Although some consider cauliflower bland, when it’s cooked perfectly with the creamy curds and few surrounding pale green leaves just tender, cauliflower can be one of the most delicious vegetables in the cook’s repertoire. Mark Twain described it as a “cabbage with a college education”. Although it originated in Asia, its health-giving qualities make it a super-food for Ashkenazi Jews, as it may be helpful in fighting both breast and prostate cancers within the community.
According to Cancer Research UK, Ashkenazi women are more likely to inherit the mutated breast cancer genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Everyone is born with these genes and they assist in protecting cells from cancerous changes. But it’s possible to inherit an altered gene. Normally, one in 800 would inherit these mutated genes, but the figures rise to a shocking 1 in 40 within the Ashkenazi community. These abnormalities probably account for only about 10 per cent of all breast cancers. Nevertheless, Breakthrough Breast Cancer have united with the Israeli Cancer Association to tackle the dilemma.
Unfortunately, the traditional Ashkenazi diet, which is heavy in animal fat such as salt beef, wurst, chicken schmaltz, fatty dairy products, mayonnaise and fried foods such as latkes, aggravates the situation. For eating those fatty foods encourages treacherous estrogen called estradiol, a hormone linked with breast cancer, to proliferate within the body. And even when dairy substitutes are used they often contain dangerous trans fats. For optimum health, a mere 15 per cent of all daily calories from fat is sufficient and the majority of those should be from plant sources.
So a change of diet to low-fat is essential. But also, fascinating studies at the University of Urbino have discovered that eating cauliflower, brassica oleracea, daily in conjunction with a healthy diet, “could provide the body with powerful tools to help fight breast cancer”.
And the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition reported that: “Cell growth inhibition was accompanied by significant cell death at the higher juice concentrations.”
After investigation, the scientists discovered that cauliflower compounds contain elements which increase the liver’s ability to neutralise potentially toxic substances. And studies done at the Technion Institute in Haifa confirm this theory.
And surely, eating cauliflower, especially a home-grown British cauli full of flavour and very seasonal, is a delightful way of taking your medicine. Traditionally, cauliflower is melded with a cheese sauce to make a cauliflower cheese.
But how about blitzing low-fat cottage cheese with fromage frais, adding a hint of cayenne or mustard and serving over the cooked veg or grilling until lusciously brown for a healthy supper or light lunch?
Maybe top with a mixture of chopped hardboiled eggs, finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and perhaps a tin of salmon or drained tuna for a filling yet economical meal. Or simmer gently with a can of tomato sauce, another canful of vegetable stock, 1 finely chopped onion, and a teaspoon of garam masala, ½ teaspoon of tumeric, 3 crushed cardamom pods and a pinch of chilli powder to make a healthy vegetable curry that can star in a main meal, especially accompanied by brown rice or quinoa.
Or for a change, try my healthy easy cauliflower salad. Perfect for summer eating, it is prepared the day before and chilled, so ideal for Shabbat meals.
Healthy easy cauliflower salad
● 1 large cauliflower cut into florets and any small leaves
● Vegetable stock
● 1x 180g jar mushrooms in olive oil/sunflower oil
● 150g tin sweetcorn or Mediterranean salad (available from Waitrose)
● 2 tbsps olives in brine roughly chopped
● 2 tbsps capers, finely chopped fresh parsley or chives to serve
● Cook the cauliflower in the stock until just tender.
● Drain the mushrooms. Blot with kitchen roll if concerned about calories.
● Mix mushrooms, sweetcorn or Mediterranean salad, olives and capers with hot cauliflower and leave to chill. Serve with a topping of fresh herbs.