Page 1 of 3Back 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.) Continued ›