Before Kale Stole the Spotlight, We Loved Broccoli
Kale. It’s on t-shirts, it’s a statement, it’s a movement. Kale chips are hot, people are blending it into smoothies, juicing it, cutting edge restaurants are serving kale salads.
Did you hear, kale has more iron per calorie than steak?
Don’t get me wrong, I love kale. I’m eating it, too, saving my stems for juice, I’ve got a big patch of it growing in my garden, where I can count on it to regrow abundantly every time I pick some. But kale has been around forever, and it’s always been great. It’s just taking its well-deserved turn in the spotlight.
Not long ago, we were similarly smitten with broccoli. Broccoli sprouts, broccoli slaw, salad, etc. Maybe we moved on because it doesn’t go into smoothies as easily, or become a nacho chip for snacking?
Good ol’ broccoli was the big star for years, in part because of its wildly abundant, powerful antioxidants. Vitamin C is the big one, and by the miracle of nature, it’s flanked by chemicals that boost its effectiveness. Carotenoids lutein and zeanthin, the ones that protect vision, and beta carotene are represented. Flavonoids like quercitin and kaempherol also fight oxidative stress. That reduces inflammation, which we now know plays a part in many diseases. There are a whole bunch of glucosinalates in there that detox the system. All this makes for a potent anti-cancer cocktail.
Broccoli is not so different from all its cousins in the brassica family, including kale, cabbages and cauliflower. Sulforaphane, a sulferous compound found in all the brassicas, is touted for protected heart health and lowering cholesterol. It also helps protect your skin from sun damage. A recent study at the Linus Pauling Institute found that sulforaphane works in multiple ways to prevent cancer at the cellular level, restoring the balance needed for our DNA to work well. The Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study found that women who ate the most cruciferous vegetables had a 62% higher chance of surviving breast cancer.
Beyond all that, Broccoli is a great source or vitamin K and folate, a good source of vitamin A, molybdenum and manganese, potassium, B6, B2, B3, B5, protein, iron, magnesium and calcium, vitamin E and selenium.
So, ready to give broccoli back a place in your vegetable drawer? It’s still sweet and delicious, shaped like little trees, and excellent for dipping in a tasty sauce. The sprouts are superconcentrated with C and many of those magical chemicals, so if you can buy or sprout your own, you will be able to enjoy their crisp, broccoli flavor in salads, sandwiches and stir fries.
Still grilling? Broccoli takes on a nice char, making it a little more kale-chip-like if that is what you need. Slice it in big spears, douse it in olive oil and grill it til the tips are well browned. You can also use the grill wok to cook smaller pieces. At that point, toss it on pizza, in pasta, or eat it with a tasty sauce.
The preferred cooking method for maximum nutrients in broccoli is steaming, so don’t forget your fave steamer recipes. I like to chop an onion and throw in some waterchestnuts, or whatever veggie I have on had to fill out the mix. A light steam makes it more digestible, and you can leave it crisp-tender for dips and salads, too. The stems are useful, too, just peel them and use in the recipe, as dippers, or to puree for a broccoli soup or dip.
Oh broccoli, we still love you, we really do.
Grilled Broccoli with Pistachio Dressing
This dressing is based on a walnut one I make for Japanese meals. I wanted the green color of the nuts, the sweet and sour lightness of the vinegar and mirin, and for the whole thing to take 2 minutes. So there you go.
1 bunch broccoli
olive or other oil
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin
1 pinch salt
1. Slice the broccoli in planks, less than half an inch thick with large florets at the top. Light the grill, fire up that gas on high to get the grate nice and hot. When hot, toss the broccoli with oil. Place the broccoli on the hot grate, and turn the flames to low under the broccoli. Press down on the stems with your tongs to get good contact with the grill and make grill marks. Turn as you go.
2. When the broccoli is marked, browned on top and crisp tender in the stems, take off the grill and take into the house. Let cool a bit.
3. In a food processor, grind the pistachios until fine, then add the rive vinegar, mirin and salt. Process until a chunky puree is formed. Spoon over the broccoli. Toss, if desired (I didn’t) and serve.