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Cabbages, Broccoli, & Cauliflower

The champions of cold-weather cooking

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Cabbages, Broccoli, & Cauliflower

Try a new twist on these cold-weather favourites.

There is something soul-soothing about making a warming winter meal while the cold wind howls outside. Though spring and summer may arguably have flashier vegetables to offer, winter has its own bountiful crops brimming with health benefits. With a distinctive earthiness that complements many dishes, cabbages, broccoli, and cauliflower are the undisputed champions of cold-weather cooking.

Cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower belong to the Brassicaceae family, derived from the genus Brassica, which literally translates to “cabbage” in Latin. The family also includes Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, bok choy, mustard greens, turnips, and kohlrabi. Also referred to as “cruciferous vegetables,” they are a rich source of vitamins and minerals—including vitamins C, E, K, and A, as well as folic acid, iron, magnesium, and fibre.

They also contain a group of chemicals called glucosinolates, which studies have shown could reduce the risk of certain cancers. These health benefits have earned cruciferous vegetables the label “functional foods.” Ironically, these same glucosinolates are responsible for the dubious reputation of cruciferous vegetables, since these very compounds produce the sulphuric odour and bitter taste that cause many to shy away from these beneficial vegetables.

Unlike the tougher-fleshed root vegetables available at this time of year, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower are perfect for a mid-week meal, as they can be prepared relatively quickly and enhance a variety of cuisines. So, don’t leave them out in the cold this winter—stock up on cabbages, cauliflower, and broccoli to warm both body and soul with hearty and healthy cruciferous meals.

Cooking smart

When choosing how to cook vegetables, try to avoid boiling. Researchers have found that boiling cruciferous vegetables significantly reduces the amount of glucosinolates, which are metabolized into potentially cancer-preventive substances called isothiocyanates when eaten. Stir-frying or steaming are better options to minimize the loss of glucosinolates.

Recipes

Pesto primer

Pesto is one of the most versatile sauces for the home cook, as it can be used as a dip, spread, or sauce. Not only is pesto extremely adaptable (if you don’t have hazelnuts, use natural almonds instead), but fresh pesto can also give any dish a welcome flavour boost. Stir it into hummus, dressings, soups, or sauces; spread pesto lightly over a pizza crust in place of tomato sauce; toss it into roasted root vegetables; or use pesto to marinate baked chicken or fish.

All in the family

Add some colour and variety to your plate by trying one of the following relatives of cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage.

Nutritional highlights

Choosing and storing

How to enjoy

orange cauliflower

This relatively recent variety was first discovered as a natural mutation growing in Canada. Researchers at Cornell University have found that the orange variety contains significantly more beta carotene and vitamin A than a regular white cauliflower.

Look for firm, tightly packed florets with no discoloration. Leaves should be fresh and green, and cauliflower should feel heavy for its size. Store whole, in crisper for up to five days. Washed and towel-dried florets will keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to four days.

Just like white cauliflower, once trimmed and cored, cauliflower may be steamed, roasted, sautéed, baked, pickled, puréed, mashed, grilled, or eaten raw.

purple cauliflower

This colourful cruciferous vegetable has a high antioxidant level thanks to anthocyanins, pigments that produce a red, purple, or blue colour in plants and flowers.

Select and store purple cauliflower as for orange cauliflower.

Milder in taste than white cauliflower, the purple variety can be steamed, roasted, sautéed, baked, puréed, mashed, grilled, or eaten raw.

green cauliflower

A cross between broccoli and cauliflower, this hybrid looks like a pale green or yellowish green cauliflower. It is a good source of vitamin C, calcium, fibre, and folate.

Select and store green cauliflower as for orange cauliflower. Older, more mature plants will turn white and resemble a regular cauliflower.

Sweeter than white cauliflower, it also has a mild broccoli flavour. It can be steamed, roasted, sautéed, baked, puréed, mashed, grilled, or eaten raw.

Romanesco

Also called broccoli Romanesco, Romanesco cauliflower, or Romanesco cabbage, this striking vegetable is a variant of cauliflower. Nutritionally it is a good source of carotenoids, vitamin A, and fibre.

Select and store Romanesco as for orange cauliflower.

Not as bitter or strong tasting as white cauliflower, Romanesco can be roasted, sautéed, baked, steamed, or eaten raw.

broccoletti

Sometimes erroneously called baby broccoli, broccoletti is a cross between broccoli and gai lan (Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale). Broccoletti is rich in potassium, iron, fibre, calcium, and vitamins A and C.

Choose broccoletti that has firm bright-green stems (the cut ends should not look dry) and tightly closed deep green buds. A few yellow flowers do not indicate that the broccoletti is old. Store unwashed in a covered container that is not fully sealed for up to five days.

With a taste that is a cross between asparagus and broccoli, broccoletti is best prepared steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled, stir-fried, or raw.

rutabaga

A cross between turnip and cabbage, and also called a swede, the rutabaga is regarded as a relatively recent root vegetable, originating around the 17th century. Rutabagas are a good source of calcium as well as an excellent source of potassium, fibre, and vitamin C.

Pick rutabagas that are firm and heavy for their size. They store well in the refrigerator crisper drawer for up to three weeks.

After peeling away the thick skin, rutabagas are delicious roasted, baked, mashed, braised, stewed, or raw (thinly sliced or grated).

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