Sunday, April 24, 2011

Eat Your Veggies

One large cauliflower  --  bloemkool in Dutch (literally “flower-cabbage”)  --  is the main ingredient in Grandma VandenBergh’s recipe for Cauliflower au Gratin. It involves a home-made gratinée sauce made with flour, butter, and grated cheese.

First step: “Wash the cauliflower, either whole or cut into pieces. Let it sit in salt water for half an hour, to remove insect larvae and other bugs.”

I did a double-take when I translated this first sentence. Insect larvae? Bugs?? We rarely find such beasties in fresh produce from our local supermarket, unless we make a point of buying organic. Because of the widespread use of pesticides, we have come to take it for granted that our fresh foods will not harbor creepy crawly things.

However, when overused, these chemicals may be more harmful than the pests they are intended to protect us from. I picture my grandmother either plucking fresh fruits and vegetables from her own family’s kitchen garden in Loosdrecht, or purchasing them at the local farmers’ market. There were probably little or no chemical residues on them.

But now, in most countries of the world where produce is grown on large industrial farms, use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is widespread. Their use is carefully monitored (or should be) by many governments. In one example of monitoring, a study of pesticide residues in fresh fruit, vegetables, and cereals carried out in the Netherlands in 2004 indicated that almost 15 percent of the foods tested showed greater than the Maximum Recommended Level (MRL) of pesticide residues, while 85 percent of the food samples fortunately had no residues or were under the Maximum Recommended Level. (Source: European Commission 2004 report “Monitoring of Pesticide Residues in Products of Plant Origin in the European Union, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.”)

More recently, in the United States, an ABC News report on April 21, 2011, cited a study carried out by the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, which looked at the effect of prenatal exposure to pesticides and their long-term effect on children’s IQ. The study found a seven-point difference in IQ at age seven for children whose mothers were exposed to low doses of organophosphates during pregnancy. This study apparently enrolled women a decade ago in order to study the long-term effect of these chemicals on their children. Today these phosphates are largely gone from household cleaning products in the United States, but other pesticide residues may remain on our fruits and vegetables.

Dr. Brenda Eskenazi of the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health, who spoke on the ABC News report, gave the following advice: Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly, with a scrubbing brush if necessary, eat organic if you can, and reduce the use of household cleaning sprays.

That being said, here is Grandma VandenBergh’s recipe for Cauliflower au Gratin:

- 1 large cauliflower (or 2 small)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups milk
- ½ cup grated cheese
- 1/3 cup flour
- ¼ cup butter or margarine (half stick, or a little less)

Wash the cauliflower, either whole or cut into pieces. Let it sit in salt water for half an hour, to remove insect larvae and other bugs.

Set the cauliflower in a large enough pan so as to cover it with (salted) water. I preferred to use my steamer, which may help preserve more vitamins.

Bring to a boil and boil gently for about half an hour. (I found 20 minutes to be long enough.) 

Steamed cauliflower


Remove with a slotted spoon and place in an oven-proof dish.

Make the sauce by stirring the flour into the melted butter over medium heat, and slowly pour in the milk. Continue stirring until sauce thickens; add half the cheese.
Stirring the sauce


Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. I sprinkled it with a bit of paprika as well.

Set the dish under the broiler for a few minutes until golden brown.

And here it is, fresh and tasty from the oven:

Bloemkool au gratin

I had a similar dish at a local restaurant the other evening, which I didn't like as well because it seemed to contain a bit of sugar. I prefer the natural flavor of the cauliflower, with the cheese and milk.

Eet smakelijk! Enjoy your meal, and be sure to eat your veggies.  

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