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Fresh cauliflower provides a variety of healthful benefits

October 13, 2011

Cauliflower is a vegetable that is many times overlooked. It is a member of the cabbage family.
Cauliflower is available all year, but the peak months are November through March. California is, by far, the largest grower.
The size of the vegetable has little to do with its quality. Fine quality cauliflower is creamy-white or white, clean, heavy, firm and compact, with outer leaves that are fresh and green. Avoid cauliflower that has the appearance of being rice-like or granular, speckled or spotted. A head that is no longer fresh may have yellowing leaves. If the leaves drop from the stalk, it is definitely not fresh.
The greatest amount of calcium in cauliflower is found in the greens that are around the head. Most people throw these away, but they are good when cooked with the cauliflower or cut up in salads. It is best to undercook this vegetable.
Cauliflower is easier for diabetic people to eat then cabbage. It is also good for reducing diets, because it is so low in calories, but keep in mind that its high phosphorus content means it is gas-forming.
To store cauliflower refrigerate (up to two days) in original wrapping until ready to use. If storing longer, remove outer leaves and core; rinse, wrap in paper towel and store plastic bag. Use as soon as possible. For most recipes, cut in florets, with stems as much the same size as possible, to facilitate even cooking.
Like many vegetables, cauliflower benefits from quick cooking, thus retaining vitamins and other healthy nutrients. Five to eight minutes of steaming, stir-frying or boiling in a small amount of water (one-inch) will produce tender curds and crisp-tender stems. Cauliflower steamed, in florets or whole, is then ready to be oven-warmed if being served in a cheese, mustard, cream or curry sauce.
Overcooked cauliflower is neither healthy nor tasty. Texture becomes mushy, and overcooking releases sulfur compounds that create an unappetizing odor.
Cauliflower is an important element of Asian and Indian cuisines. Stir-fried in a little oil with a light dressing of rice-wine vinegar and soy sauce, or steamed and then warmed in a curry sauce, cauliflower becomes a delicious addition to a meal. European and American cuisines pair lightly steamed cauliflower with peas and a few buttered–crumbs. Increasingly, cauliflower puree has become a low-calorie substitute for mashed potatoes. 
Cauliflower is a good source of Vitamin C and folate, a B-vitamins (B1, B2, b3, b6, b12) essential to healthy cell development. Further, it is a good source of lutein, which may assist in eye-health. It also contains phytostols, a group of compounds recently determined to play a role in cancer-prevention. It contains 2.5 grams of fiber per 100 grams (roughly 1 cup)

Creamy Cauliflower Bisque
1 pound frozen cauliflowerets
1 pound baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cans (about 14 ounces each) reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 cup evaporated fat-free milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 cup shredded reduced-fat sharp Cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions
Combine cauliflower, potatoes, broth, onion, thyme, garlic powder and ground red pepper in 3-1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker. Cover; cook on low 8 hours or on high 4 hours.
Pour soup into blender in batches; blend until smooth, holding lid down firmly. Return pureed batches to slow cooker. Add evaporated milk, butter, salt and black pepper; stir until blended.
Top individual servings with cheese, parsley and green onions.
Nutrients per serving: about 3/4 cup soup with 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cheese: Calories 158; Fat 5g; Protein 10g; Carbohydrate 19g; Fiber 3g; Cholesterol 19mg; Sodium 410mg
Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 lean meat, 1/2 fat
Pamela Redwine is the Nutrition and Food Safety Area Agent for the Mississippi State University Extension Service. This column is provided by the Oktibbeha County Extension Service. For more information call 323-5916.

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