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Broccoli Basics

Body+Soul, Volume 5 October 2005

A member of the cabbage family, broccoli is the most nutritious of all its cruciferous cousins, which include brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, collards, and bok choy.


All these vegetables contain nitrogen compounds called indoles, which studies show are effective in helping to prevent cancerous tumors of the stomach, prostate, and breast. Broccoli, however, goes even further. It contains especially high amounts of enzymes and nutrients, such as carotenoids, that sweep up cancer-promoting free radicals.

Cancer isn't the only condition broccoli helps prevent. Its other nutrients make it a produce-aisle panacea. Besides being calcium-rich and high in fiber, broccoli is also a source of vitamin C, folate, riboflavin, potassium, and iron, making for a preventive powerhouse. Ongoing studies suggest that broccoli may help prevent cataracts, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, ulcers, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.


With many healthy relatives, broccoli takes its name from the Latin word brachium, or branch.


Broccoli Rabe
Also called broccoli raab or rapini, it's more closely related to turnips than to broccoli.


Also called baby broccoli, it's a cross between Chinese kale and broccoli.


A cross between broccoli and cauliflower, it has a milder flavor than either one.


The best-known family member, it's a staple of both Eastern and Western cuisines. Here are two recipes for getting more broccoli into your diet.


Steamed Broccoli With Miso-Sesame Sauce:
Serve as a side dish or as a first course in place of a salad.


Broccoli Soup With Yogurt 
Serve as a first course or a light lunch.


Buying Tips
When buying broccoli, make sure it was picked young and is still fresh. Overly mature broccoli will be tough and woody and emit a sulfurous cabbage odor when cooked. The florets should be tightly closed and uniformly green, and the stalks should snap crisply.

Yellowing florets mean the broccoli is past its prime. Steaming is the healthiest way to cook broccoli. Boiling, microwaving, or stir-frying will leach away a larger percentage of the nutrients. And go ahead and eat the leaves; most people cut them off, but they contain even more beta-carotene than the florets.


Taming Tough Broccoli Stalks

Don't let their tough exterior fool you: Broccoli stems have tender hearts. Just remove the outer layer with a vegetable peeler, slice the stems, and steam or saute them as you would the florets. Use in soups, side dishes, and salads -- here, we've tossed them with white beans and an oil-and-lemon dressing.

Try our Broccoli and White Bean Salad recipe.

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