Visit any of Fiji's outdoor markets today and you will find an increase in the variety of different vegetables that are not generally part of the modern Fijian diet. English cabbage (gobi), mustard cabbage, gai lan, choi sum, gourds and the new kid on the block, cauliflower, sit side by side the traditional Fijian root crops and green vegetables at the market stalls. But more than just different varieties, these once unknown vegetables offer a wide range of health benefits, if prepared properly, and should be introduced into every Fijian home. It is these fresh raw vegetables and fruit that can single-handedly help Fiji reduce non-communicable diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancers, as most of them are rich in antioxidants, vitamins and anti-cancer properties. Fiji's agriculture sector is beginning to understand that the planting and farming of these nutritious herbs, fruits and vegetables will not only help reduce imported produce and provide additional sources of income faster than root crops, they can also help to solve this country's frightening epidemic in NCD's caused by a change in diet and lifestyle.
One of the most misunderstood vegetables in season at the moment is the white cauliflower, or phool gobi. Kai Idia people know this vegetable well and curry it with spices, and sometimes eggs. But the cauliflower is not only for Indian cooking. This flowery vegetable was once hard to find in the markets, as most of the cauliflower was imported and expensive, but thanks to increased investment in market gardening across Fiji, this super vegetable can now be enjoyed more cheaply by everyone. Cauliflower belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family, which is Latin for "cross-bearing", as the shape of the flowers and four petals resemble the shape of the crucifix. Among all the cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, watercress and Chinese cabbage, cauliflower is something you should definitely add to your regular diet because of its multiple health benefits. Cauliflower consumption has been studied for its excellent cancer-preventing potential and antioxidant properties, as it contains some of the highest cancer-fighting abilities of all the super foods, including special sulfur compounds that are its secret weapon against some cancers. The body processes these compounds into isothicyanates, or ITCs, which then help to remove cancer-causing carcinogens from the body, killing cancer cells and slowing the growth of tumors. A study at the Harvard School of Public Health in the USA, found that patients who were more likely to develop lung cancer, were less likely to develop this cancer if they ate cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower. The healing power of this vegetable has been so impressive that scientists overseas are now working to create cancer treatments based on the compounds found in this white flowery cabbage. And like oranges, cauliflowers are an excellent source of vitamin C, with a one-cup serving supplying 100% of the daily recommended intake. Vitamin C boosts your immune system, improves your absorption of iron and helps maintain healthy teeth, gums and blood vessels.
But one of the funny side effects of eating all cruciferous vegetables is they cause flatulence - they make you fart! The cancer-fighting sulfur compounds found in cauliflower create a chemical reaction in the gut which can sometimes produces a silent, but smelly odour after eating this super vegetable. This is more of an inconvenience and embarrassment, but rest assured this food as medicine is doing its job on the inside. Farting etiquette means you should be respectful and not pass wind in the presence of others, unless you enjoy torturing your friends and family! A 'dutch oven" is a slang term used overseas for when lying in bed with another person, you pull the sheets over the person's head to lock in the toxic smells, and give your bed companion a memory of what you ate last night!
But jokes aside, Fijians are now very lucky to be able to take advantage of a whole range of unique vegetables that were once too expensive to consider and locally grown cauliflower is the latest new addition. But to get the most nutrition out of all the super foods like cauliflower, you should not overcook them. Steaming, boiling and stir frying them for short periods allows you to maintain the important fibre and vitamins. And unlike dalo, potato or cassava, cauliflower is low in carbs and perfect for the diet conscious. I know it is strange and less likely for both iTaukei and Kai Idia people to eat crunchy vegetables, but learn from the longer living Chinese - crunchy vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. Overcooked and mushy vegetables, whether in curries or stews, only break down the important fibre and destroys the health benefits that mother nature intended for us to enjoy.
Cauliflower is perfect for stir frying Chinese style or as qisi with jeera, garlic and chilli. It is also great baked with cheese, roasted with garlic and fresh turmeric, or even blended as soup with cream or coconut milk. But my favorite childhood recipe that my mum loves to cook is stir fried cauliflower, garlic and bacon, and is one of today's delicious recipes to try. As well as using the top florets, you can also eat the stem and the outside green leaf is similar to cabbage, or gobi. So get down to the markets and try this new super vegetable that is now available in Fiji, you never know, it might just help you to enjoy a happy longer life. Just remember to be polite and break wind when no one is around, unless of course you like playing smelly jokes on others!
* Lance Seeto is an international food and travel writer and based on Castaway Island. His highly anticipated book "Coconut Bliss: Inspiration and the Food of Life from Ancient Fiji" is due out at the end of the year. Follow his adventures on Facebook at Fijian Food Safari.