How to Love Broccoli
(and its cousins)
You know broccoli is good for you, yet those icky-veggie
memories linger. Don't push the plate away just yet. Broccoli
(and other crucifers) can be prepared to please almost any palate.
For many people, broccoli—either overcooked to grayish mush or undercooked and rocklike—was the culinary bane of childhood. As a result even the most health-conscious adult may cringe when faced with a plate of the stuff.
That’s too bad, because broccoli is a nutritional superstar. Besides healthy helpings of fiber, various B vitamins plus C and K, and such minerals as iron and zinc, broccoli contains sulforaphane and other compounds that have been found to inhibit the growth of various types of cancer cells and may help people with respiratory disorders breathe easier. Other members of the broccoli family, known
collectively as the crucifers, have been shown to provide their own benefits as well.
Eve Felder’s three girls love their crucifers, especially kale; it helps that mom is associate dean at the Culinary Institute of America (www.ciachef.edu). She recalls a pediatrician asking oldest daughter Emma about her favorite vegetable; when Emma said kale the doctor asked Felder, “Are you feeding her enough?”
Felder says the best way to get kids to eat crucifers is to introduce them early on. “Keep a hand grinder at the table and make your own baby food,” she advises.
But even adults can learn to like properly prepared broccoli. The key, according to Felder, is cooking it until it’s soft but not mushy and keeping the pot uncovered to avoid that drab army fatigue-green color. Also, “don’t eat broccoli raw,” she says. “It’s terrible for your digestive system and it’s not good for the flavor.”
With that in mind, let’s look at preparation tips for some of the more popular crucifers.
Shopper’s Eye: Look for firm leaves with no yellowing.
Cook’s Notes: A staple throughout the South, collards are at their best in the winter months. For a healthier take on a Southern classic, serve steamed collards with black-eyed peas and brown rice, or simply drizzle them with olive oil and lemon juice. The leaves tend to collect grit, so wash them thoroughly by swishing them around in several changes of cool water.
Shopper’s Eye: Curds should be a clean, creamy white.
Cook’s Notes: To make tasty low-carb “mashed potatoes,” steam cauliflower until very tender then purée with butter (you can add roasted garlic cloves). Fulder also suggests roasting: Remove the core and cut off the florets, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast in a 350° oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until light brown.
Shopper’s Eye: Florets should be compact with no
yellowing, with firm stalks and stems.
Cook’s Notes: Felder recommends boiling in salted water (it should taste salty) in a roomy, uncovered pot until soft, then cooling on a baking sheet to preserve color and nutrients. She suggests mixing it with whole-wheat pasta, garlic, crushed red pepper and toasted bread crumbs (coarse crumbs tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, spread thinly on a baking sheet and toasted until golden brown).
Shopper’s Eye: Firm and deeply colored; should always be held in a chilled environment.
Cook’s Notes: Sweetened by frost, kale is a great fall through early spring vegetable. Felder’s family loves it Asian style: Sauté ginger and garlic in oil, add kale and “toss, toss, toss” before seasoning with oyster and soy sauces. She says that with kale, age matters; baby kale, takes three minutes to cook while mature leaves may need 30 to 45 minutes, cooked with moisture over low heat and kept covered. Available in both smooth-leaved and frilly varieties.
Shopper’s Eye: Look for firm, dense, crisp heads.
Cook’s Notes: Felder says green cabbage can be blanched in boiling salted water until pliable, then used to wrap a filling of bulgur (parched, cracked wheat), sautéed onions, raisins and pine nuts, or quick-cooked in butter with salt, pepper and caraway seed. Unlike green veggies, red cabbage needs an acid, such as apple or red wine vinegar, while cooking to preserve the color. She suggests braising it with onions and apple; start on the stove and finish in the oven at 350° for a half hour. Also available in napa (a light-colored Chinese type) and savoy (crinkle-leafed) varieties.
Shopper’s Eye: Should be firm and vivid green.
Cook’s Notes: Felder says to prepare sprouts by removing the first layer of leaves if they are unsightly then scoring the bottom of each with a very shallow X. Bring a pot of salty water to a boil and blanch just until tender, then remove from the water and cool. At this point they may be kept whole or cut in half. When ready to serve, rewarm in olive oil or whole butter.
Sweet Potato Curried Cauliflower Soup
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
½ tsp whole fennel seeds
½ tsp whole coriander seeds
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
¼ head cauliflower, chopped into coarse pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 piece (1” inch) candied ginger, finely chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
6 dates, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
1. In a large, heavy skillet, toast the seeds over medium-high heat until they begin to
pop and become fragrant, about 2 minutes; do not allow them to smoke or burn.
Add 2 tbsp oil to the pan and heat; stir in cauliflower. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook,
stirring frequently for 8 minutes or until cauliflower is caramelized and tender when pierced
with the tip of a knife. Set the pan aside.
2. In a soup pot, heat 2 tbsp of the oil over medium heat. Stir in onion and cook, stirring
occasionally, for 5 minutes or until slightly softened. Add remaining oil, garlic, ginger
and sweet potato, and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Stir in liquid, tamari or soy
and dates. Increase heat and bring to a light boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes
or until sweet potato is soft.
3. Using a potato masher or fork, mash sweet potato in the pot to thicken the soup.
Add curry and cauliflower; simmer for 3 minutes or until cauliflower is heated through.
Serves 4. Analysis per serving: 245 calories, 3g protein, 17g fat (2g saturated), 4g fiber,
22g carbohydrate, 543mg sodium
Source: The Vegan Cook’s Bible by Pat Crocker (Robert Rose, April 2009, $24.95/softcover)