THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Get your Brassica on!

You’ve probably sampled at least one of the Brassica oleracea species of vegetables since they encompass a diverse range of edible delights. From cauliflower and broccoli to kale and cabbage to Brussels sprouts and collards, this diversity lends itself to tasty side dishes as well as main courses, and as an added bonus, the group is packed with nutrients. Tasty and good for you! Can’t beat that combo!

But how can so many products come from just one species of plants? Well, they are all cultivars of the same species, meaning they were bred to maintain certain characteristics, whether it’s the leaves, flowers, or stalks or some combination of the three. Just look at Fido. Whether it’s a chihuahua or Rottweiler, bulldog or poodle, they all are in the species Canis lupus familiaris. Same thing for Brassica oleracea, except they’re split into seven major cultivar groups: Acephala, which includes kale and collards; Alboglabra, which contains Chinese broccoli or gai lan; Botrytis, which includes cauliflower; Romanesco broccoli and broccoflower; Capitata which is cabbage; Gemmifera, which is Brussels sprouts; Gongylodes, which is kohlrabi, and Italica which is broccoli.

Roasted Brassica. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Roasted Brassica. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Brassica Nutrition
As a whole, the Brassica group is a good source of Vitamins A, C and K, as well as folic acid, pyridoxine, choline and manganese, along with both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. However, their specific nutritional bonus comes from sulfur compounds, namely the isothiocyanates and sulforaphanes, which have exhibited anti-cancer properties in laboratory experiments. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have shown that another compound in the Brassicas, 3,3’-diindolylmethane is a potent immune modulator with anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. However, before you suddenly convert to an all-Brassica diet, the vegetable group also contains goitrogens, which can reduce your ability to produce active thyroid hormones. And the last time I checked, though being cancer-free is always good, always being lethargic with weight gain and hair loss isn’t so much of a good thing. But make sure you steam instead of boil your Brassicas, as boiling reduces the anti-cancers compounds. So enjoy Brassicas in your diet, but don’t consume copious qualities simply for its anti-cancer properties. Eat them for taste like I do.

Botrytis, Anyone?
I know it sounds like something that Jabba the Hutt regularly consumes, but I’m talkin’ ‘bout cauliflower. And it doesn’t have to be that fancy-schmancy purple tinged cauliflower from the specialty grocery store. The simple white head in your everyday supermarket is fine. Just make sure you trim any of the brown or black “freckles” that appear on the florets (I’m not sure if the plastic wrapping encourages the freckles). You can simply cut them into bite-sized pieces and steam for three to four minutes, but my favorite application is to toss the pared florets in a mixture of olive oil (citrus flavored olive oil also works), minced garlic and salt and black pepper, spread them in a single row on a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes at 375 to 400 degrees, or until the ends start browning. Roasting brings out the inherent sweetness of any vegetable and the garlic and citrus adds another dimension of flavors.

How About Acephala?
About seven years ago, I posted a column highlighting the benefits of veggies that were primarily used as garnishes and it included a recipe for a Kale and Mushroom Casserole that was my favorite use of kale at the time. Well, the recipe does call for parboiled kale, which reduces the sulforaphanes and potential health benefits, so I found a new application that requires raw kale. The kale is hearty enough to serve as a side under grilled chicken or pork, or it simply can be served as a side salad. Younger kale can be served immediately after tossing with the dressing, though mature kale takes about 30 minutes before the dressing “penetrates” and softens the leaves.

Maybe Some Italica?
This is the cultivar that the elder President Bush refuses to eat. I don’t know why; I’ve always enjoyed broccoli, whether it was steamed, stir fried or pickled. Pickled? Pray tell, what is pickled broccoli? Well, I know most broccoli recipes simply call for those attractive florets, either tossed with salads or stir fried. But what do you do with those stalks? They often need to be peeled, lest you want to chew on the gnarly skin for hours. That’s why I’ve heard of people simply discarding the stalks in favor of the tender florets. Waste not, want not. Simply peel the skin on tough stalks (tender stalks don’t need peeling), slice into bite-sized pieces, marinate overnight in a mixture of miso, sugar, sake and rice wine vinegar, then rinse the next day and you have sumiso-flavored broccoli pickles. Great with beer or sake!

Or Perhaps Gemmifera?
If I can enjoy Brussels sprouts in the 50th, your pleasure should be multiplied 10-fold. Why? Sprouts in the 50th — though available fresh in most supermarkets — aren’t the same as you might obtain stateside. I’ve seen those huge stalks with individual sprouts still attached at the Ferry Building Marketplace, which is leagues above the bin of severed sprouts — some already yellowing on their outer leaves — at markets in the 50th. And ixnay on steaming these luscious mini cabbages, I found a new love while attending the American Diabetes Association conference in San Diego last year. Fried, with crispy bacon bits. OK, I realize deep frying anything and adding crisp bacon bits totally negates any potential health benefits. But like any dry cooking, the inherent sweetness of any vegetable is magnified. Then add crispy bits (the crisp edges of each leaf) and add salty and savory bacon. OK, perhaps this isn’t a dish you want to consume on a regular basis, so I’ve adapted my own take on savory Brussels sprouts. Roasted with a hint of olive oil and garlic then either finished with citrus infused olive oil or lemon zest. The perfect accompaniment to any holiday feast!

2020 Japanese Culture Guide

2020 Japanese Culture Guide

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