Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Cauliflower: The Color Purple

Having recently spent time reveling in the early springtime pink, blue and purple blossoms blooming in my San Francisco neighborhood, I was reminded of an equally colorful and edible plant, purple cauliflower. Although it's not a widely grown commercial crop, purple cauliflower may be found at farmer's markets and smaller produce stores almost year round in California.

Purple cauliflower is rich in all the same nutrients as the more familiar creamy white variety, but antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins substantially increase its health quotient and are responsible for its striking purple color. The word anthocyanin comes directly from the Greek. Anthos means flower; kyanos means blue. Many deeply pigmented fruits and vegetables contain anthocyanins; berries, cherries, apples, plums and purple cabbage are but a few. Studies indicate that anthocyanins have valuable anti- inflammatory and anti- cancer properties.

To preserve the health benefits of purple cauliflower, it's best not to expose it to high heat while cooking. Gentle steaming is a simple one- pot method which does not significantly reduce the nutrients. I usually steam an entire head at one time and store the cooked florets in a glass jar in the fridge, ready to be added to salads, soups or for a quick snack.

To steam cauliflower, remove the leaves and cut the florets away from the core. Save the leaves, stems and core for making soup; they are flavorful and nutritious. Gently steam the florets over simmering water until just tender. The cauliflower will continue to cook a bit after you remove it from the steamer, so be careful to pay attention to timing.

While the cauliflower is steaming, saute some sliced leek or green onion and fresh chopped ginger root in olive oil until fragrant. Briefly saute a handful of tofu cubes with the vegetables, add the steamed florets and sprinkle with some lemon juice and tamari sauce. Toss well and serve in small ceramic bowls for an energizing purple- hued treat!