Embrace Broccoli Bouquets

January 25th, 2010

broccoliNext time you look at a bunch of broccoli, think of those stalks and florets as a bouquet bursting with beneficial compounds. Açaí and goji berries may be the darlings of the superfood set, but there’s a reason why the Romans revered broccoli. Ounce for ounce, this offspring of a wild European cabbage packs an incredible array of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Andy Boy broccoli poster, circa 1960
marketing poster, circa 1960

Better still, it’s loaded with antioxidants that have been shown to fight cancer and heart disease, boost your immune system, and protect your vision. If that’s not enough to make you see broccoli in a whole new light, consider this: broccoli’s phytonutrients even have a detoxing effect, stimulating your body’s production of cleansing enzymes.

Happily, this medicinal marvel actually tastes good, too. In fact, broccoli’s one of the best selling vegetables in the United States. It even has some feline fans; witness YouTube phenomenon “Broccoli Kitten,” whose Internet success has spawned at least one cruciferous-crunching copycat.

Broccoli is at its best when it’s picked young. Avoid older broccoli that runs the risk of being woody and may give off an unpleasant sulphurous smell. The stems and leaves, which so many of us unthinkingly discard, are perfectly fine to eat and in fact quite nutritious. But florets are thought to have the highest concentrations of nutrients, and the darker the floret, the more beta-carotene and Vitamin C. So select a bunch whose tops are tinged purple or bluish- green.

When broccoli’s fresh and young you can enjoy it raw in salads or crudités, or blanch it briefly if you prefer. My new favorite way to savor this powerhouse veggie is to make pressure cooker goddess Lorna Sass’s Chinese-Style Sesame Broccoli, a recipe I discovered in the just-published 20th anniversary edition of her classic Cooking Under Pressure.

Lorna’s recipe delivers a crisp variation of an Asian-style stir-fry in a grand total of three minutes cooking time and just one tablespoon of oil. Even allowing for the prep time, that’s faster than you could get take-out, and so much healthier!

Broccoli retains more nutrients when you cook it briefly, but it also contains carotenoids that become more readily absorbed after cooking. Broccoli’s been a staple in Italian cuisine for centuries, so, in honor of its Roman origins and the Italian immigrants who popularized it in this country, Meatless Monday’s featured recipe this week is Lasagna Floret. Why settle for the breakfast of champions when you could have the dinner of empire-builders?