The basics of brassicas
By Katy G. Wilkens
What do kale, broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi and cauliflower have in common? They are all vegetables in the plant genus Brassica, or mustard family, and are usually at their peak during winter.
Brassicas are called cruciferous vegetables because most of them grow leaves in opposite pairs that form a cross. They are also known as cole crops, Latin for cabbage.
When you eat radishes, rutabaga and turnips, you are eating brassica roots. With cabbage, kale and arugula, you eat the leaves. With cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, you eat the flowers. Kohlrabi, bok choy and gai lan are stems. Mustard and canola oil come from brassica seeds.
The brassica family is healthy fare: high in vitamins A, C and K with lots of fiber. People who eat a lot of them have lower cancer rates.
Tips for buying and cooking brassicas:
Arugula: Choose bright green, crisp leaves in bunches. Serve fresh in a winter salad. If too bitter, mix with sweeter greens like butter lettuce.
Bok choy: Avoid discolored yellow leaves. The dark green leaves cook much faster than the ivory white stems. Cut the leaves off, chop separately and add later in cooking when stems are nearly tender.
Broccoflower: Choose firm, compact heads that are bright green. Toss with a bit of olive oil and whole garlic cloves. Bake at 400 degrees until tender.
Broccoli: Choose broccoli with tender, firm stalks and tight, compact buds. Cut into bite-size pieces and blanch. Sauté onions and garlic and then add a low-sodium pesto. Add broccoli and toss with penne pasta.
Broccoli raab (rapini): Choose bunches that are dark green with small stems. Cut in uniform slices. Sauté with sliced onions and garlic in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and then steam.
Brussels sprouts: Look for the smallest, tightest buds available. Avoid yellowing leaves. Taste becomes strong when past their prime. Stir-fry with a few tablespoons of olive oil or butter in a hot wok or fry pan, stirring constantly. Add fresh herbs and toasted nuts.
Cabbage (red, green and savoy): Smooth, tight heads have best flavor. Look for cabbage that is heavy for its size with unblemished leaves. In season from late fall through early spring. Buy whole cabbages; pre-cut or pre-shredded cabbage will have lost most of its flavor and vitamins. Quarter cabbage and put in skillet. Add a cup of heavy cream to pan and cook until cabbage is lightly browned and cream is reduced.
Cauliflower: Look for creamy white florets, green bunches with a little curl at the ends. Yellow or wilted leaves will be bitter. Make a hearty homemade soup or bean stew and add kale in last half-hour. Peel leaves from stem to use raw in salads. Sauté onions and garlic and add greens, continuing to cook until wilted.
Kohlrabi: Best when the globes are smallish and uniform in size. Avoid globes larger than 3 inches or with cracks. Serve in a salad diced small or cut into half-moons. To roast, toss with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and cook in 400-degree oven for about a half-hour.
Mustard seeds and greens: Look for bright green leaves. Cut greens in strips and place in a large pan with lid. Add an inch of low-sodium chicken broth. Cover and cook until al dente. Remove and reduce liquid. Pan roast mustard seeds in a small skillet and add to any dish or salad dressing.
Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage): Add to homemade low-sodium broth with shiitake mushrooms.
Spinach: Leaves should be bright green and crisp. Avoid yellow leaves. Chop and add tangerines or strawberries, walnuts and goat cheese. Add citrus vinaigrette.
Radishes: Choose firm radishes with crispy leaves, which are also edible. Slice thinly and toss in a salad. Serve as a crudité with low-salt dip.
Romanesco broccoli: Look for firm, tightly spiraled points. If leaves are attached, they should be green and crisp. Cut into florets and blanch in boiling water. When bright green, plunge into cold water. Add to a salad with toasted almonds, scallions, dried cranberries and vinaigrette.
Rutabagas: Buy roots that are firm, solid and heavy for their size. Dice small. Steam in microwave for 10 to 15 minutes. Mash with warmed milk and roasted garlic.
Turnip roots and greens: Buy roots that are heavy for their size and still have crisp leaves. Eat raw with veggie dips. Add to hearty soups and stews.
Wasabi: Choose firm, heavy roots. Add to your favorite dip or sauce.
Watercress. Purchase young and without flowers; keeps for only a few days. Add to a salad or sandwich.
Kale and Turnip Greens
This recipe comes from Priscilla Hailey.
¼ cup olive oil
2 pounds kale
2 pounds turnip greens, or mustard greens
2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tomatoes, chopped
Wash kale and greens thoroughly. Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onions and cook until soft. Add garlic, and then tomatoes. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop greens. Lay greens over tomato mixture, cover with lid and cook for 15 minutes or until all greens are wilted. Makes 12 half-cup servings.
Calories: 60, Carbohydrates: 8 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Sodium: 33 milligrams
[Katy G. Wilkens is a registered dietitian and department head at Northwest Kidney Centers. The National Kidney Foundation Council on Renal Nutrition has honored her with its highest awards: the Susan Knapp Excellence in Education Award and the Joel D. Kopple Award for significant contributions in renal nutrition. See more recipes at www.nwkidney.org.]