Brassicas - World’s Healthiest Vegetables

Marianne with a BC-grown organic cabbageWikipedia says it is difficult to trace the exact history of cabbage, but that it was most likely domesticated in Europe before 1000 BC. By the Middle Ages, cabbage had become a prominent part of European cuisine. Broccoli is a result of careful breeding of cultivated leafy cole crops in the northern Mediterranean starting in about the 6th century BC.

Now cruciferous vegetables are one of the dominant food crops worldwide and one of the healthiest! Ten of the most common edible cruciferous vegetables are in a single species Brassica oleracea. This includes cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Chinese cabbage, bok choy and brussel sprouts.

Cruciferous vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Brassicas have been shown to act as antioxidants anti-carcinogenics, anti-inflammatories, and liver detoxifiers, and have many other health benefits. They are high in vitamin C. Not surprisingly, brassicas are being researched for their potential in battling cancer.

Along with the health benefits, cruciferous veggies contain a genetic code for bitterness but luckily, not everyone is sensitive to this taste. The eighty inventive, flavorful recipes presented in “Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts and More”, by Laura B. Russell, play to each vegetable’s strengths, favoring techniques that celebrate their intrinsic flavors instead of masking them. Perfectly roasted Brussel sprouts are sweet! Broccoli, steamed to el dente, chilled and marinated immediately is a tasty addition to many salads.

Laura Russell gives us straightforward cooking methods like roasting, sautéing, pickling, and wilting which transform brassicas into satisfying dishes, such as Cauliflower Hummus, Spicy Kale Fried Rice, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan Crust, and Broccoli and Pepper Jack Frittata. These recipes also maintain the vegetables’ nutritional properties. (The Okanagan Regional Library has several copies of Laura’s book.)

This rainy, cool June is great for cabbages and broccoli. As I avoid pesticides I have to cheer the plants on as their rapid growth keeps the pesky cabbage moth at bay. I used to dash around the garden with a net and squash the white butterflies but age is hindering my technique!  And if you are not growing your own, there is a wonderful variety of brassicas to be found at your farmer’s markets or at the Monashee Community Co-op.