Oct 182011

cruciferous vegetablesWhat do broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy have in common? If you don’t already know them, meet the nutritious, cruciferous family. Try saying that fast a few times! The cruciferous family is long renowned for being extremely nutritious by providing a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. They have it all when it comes to health and nutrition benefits—and cooked right, they taste delicious too.

Who’s in the Cruciferous family?

Most of the commonly consumed cruciferous vegetables come from the Brassica genus, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy, and Chinese cabbage. Arugula, horse radish, radish, wasabi, and watercress are also cruciferous vegetables.

What are the Nutrition and Health Benefits of Cruciferous vegetables?

One of the best reasons to eat plenty of cruciferous vegetables is that they may help to lower your risk of getting cancer.  Lab studies show that one of the phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables – sulforaphane – can stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they damage cells.  Now that is prevention in its best form.

Another way cruciferous vegetables may help to protect against cancer is by reducing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the overload of harmful molecules, called free radicals, which are generated by the body. Reducing these free radicals may reduce the risk of colon, lung, prostate, breast, and other cancers.

If cabbage conjures up memories of stinky kitchens, think again with these unique and delicious ways to incorporate some of these nutritious vegetables into your diet.  Health experts recommend that we eat several servings per week.

  • Broccoli – Try a broccoli dip: Puree steamed broccoli with sour cream and grated parmesan. Combine chopped raw broccoli, red onion, and grated carrot to make a slaw with your favorite dressing. Try a frittata:  Sauté chopped garlic and steamed broccoli in olive oil in an oven proof skillet.  Add beaten eggs to cover, sprinkle with grated cheese, and bake at 350 until puffed and set.
  • Brussels spouts – They take on a whole new flavor on the grill. Brush them with melted butter and garlic, and cook until they start to soften, basting frequently.  Brussels sprouts also pair well with bacon or pancetta.  Render fat, and add trimmed, thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and sauté until golden.
  • Cauliflower – Roasted cauliflower is great.  Toss 5 cups of florets with ¼ cup olive oil, chopped garlic, 2 T lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a roasting pan.  Roast in 500 degree oven for about 20 minutes and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Use cauliflower as a stand in for mashed potatoes.  Steam florets and add milk, butter, salt and pepper in a food processor.  Top with chives.  At a mere 29 calories per cup, and rich in vitamins, cauliflower is a great nutritional value.
  • Kale – Kale is one of the most beneficial leafy green vegetables available.  Our bodies absorb more calcium from kale than from milk, and it helps lower bad cholesterol and blood pressure naturally.  Cook kale in a large pot of salted water until tender, about 6 minutes.  Press out excess liquid when cool.  Sauté one cup of walnuts in canola oil until just brown, and add 3 T chopped garlic. Cook until fragrant; add kale, salt and pepper.
  • Kohlrabi – Kohlrabi tastes and looks like a broccoli stem or cabbage heart, but it’s a little bit milder and sweeter than cabbage or broccoli. The young stem of kohlrabi is very crisp and juicy, and is eaten raw as well as cooked.  Just in case you are wondering, the word kohlrabi is German for cabbage turnip. Try a colorful chilled salad with raw kohlrabi, beets, and carrots.  Grate beets and carrots, (no need to peel as the grater will push the skin back on the beet). Slice off the thick skin of the kohlrabi and grate or use a mandolin.  Toss with 1 T olive oil, 1 T honey, and the zest and juice of one lemon.  Chill and enjoy.

vegetable saladCheck out this recipe for a very colorful, delicious raw cruciferous veggie salad.  It’s one of those you can build on with a variety of your favorite ingredients, or to clean out your crisper drawer!

As temperatures continue to get cooler, I know I’m anxious to dust off the crock pot and start thinking of new and delicious ways to incorporate these healthy veggies in my diet more often. The cruciferous family is also a favorite among gardeners because of their tolerance to cold, their nutrition benefits, and their great taste.


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