I'll be honest, broccoli has never been my favorite vegetable. As a kid, it always seemed to show up on our dinner plates with a mushy, flavorless texture. And as many parents do, I was always told to eat my vegetables. My uncle used to tell me it would make my hair turn curly. Guess I ate just enough to grow the wavy hair I have now.
I have since come around and in my adult years have developed an appreciation for the vegetable. Variety, freshness and preparation are key to how my taste buds will react to this beastly green giant. Plus, it's a nutritional powerhouse. It's a very good source of dietary fiber and chock full of vitamins and minerals: Vitamins A, C, K, E (Alpha Tocopherol), B6, Folate, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus Potassium, and Zinc. AND it contains anti-oxidants such as sulforaphane that help prevent cancer.
But this power veggie doesn't stop there. Broccoli is an excellent source of protein. It's protein content is 34% of its dry matter and according to the USDA, one cup of chopped broccoli can provide over 4 grams of protein. It contains more fiber than a slice of whole wheat bread, more calcium than a glass of milk, and 75% of Vitamin C than that of oranges! However, eating broccoli alone will not give you a complete protein because all the essential and non-essential amino acids are not all present in one single plant. So to get your protein punch, pair it with foods that have a complimentary amino acid makeup such as corn based foods like cornmeal or game meat such as buffalo.
Growing broccoli is fairly easy. It can be grown year round but as a cool weather crop, it is at it's best in the Fall and Winter. Provide ample water and plenty of nitrogen, calcium, and potassium. Pests such as aphids, cabbage loopers, cabbage worms, cutworms, earwigs, snails and powdery mildew can become a nuisance so be on the lookout to detect them early.
Harvesting broccoli at the right time, or any crop for that matter, is critical if you want to get the most nutritional bang for your buck. Look for heads with firm stalks and tight, green florets and harvest broccoli when the heads are small and before the yellow flower buds open. Leave the small green leaves on the stem intact - they provide good nutrients. Broccoli loves to chill out, so it's best to pick it in the early morning when temperatures are cool. Then immediately place them in some ice water and then in your refrigerator. Your broccoli can last for up 10 days in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
When preparing broccoli, the possibilities can be endless. Saute them with a bit of garlic, ginger, and chili flakes. Try them in a stir fry, casserole, in a soup or frittata, roasted, steamed, or simply raw in a salad or with a dip. This is a recipe I adapted from Nourishing Connections: The Healing Power of Food and Community, by Cathryn Couch and JoEllen DeNicola. I brought this dish with me to a potluck with my cycling teammates and it was a hit:
Broccoli & Millet Salad with Toasted Cashews
1 cup millet
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 cups boiling water
2 cups broccoli, florets and chopped stems
1 tsp minced garlic
3/4 cup thinly slice celery
1/4 cup minced fresh dill weed
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 - 1 cup cashews
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1. Toast the millet in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until it begins to brown. Carefully add the boiling water and the sea salt, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the water is absorbed and the millet is tender, 20-25 minutes.
2. Put the millet on a cookie sheet and spread it out to cool.
3. While the millet is cooling, steam the broccoli just until tender and bright green. Rinse under cold water, drain well and place in a large bowl.
4. Add the celery, dill and parsley to the broccoli.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt.
6. When the millet is cool, crumble it into the vegetables. Add the cashews and the dressing and toss everything together.
Eat your greens! Grow curly hair!