen after being blanched for three minutes in boiling water. However, this will make it more watery once it is thawed, so frozen cauliflower is best used in soups, sauces or stews.
How to Prepare Cauliflower
Begin by removing the outer leaves. You may choose to wash and reserve these as they are edible and can be used to flavour broths. Alternatively, they can also be seasoned and roasted, like kale chips. To minimize breaking up the florets when you are separating them from the main stalk, cut down the stalk as opposed to cutting down through the florets.
Cauliflower can be left whole, halved, quartered, separated into small florets, sliced, or finely chopped. To clean, wash the cauliflower under cold, running water. The main goal when preparing cauliflower is to cut it into same-sized pieces to ensure it cooks evenly. Keep in mind, the smaller you cut cauliflower, the faster it will cook.
Cauliflower can be enjoyed raw for its sweet crunch, or served hot if you prefer to enjoy softer, tender florets. Try it boiled, steamed, roasted, grilled, deep-fried, or even pickled.
To Cook Cauliflower in less than 20 minutes: Place one medium-sized head of cauliflower, stem side down, in a 4 to 5 quart pan. Boil, covered, in 1 inch of water until stem end is tender when pierced (15-20 minutes). Drain.
To Cook Cauliflower in less than 10 minutes: Place 1 to 1½ pounds of florets in a wide frying pan. Boil, covered, in ½ inch of water until tender when pierced (5-9 minutes). Drain.
To Cook Cauliflower in less than 5 minutes: Place a pound of ¼-inch thick slices in a wide frying pan. Boil, covered, in ½ inch water until tender when pierced (3-5 minutes). Drain.
Whole Cauliflower: Place a 1¼ to 1½ pound whole head, stem side down, in a microwave safe dish. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cover. Microwave on HIGH for 10-11 minutes. Carefully turn over after seven minutes.
Florets: Place 1¼ pounds of florets in a microwave safe dish. Add 2 tablespoons of water and cover. Microwave on HIGH for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring halfway through the cooking time. Let stand, covered, for 4 to 5 minutes. Cauliflower should be tender when pierced.
Steam: Place whole head, florets, or ¼-inch slices on a rack. Steam until tender when pierced (20 to 25 minutes for a whole head, 10 to 18 minutes for florets, 7 to 12 minutes for slices).
Stir-fry: Cut florets into ¼-inch slices. Stir-fry up to 5 cups, using 1 tablespoon of oil, for 1 minute. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons of liquid, cover, and cook until tender-crisp (4 to 5 minutes)
Roast: Cut cauliflower into florets, large slices or “steaks”. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and/or your favourite spices. Roast at 350°F until fork-tender.
- Cauliflower makes a delicious substitution for rice. Simply chop a head of cauliflower finely (or process in a food processor until it resembles rice) and make fried cauliflower rice with it!
- When cutting cauliflower florets, cut from the stalk up and not from the top of the head down. It’ll make cutting florets a lot less messy.
- Have you ever tried cauliflower crust
pizza? Try making it instead of having traditional pizza crust to get some extra veggies in your meal.
- Cauliflower can serve as a low-fat, low-carb replacement for mashed potatoes. Process cooked florets wells in a food processor and add some butter, cheese, and vegetable broth for a lighter “mash”. Another idea is to mash potatoes and cauliflower together, for a modern twist on a classic side dish.
- Cooked cauliflower florets keep their shape best when they are steamed.
- When cooking cauliflower test it regularly with the tip of a knife to make sure the florets don’t overcook.
- For variety check out purple and golden orange cauliflowers. Similar in flavour to the popular white variety, purple or golden orange adds a fabulous boost of colour to a crudité platter.
- 1 pound = 2 ½ to 3 cups of florets, 1 ½ cups chopped
What Does Cauliflower Go Well With?
Cauliflower is very versatile and pairs well with a variety of foods because of its neutral flavour.
Produce: apples, asparagus, bell pepper, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots, celery, citrus, corn, garlic, lime, lemon, kale, mango, mushrooms, olives, onions, peas, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, spinach, squash, and tomatoes
Herbs & Spices: basil, bay leaf, cardamom, chervil, chives, cilantro, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garam masala, ginger, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, oregano, paprika, parsley, saffron, tarragon, thyme, and turmeric
Dairy: yogurt, cream, milk, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, feta cheese, Gruyère cheese, Parmesan cheese, browned butter, and butter
Other: beef, anchovies, pork, tofu, chickpeas, grains, pine nuts, walnuts, seeds, rice, almonds, tahini, and wine
Cauliflower Serving Ideas:
- Top hot cooked cauliflower with melted butter and season with your choice of chives, dill, nutmeg, minced parsley, or lemon juice for a delicious side dish.
- Try roasting it with a drizzle of olive oil and your favourite seasonings. Nuts pair nicely with cauliflower and can be roasted alongside the florets, if desired. Toss together in a bowl before serving.
- Raw cauliflower is delicious on a crudité platter and makes a crunchy addition to seasonal salads.
- Add chopped cooked cauliflower to a quiche, or stir it into scrambled eggs.
- Roast cauliflower and broccoli together, tossed with garam masala and olive oil.
- Cauliflower can be used to create kid-friendly dishes thanks to its ability to take on the flavours and seasonings of a recipe.
- Cut down on the carb content of decadent dishes like pizza and pasta by replacing the flour, grain or glutinous component with cauliflower.
- Bring classic Indian flavours to the table with a cauliflower aloo gobi.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, 100 g of raw cauliflower contains a great number of your daily-recommended intake of nutrients: 25 calories, 7% of daily fibre, 26% of folate, 9% of potassium, 80% of Vitamin C, 19% Vitamin K, 10% of Vitamin B6, and 8% of manganese.