Cauliflower is indeed, a flower. It grows from a plant that, in its early stages, resembles broccoli, its closest relative. Like broccoli, cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable; members of this family have been associated with reducing the risk of cancer. However, while broccoli opens outward to sprout bunches of green florets, cauliflower forms a compact head of undeveloped white flower buds. As it grows on a single stalk, the head (known as the "curd") is surrounded by heavily ribbed green leaves that protect it from sunlight, so that the flower buds never develop chlorophyll. With some types of cauliflower, however, the head pokes through the leaves and the grower periodically will tie the leaves over the head to shield it from the sun. Otherwise, exposure to sunlight would discolour the florets and also cause them to develop an undesirable flavour.

Select clean, firm, compact heads that are white or creamy white. (The size of the head doesn't affect its quality.) Any leaves that remain should be green and crisp. Avoid heads with major spots, speckles, bruises, or loose, open floret clusters. Some stores also sell packaged florets that have been trimmed off the head, and these, too, should be free of bruises or spots. Small leaves growing between the florets are not a sign of poor quality; just pull them out before you cook the cauliflower.

A medium-sized head is 6" in diameter and weighs about 1Kg and is enough to serve four to six people after trimming off the leaves and stem. The leaves are also edible.

Store cauliflower in the refrigerate, where it will keep for up to five days (although you should eat it as soon as possible for the best flavour). If the head is unwrapped, store it in an open or perforated plastic bag. Keep the head stem-side up to prevent moisture from collecting on top. Precut florets don't keep well, so use them within a day of purchase.

The head can be easily separated into florets for serving raw or cooked. For cooking, you can also leave the head whole; however, it takes longer to cook than the florets and so more nutrients may be lost.

First, trim the cauliflower: Pull off any outer leaves and cut off the protruding stem end close to the head. If you find that the florets have started to turn brown at the edges, trim off these areas. To cook the head whole, trim the stem even with the bottom of the head of cauliflower. To prepare florets, slice off the florets around the inner core. Split any larger florets in half and slice up the inner core pieces.

Like broccoli, cauliflower contains plant acids that form odorous sulphur compounds as the vegetable is heated; these odours become more intense the longer the cauliflower cooks. Rapid cooking not only reduces the odours, but keeps the texture crisp, preserves the vegetable's colour, and reduces the loss of nutrients. Cook until crisp-tender, but be aware that cooking times vary considerably, depending upon the size of the head or florets.