This once humble and understated plant is now the hottest vegetable around.
Story By Bailey Gilliam
Cauliflower-crust pizza, cauliflower rice, cauliflower mashed potatoes, cauliflower steaks – the list of alternative cauliflower-based recipes is endless. Cauliflower has been a star of the gluten-free and vegetarian worlds due to its versatility and healthy nature, but anyone can enjoy the benefits of cauliflower. Whether plain, as a dietary substitute or even with a piece of the rarest steak imaginable, you too can enjoy and incorporate this delicious, fresh and in-season veggie into your diet.
Sticky sesame cauliflower
Sticky sesame cauliflower is a sweet, sticky and addictively delicious dish that tastes like a better-for-you version of Panda Express.
1 small head cauliflower, chopped (6 1/2 cups florets)
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup pure maple syrup, honey or agave
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
Sesame seeds and scallions, for garnish
Directions  Heat the oven to 450. Grease a baking pan, or line with parchment. Cut cauliflower into florets, then slice so one side of each floret is flat. Arrange in a single layer in the greased pan. Bake for 10 minutes on the center rack.  Whisk together the soy sauce, sweetener, vinegar, garlic, sesame oil and ginger in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. While waiting, stir together the cornstarch and water until cornstarch dissolves fully, then slowly whisk this into the saucepan as soon as it boils. Turn heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes, stirring more frequently once it returns to a boil. Cook until thick. You can also make the sauce ahead of time if desired, and it thickens more as it sits in the fridge.  Flip cauliflower florets and bake 10 additional minutes. Pour sauce over florets. Sprinkle sesame seeds and optional scallions on top and serve.
Oven-roasted cauliflower is quite flavorful; high-heat baking caramelizes this vegetable and turns it into a delicacy. It’s an easy recipe too: the florets are tossed with olive oil, garlic and parmesan, then baked until golden.
1 large head cauliflower, cleaned and separated into florets
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Directions  Heat your oven to 425. Place the cauliflower florets in a rimmed baking dish large enough to accommodate them in a single layer.  Right in the pan, toss the cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Roast the cauliflower for 15 minutes. Gently stir the florets, sprinkle them with the parmesan, and continue baking until tender and golden, about 10-15 more minutes. Serve immediately.
Garlic mashed cauliflower
These cauliflower mashed potatoes have far fewer carbs than your usual mashed potatoes but are just as smooth and creamy. It’s a creamy vegetable side that’s easy to prepare, it’s healthier and it’s delicious.
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon reduced-fat cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Directions  Place a steamer insert into a saucepan, and fill with water just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring water to a boil. Add cauliflower, cover, and steam until tender, about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat; cook and stir garlic until softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.  Transfer half of the cauliflower to a food processor; cover and blend on high. Add remaining cauliflower florets, one at a time, until vegetables are creamy. Blend in garlic, Parmesan cheese, cream cheese, salt and pepper. Top with herbs and seasonings of your choice.
What’s in a name?
There are two opposing ideas about cauliflower’s existence. The French believe it has its roots in Cyprus. It was originally known as choux de Chypre, meaning Cyprus cabbages. However, the rest of the world attributes cauliflower to the Middle East. Cauliflower comes from the Italian phrase caoli fiori, which means cabbage flower. The ultimate origin of the name comes from the Latin words caulis, which means cabbage, and flos, which means flower. Cauliflower is often called the cousin of cabbage.
To add to its confusing origins, it is also related to kale. Cauliflower is a member of the Brassica oleracea family, which includes Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale. The tightly bunched florets of cauliflower, like broccoli, are joined by a thick core, which is often surrounded by a few light leaves. Cauliflower leaves are edible, but they have a stronger flavor similar to collard greens. All parts of the cauliflower are edible and have their own flavors and textures.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has been found to reduce the chance of developing many adverse health conditions. Cauliflower is high in fiber and water, which are both important for preventing constipation, maintaining a healthy digestive tract and lowering the risk of colon cancer. A higher fiber intake may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, improve insulin sensitivity, enhance weight loss for people with obesity and reduce cardiovascular risks. Cauliflower contains antioxidants that have been shown to reduce the risk of breast and reproductive cancers in men and women. The choline in cauliflower helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. It also helps maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
Let it grow
Cauliflower grows best as a fall crop but can be grown in spring too. Plant cauliflower seedlings 6 to 8 weeks after daytime temperatures are regularly below 75 degrees. Set plants 18 to 24 inches apart with 30 inches between rows. Water regularly with 2 inches of water per square foot each week. Plants are usually ready to harvest in about 50 to 100 days. When the heads are compact, white and firm, then it is time to harvest them. Ideally, the heads will grow to 6 to 8 inches in diameter.
White turning yellow?
If exposed to the sun for too long, the color of white cauliflower curds will turn a dull yellow color as they mature. Although the discoloration has no effect on the taste, it does make the vegetable appear less appetizing. To avoid yellowing, the cauliflower head should be kept out of direct sunlight. To do so, tie the plant’s outer leaves up over the head using a rubber band, a piece of twine or even a peg to keep light out.
Although white cauliflower is the most common, you may find striking colored varieties on grocery store shelves. Keep your eye out for yellow, orange, green and purple cauliflower. These varieties taste similar–mild, sweet and nutty – but they differ in nutritional value.
White: Generally the type of cauliflower most shoppers purchase, but colored cauliflower may be healthier than the white varieties. Some common varieties include snowball, snow spring, white corona, early white, attribute hybrid cauliflower and cornish cauliflower. They have a mild, sweet and nutty flavor.
Orange/Yellow: Gets its coloring from additional beta carotene, which also gives carrots their color; vitamin A content is 25 percent higher than the other colors. Some common varieties include cheddar and flame star hybrid. They have a mild, slightly sweet and creamy flavor.
Green: Contains chlorophyll and is often known as broccoflower; similar to broccoli in texture and is more fibrous than the other colors. Some common varieties include romanesco, alverda, green goddess, vitaverd and chartreuse. Thewy have a sweet, mild taste.
Purple: The healthiest cauliflower. The purple color is caused by the presence of the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is higher in antioxidants. Purple cauliflower has been linked to reducing inflammation, cardiovascular disease and the risk of cancer. Some common varieties are purple of sicily, sicilian violet, violet queen, purple cape, depurple cauliflower hybrid and graffiti hybrid.
Where to buy
Farmers Market of Bluffton: Purchase locally grown cauliflower from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays in Old Town Bluffton.
Roadside markets: Certified roadside markets such as Dempsey Farms and Pasture Shed Farm are fresh sources for local cauliflower.
Supermarkets: Our favorite spots for fresh produce are Publix, Whole Foods, Kroger and Harris Teeter.