When it gets colder outside, we seek out deeper, earthier flavors – which you will find in this month’s harvest: broccoli and cauliflower. These cruciferous vegetables are a classic childhood favorite and, luckily, as our taste buds mature most of us will enjoy their flavors even more.
Meet the Brassicaceae Family
Broccoli and cauliflower are both part of the Brassicaceae family of plants which also includes cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale and radishes. Broccoli and cauliflower are known as inflorescents – which means arrangement of flowers on a stem – because the vegetable that we consume is actually the unopened flower buds of the plant. Another well-known inflorecent vegetable is the artichoke.
Broccoli was long ago developed from the flower of wild cabbage in Asia Minor, which explains why it shares a similar flavor profile; however, the vegetable that we know today was really cultivated in southern Italy. Broccoli is generally brilliant green in color while its family member cauliflower is usually white due to its underdeveloped chlorophyll. Cauliflower is thought to have been cultivated in Egypt in the 4th century B.C, and more recently we have seen some interesting and colorful varieties emerge including purple and orange. Because of their deeper pigments, these varieties are actually higher in antioxidants than the old standby white type.
Speaking of nutrition, both broccoli and cauliflower are great sources of folic acid and vitamin C. Broccoli is also a great source of fiber and actually has a fair amount of protein for a vegetable. Both broccoli and cauliflower are known for their cancer-fighting properties due to the sulfurous compounds they contain, which also give the vegetables their characteristic flavor and aroma. For their health benefits, the USDA recommends that adult women and men consume about 4 or 5 cups of “other vegetables” per week, the category that includes cruciferous vegetables. That could be a lot of broccoli or cauliflower, so it is great that both vegetables are a breeze to prepare and use in so many ways!
How to Cook Broccoli and Cauliflower
Some of the easiest ways to use these vegetables are to simply steam, bake or stir fry them or even just eat them raw with some dip. Toss the florets in with whole grain pasta as it cooks for the final few minutes to reduce your portion of pasta and add more vegetables to your meal. These are quick ways to use this month’s harvest, but it’s also fun to get a little more creative!
Try using them in a baked gratin, a pureed soup, or slaw – which is a great way to use the stems of the vegetables, the part we usually forget about! Make a pesto with broccoli by quickly steaming the florets and stems and then using them in place of the basil or other herb you would typically include in your pesto. Cauliflower is excellent baked and mashed for a mashed potato-like side dish that is lower in carbohydrates and calories. Cauliflower can also be used as the base of pizza crust instead of flour for a wheat-free, lower carbohydrate option or to “sneak” vegetables into a meal.
Salads are another great way to include these vegetables, which is how they are used in this month’s recipe – herbed broccoli and cauliflower salad. This salad has a great Mediterranean vibe with the capers, olive oil and Italian parsley which works perfectly with the broccoli and cauliflower that were both cultivated originally in that region. Quickly blanching the vegetables helps to mellow out the robust flavors a bit and also makes them a little easier to digest. Finishing the dish off with fresh and zesty lemon juice boosts the flavors in the salad, cutting down on the need for salt. Make the salad a complete meal by adding some protein like grilled chicken or shrimp, chickpeas or sautéed tofu.
For more information about tomatoes including great recipes, visit the Vermont Harvest of the Month website.
Herbed Broccoli-Cauliflower Salad
- 1/4cupolive oil
- 3Tbspfresh Italian parsley, minced
- 2Tbspbrined capers, minced
- 1Tbspfreshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1medium shallot, minced
- 3cupsbroccoli, stems removed and chopped into small florets
- 3cupscauliflower, stems removed and chopped into small florets
- Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat.
- Meanwhile, place olive oil, parsley, capers, lemon juice, and shallots in a large nonreactive bowl and stir to combined. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
- When the water is boiling, add broccoli and cauliflower and cook until fork tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and spread out on a baking sheet until cooled slightly, about 5 minutes.
- Add vegetables to vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat. Season with additional salt and pepper. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.
Bridget Shea, RD, is a clinical dietician at The University of Vermont Medical Center.