Whoever told you to “eat your broccoli” had your best interests in mind. Broccoli is filled with disease-fighting nutrients. And when cooked properly — or creatively prepared raw — it’s scrumptious, too.
Broccoli originated in Italy, and like turnips, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens and cauliflower, it is a cruciferous vegetable, or brassica. Its edible parts include the leaves, crunchy stems and soft clusters of tiny green flower buds called florets. When purchasing, select broccoli with tightly closed buds, crisp leaves, and a deep emerald color or purplish tinge. When cooked, broccoli may release sulfur compounds, creating an unpleasant smell but leaving flavor unaffected.
Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a phytonutrient that helps the body’s detoxification enzymes eliminate abnormal cells, slow tumor growth and reduce the risk of developing intestinal polyps (which usually precede colon cancer). It also helps support healthy functioning (think toxin-filtering) of the liver. Other nutrients in broccoli help the body repair sun-damaged skin, reduce the risk of heart disease and cataracts, prevent or delay osteoporosis, support the immune system, reduce the risk of birth defects, and fight prostate, ovarian and bladder cancer.
One 3⁄4-cup serving of steamed broccoli contains more vitamin C than a typical orange, and it’s also high in vitamins K and A and calcium. Broccoli boasts numerous anti-inflammatory properties, and its dark-green leaves are rich in beta-carotene.
Boiling broccoli can cause significant nutrient loss, and it rarely produces optimal flavor. If eating it raw doesn’t appeal to you, you can lightly steam or sauté it, or roast it (often the best-tasting option). When cooked, broccoli should maintain its bright green color (pale green broccoli is a sign that it has been overcooked).
- To roast broccoli, first lightly toss florets and small, evenly cut stalks in extra-virgin olive oil. Season with sea salt, and slivered or minced garlic. In a 475-degree F oven, roast for three to five minutes, then turn over and roast an additional three minutes until slightly browned at the edges.
- Add broccoli florets and peeled, chopped stalks to stir-fries. To cook, combine 2 cups broccoli florets and/or chopped or long sliced stalks with a small amount of oil (1 tablespoon of olive or sesame) and sauté for two or three minutes, then add a small amount of broth or water, cover the pan, and let steam until crisp and tender (about two minutes).
- To steam broccoli, place it in a covered steamer basket over boiling water for five to seven minutes.
- Season cooked (steamed or boiled) broccoli with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or a light sprinkling of hand-shredded Parmesan or Asiago cheese.
- For the right balance of humidity and oxygen, store broccoli in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. To help prevent mold growth, do not wash broccoli before storing.
- Peel stalks before cooking to make them more tender, but preserve the nutrients by only peeling a thin layer.
- Broccoli florets cook faster than stalks, so split the stalks in half before cooking.
- Store cooked broccoli in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator for up to two or three days.