Nutrition Articles

Learn to Love Broccoli

Discover the Best Ways to Prepare This Super Food

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Back in 1990, then-president George H.W. Bush declared, "I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."
 
Perhaps he (like many of us) recalls the overly cooked, gray-green, mushy mess that some home cooks make out of broccoli. But the vegetable is crunchy, deep green and delicious when it’s roasted or stir-fried. It pairs especially well with garlic, and it likes a bit of spice from red pepper flakes. There are plenty of great ways to prepare broccoli so you can benefit from its complete nutritional profile, which includes vitamin C, fiber, carotenoids and compounds that boost immunity and prevent heart disease.
 
If you're a self-proclaimed broccoli hater like our former President, allow me to change your mind.
 
All about Broccoli
Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale—they're all related botanically. They’re members of the Brassica family, plants that are native to coastal areas in southern and western Europe. These cool-season vegetables (also called crucifers and cole crops) struggle through warm summer months in the U.S., only to come fully into production when the first bit of chilly weather hits. In fact, many home growers say that a nip of frost sweetens the flavor of Brassicas.
 
Brassicas have been grown as food since early Greek and Roman centuries; they were introduced to the U.S. by Italian immigrants in the early 1900s, but were rather slow to become popular.
 
Broccoli (and cauliflower) is actually the flower head of a large, leafy plant, which stores nutrients in the thick stalk and tiny flowers (called florets).
 
A note about related-sounding vegetables: Romanesco broccoli, a specialty variety with cone-shaped florets and a bright, acid-green color, is actually a variety of cauliflower. Broccoli rabe (also called rapini) is related more closely to the turnip (another Brassica) than to broccoli. Its leafy texture resembles kale but with a few slender florets; it’s a common side dish in Italian cuisine. Broccolini is a trade name for a cross between Italian and Chinese broccoli; it has long, slender stalks and florets and is usually prepared in ways similar to conventional broccoli.
 
Buying and Storing
Broccoli is generally harvested during the fall months, though it's grown year-round in cooler parts of the U.S. It's commonly sold in bundles containing one or more thick stalks and a crown of florets. Sometimes, grocers will trim much of the stalk away, selling (at a premium price) just the crown or head. The stems, though (as we'll cover below) are sweet and tender when cooked—and absolutely nutritious—so don’t consider them waste.
 
Look for stalks that are firm, unblemished and show no signs of wrinkling or drying out. The florets should be tightly formed and dark gray-ish green, with no dry, brownish patches. Broccoli that’s displayed on a bed of ice is often fresher.
 
Frozen broccoli is an acceptable substitute for fresh from a nutritional perspective, as it’s typically flash-frozen and packed immediately after harvest. Look for frozen broccoli with no added sauces, sodium or artificial ingredients. Frozen broccoli can be thawed under warm running water and steamed or stir-fried. (Canned broccoli isn't widely available, because processing turns broccoli into the icky mush that presidents and citizens alike would protest.)
 
Cooking
If you don't like broccoli, it’s probably because the broccoli you've eaten has been woefully overcooked: slimy, limp, maybe a little bitter. Sadly, that’s a common fate for many Brassicas, whose fibrous textures lead many home cooks to boil broccoli and its kin to death.
 
Begin preparing broccoli by washing the head and trimming the dried-out bottom end of the stalk. Cut the florets from the stalk; you can remove any tiny leaves (or leave them).
 
Broccoli has a sweetness that’s enhanced by roasting or stir-frying over high heat, which allows those natural sugars to caramelize and deepen in flavor. In fact, adding a pinch of sugar can help with that lovely transformation, much like you’d add a bit of sugar to sliced onions when you’re caramelizing them.
 
A few preparation tips:
  • Don't skip the stalks! Improperly cooked, broccoli stalks can be tough as tree limbs. Here’s the trick: Peel them. Once you’ve removed the florets, cut off any remaining side shoots, so you have a roughly cylindrical stem. Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to strip away the fibrous outer layer, revealing the pale green flesh inside. Chop these tender peeled stalks into coins about a 1/2 inch thick. When cooking broccoli, begin with the "coins" (which need more cooking time) and then add the florets.
     
  • Cut the florets into roughly equal pieces. Separate the florets and cut large ones in halves or quarters.
     
  • Don’t overcook! Perfectly prepared broccoli retains a beautiful bright green color and should be crisp-tender.  
     
  • Eat it raw. Slender florets of broccoli make a terrific addition to a veggie tray (with a low-fat ranch dipping sauce) or a salad. If you don’t love raw broccoli, then steam it for about 2 minutes to banish that raw taste and texture; serve it chilled.
     
  • Zap it. You can steam broccoli by placing coins and florets in a bowl with a little bit of water. Use this method to cook broccoli for casseroles or to par-cook it before adding to stir-fry dishes to finish cooking.
     
  • Steaming is best for retaining nutritional value. Boiling broccoli cooks away nearly all of its nutrients; steaming has been shown to retain them.
Simple, Delicious Broccoli Recipes
Roasted broccoli—Prepare stems and florets as noted above. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven as it's warming up. Toss the broccoli with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. When the oven reaches 425, carefully transfer the broccoli to the hot baking sheet. Roast for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the broccoli is browned in spots and crisp-tender.
 
Chef Meg's Tahini Broccoli Slaw—This recipe begins with packaged broccoli slaw (in your grocer’s produce cooler) and adds tahini and garlic for big flavor.
 
Broccoli-Rice Bake—A hearty and delicious combination of brown rice, broccoli and ricotta cheese makes a terrific Meatless Monday main.
 
Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry—Broccoli is a common ingredient in Asian cooking, and this low-fat stir-fry gets tons of flavor from garlic, ginger and plum tomatoes. Serve it over brown rice.
 
Nutrition Data
Unfortunately, all those moms who for generations served their kids overcooked broccoli also robbed them of this power veggie’s great nutrients (which dissipate when broccoli is boiled beyond all recognition). 
 
Broccoli is among the class of "green leafy vegetables" that we should consume daily; A 1-cup serving contains more than 100% of the recommended daily allowance for vitamins C and K.
 
A number of research studies have shown that broccoli has powerful anti-cancer properties, thanks to compounds that reduce inflammation, oxidation and toxins in the body. Glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli keep our systems from over-producing inflammatory responses.
 
And while you wouldn’t think of vegetables as containing fats, broccoli is a source of healthy omega-3s, another anti-inflammatory compound. Vitamin C, a powerful anti-oxidant, combines with other minerals and nutrients to reduce oxidation. These properties can positively affect cardiovascular health as well.
 
Broccoli is an excellent source of dietary fiber, which supports digestive health and helps lower cholesterol. It contains lutein, which has been shown to benefit eye health.
 
In short, broccoli is like a veritable nutrient factory—and in spite of the President's comments—it tastes pretty delicious, too.
 
Broccoli 
(1 cup, cooked)
 
Calories 55
Fiber 5.1 grams
Fat .6 grams
Protein 3.7 grams
Potassium 457 mg
Vitamin A 62%
Vitamin C 169%
Calcium 6%
Iron 6%
Folate 42%
 
Source
The World's Healthiest Foods, "What's New and Beneficial about Broccoli," whfoods.org, accessed on September 11, 2013.
 

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About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.