Learn to Love Broccoli, Live Longer

New research links broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables to longer life. A Southern chef’s favorite methods make them appealing to any palate.

June 15, 2011

Broccoli and its ilk can taste great, if you know how to handle them.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Although the oft-repeated request to “Eat your broccoli” has been heard around dinner tables for some time, it gains new resonance now that a study has linked cruciferous veggies—broccoli, brussels sprouts, and the like—to long life and healthy hearts. Since Asian populations consume lots of broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, researchers from the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, and the Shanghai Cancer Institute in Shanghai, China, set out to evaluate the potential health effects of eating these foods. The researchers studied the dietary intakes of more than 130,000 Chinese adults. They found that, overall, a higher fruit and vegetable intake was linked with a lower risk of mortality, and that the pattern was particularly strong when it came to intake of cruciferous vegetables; the results were primarily a lower risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

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Cooking broccoli and cruciferous vegetables can be a challenge if you're not a fan of their distinct flavors. The cruciferous vegetable family’s members range from the well-known representatives—broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, and cauliflower—to more surprising siblings, such as kohlrabi, turnips, collard greens, mustard greens, arugula, and watercress. For tips on making the most of these healthy vegetables, we turned to chef Harrison Keevil of Brookville Restaurant in Charlottesville, Virginia, who recommends buying your produce from your local farmer’s market or CSA. Says Keevil: “This helps promote a true community environment because we are helping our neighbors.”

Tips for cooking cruciferous veggies:

Broccoli

For those who haven’t acquired a taste for broccoli, Keevil suggests getting some color on it: “For example, place broccoli in a 400-degree oven until tender (about 15 minutes) so you get some of that roasted flavor—plus, you’re not losing as many nutrients as you do when you boil it,” he says. After you remove the broccoli from the oven, drizzle it with homemade vinaigrette for an acidic kick.

Brussel sprouts

“Deep-fry these for about 30 seconds and toss them in a bacon and caper vinaigrette,” suggests Keevil. Perhaps not the healthiest option, but it's hard not to wonder what deep-fried brussel sprouts taste like. Also see Maria Rodale's blog for Brussel Sprouts That Will Blow Your Mind, with further suggestions from her blog readers.

Mustard greens and collard greens

Keevil braises these "low and slow" with vinegar and a smoky pork product (such as ham hocks) until they are very tender. “Mustard greens won’t take as long to cook as collards, but both are amazing with the right amount of acid and smoke,” he says.

Cauliflower

Says Keevil, “I have two favorite preparations for this vegetable: You can drizzle the cauliflower with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast in a hot oven until nice and caramelized. I also love to make a cauliflower puree: Simmer it in a little milk; when tender, strain the cauliflower, place in a blender with just enough of the simmering liquid to get things moving (½ cup or so) and puree.”

Kohlrabi and cabbage
With these veggies, Keevil makes a savory slaw that’s great served with slow-roasted pork belly. Here’s his recipe:

Cabbage, Kohlrabi, and Carrot Slaw

Ingredients:

1 kohlrabi, julienned
½ head of cabbage, julienned
3 medium carrots, julienned
1 red onion, julienned

½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup mayonnaise (Keevil likes to use Duke’s mayonnaise from Richmond, Virginia)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 cup cider vinegar

Mix slaw ingredients in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, combine the dressing ingredients until mixed well. Pour the dressing over the veggies and allow slaw to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Arugula
Keevil uses these peppery greens in a pesto that’s great on grilled chicken or steak.

Arugula Pesto

Ingredients:

4 cups packed arugula
4 garlic scapes
½ cup olive oil
½ cup canola oil
½ cup pecans
½ cup grated aged sheep’s milk cheese (Keevil uses Piedmont cheese from the Everona Dairy in Virginia)
Zest of 1 lemon

Blanch arugula in boiling water and then shock it in an ice bath. Squeeze water out of the arugula and place in a blender along with the other ingredients. Blend for about 30 seconds, or until smooth. Serve pesto at room temperature.