It’s no secret that broccoli is good for you. But it’s not just broccoli that packs a super health punch. Broccoli is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables, along with cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe, kale, cabbage and collards, plus less obvious relatives like arugula, turnips, kohlrabi, watercress, radish and bok choi.
What’s special about cruciferous? They are all extremely high in phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and shown to reduce cancer risk.
If that same-old steamed broccoli sounds a little, well, old, or that cheesy cauliflower dish is a bit less healthy than you’d like, here are several different ways to prepare those powerhouse veggies, which are abundant in the markets and grocery stores during the winter season.
Broccoli Rabe – Broccoli’s Spicy Cousin
Broccoli rabe (or “rapini”) can be quite bitter, but a quick blanch (boil for 2-3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold water) helps mellow the flavor. Toss blanched rabe into a hot pan with sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic and ginger for a quick stir-fry, or sauté in olive oil with a few cloves of slivered garlic, a few chili flakes and grated parmesan for a delicious veggie side.
Recipe idea: For an easy, healthy dinner try Campanelle Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Turkey Sausage.
Brussels Sprouts – Not Like The Ones You Grew Up With
Brussels sprouts are experiencing resurgence in popularity, perhaps because cooks are discovering how to prepare these little crucifers in ways that highlight their unique, nutty flavor. The key is to cook them quickly. If left on heat too long they will produce the cabbage-y smell and mushy texture that made generations of kids miserable. Start by cutting each sprout into smaller pieces, which allow for faster cooking time and ensure they don’t become smelly and soft.
Recipe ideas: For those who have yet to experience a well-cooked sprout, try Simple Roasted Brussels Sprouts. If you want to be a bit more adventurous, try Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Hazelnuts and Balsamic. You only need a small amount of bacon to impart a rich, meaty taste.
Cauliflower – The Most Nutritious White Veggie
Plain cauliflower can be very bland, but it can easily be roasted, mashed, pureed or otherwise transformed into something entirely un-cauliflower like. Blasted at a high heat, the once-boring veggie caramelizes and becomes nutty in flavor, making a wonderful side dish on its own. For a new twist, try garnishing with a handful of heart-healthy roasted nuts and a drizzle of aged balsamic. Toss those same roasted florets together with whole wheat pasta, a handful of chopped parsley, some grated Pecorino cheese and a generous grind of black pepper for a simple weeknight meal.
Recipe ideas: The options are endless once you master the basic Roasted Cauliflower recipe. For a simple, elegant, and quite healthy preparation, try Truffled Cauliflower Soup. Laced with a tiny bit of truffle oil, this soup is sure to impress.
Kale – The “It” Vegetable of the Moment
Along with the ubiquitous beet salad, one can reliably find kale iterations on restaurant menus across the Northwest. Luckily for the health-conscious among us, kale is also quite nutritious. Cooking with kale is quite simple, so long as you follow a few basic guidelines. First, raw kale can be quite tough, so start by removing the thick stem. For any raw kale preparation, slicing as thinly as possible ensures the fibrous, somewhat tough, leaves will be easier to chew. Finally, a long, slow braise in some garlic-infused olive oil will literally “melt” kale into a delectable pile of delicious greens.
Recipe ideas: Try Simple Braised Greens or Sautéed Greens with Tomato and Feta. For a spin on a traditional pasta dish, try Kale Pesto, which is particularly delicious when tossed with whole wheat pasta and a handful of toasted walnuts.