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Will the REAL Cauliflower Please Stand!

Image of Roasted Cauliflower & Red Papaya with Ginger
By Dennis Linden

Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Here’s a unique casserole dish that caught my interest, as it combines a trio of ingredients that rarely appear on the same cutting board together – namely cauliflower, red papaya and ginger! While this recipe features the tasty Caribbean Red Papaya, one of Melissa’s most popular year-around imports from Belize, it was also nice to discover a low carb dish that uses cauliflower “as is” and not as an unreasonable facsimile low-carb substitute for an ingredient it is not. To be clear -- cauliflower is not rice or pizza crust or tater tots or couscous or mashed potatoes or taco shells or muffins or bread sticks or, despite what many low carb faux recipes would have you believe. No matter what flavor additives are used to dress this member of the brassica family [related to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, and kale], underneath all the enabling herbs, seasonings and sauces it’s still just a cauliflower [see leopard and spots theory], and the veggie should be embraced and celebrated as such, nothing more or less. The sooner we stop trying to fool our palates into thinking otherwise, the easier it will be to maintain, cultivate and enjoy a healthier diet that is low in carbohydrates without having to use culinary trickery!

Besides, who are we fooling if our own palates are “watching” as we prepare a batch of fake fried rice subbing in grated cauliflower sautéed in sesame oil, soy sauce and all the other usual Asian cuisine fixings? At best the dish is cauliflower fried rice style, but NOT fried rice. Like many carb counters I have tried both the infamous cauliflower pizza crust and the faux mashed “potatoes” as well as many other disguised cauliflower recipes. The support ingredients make each dish reminiscent of the original, yet there is always a cauliflower flavor undertone that cannot be denied, though it is! This issue is more than just culinary semantics. Critical to developing long term healthy eating habits has a lot more to do with training one’s palate to appreciate the natural flavors of vegetables and other low carb foods without having to transform them into something one used to eat back in the day of high carb consumption. There is no culinary growth in that approach.

Cauliflower is a healthy food in its own right. The veggie has been linked to a significant reduction in the risk of cancer, especially prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer and ovarian cancer. Cauliflower contains a high amount of antioxidants, which are essential for the body’s overall health and help to prevent heart disease, cancer, and stroke. The omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K in cauliflower help to prevent chronic inflammation that leads to conditions such as arthritis, chronic pain, and certain bowel conditions. Cauliflower is also loaded with important B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and thiamine. Cauliflower protects from heart disease with a high content of allicin, which has been found to reduce the occurrence of stroke and heart disease. Additionally, cauliflower can help to lower cholesterol levels in the body. So do we really need to make it into a pizza crust or tortilla shell to incorporate this naturally flavorful and healthy vegetable into our diet?

Still have a craving for a pizza that must be satisfied? Really? “Must” is a strong word that implies a mandatory need or, in this culinary context, an uncontrollable addiction. My point is that, yes Virginia, there is a delicious life to be had without pizza dough or pasta or potatoes. Learn to live with that fact, rather than constantly working against it with fake news dishes! Accept cauliflower for what it is – you’ll find that it’s delicious “as is” with a little butter, maybe sprinkled with a dash of cumin!

Caribbean Red Papayas, like all papaya varieties, are a good source of vitamin C, folate, potassium and the digestive enzyme papain, but it's the lycopene and beta-kryptoxanthin that set these papayas apart from other fruits. Red-hued foods such as tomatoes, watermelons, pink grapefruits, guavas, apricots, red peppers and especially Caribbean Red® papayas get their color from dietary carotenoids include lutein, beta-carotene, lycopene and beta-kryptoxanthin, all of which act as antioxidants in the body. As antioxidants, they tamp down inflammation and can be effective as cancer-fighting agents. Flavor wise, compared to the Hawaiian yellow papayas or the regular-sized red papaya, Caribbean Reds have a much higher sugar content. Not to worry, carb counters, papaya is also a good source of fiber, which helps the metabolism to process that higher sugar content slowly. All in all, it’s a very tasty ingredient that actually pairs surprisingly well with the competing flavors of the cauliflower, spicy ginger and mozzarella cheese. Though, as tasty as it is, I’m afraid that the Caribbean Red Papaya would make a lousy pizza crust!

Roasted Cauliflower & Red Papaya with Ginger
6 servings
Image of Ingredients
Caribbean Red Papaya, chopped
1 ½ cups cauliflower florets
1-inch fresh ginger, peeled, grated, minced fine
3 TBS fresh parsley, chopped fine
3 TBS olive oil
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Nonfat cooking spray
4 oz. Mozzarella cheese, grated

Image of Caribbean Red Papaya
Seed and peel the papaya half, chop into small pieces and place in large plastic storage bag.
Image of papaya with cauliflower
Add the cauliflower, ginger, parsley, and s & p to the bag. Then pour in the olive, seal tightly and shake bag to mix.
Image of Roasted Cauliflower & Red Papaya with Ginger
Pour into a prepared 10x13” baking dish, coated with cooking spray. Top with mozzarella, bake @ 450° for 25 minutes.

Finish under the broiler for 1 to 3 minutes for a golden brown.
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