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It’s more than a decade since the World Health Organization issued a mandate recommending everyone eat at least one serving of cruciferous or brassica vegetables a day. This vegetable family, which covers broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts and all the Chinese cabbages, is considered to provide the body with protective nutrition against a number of diseases (especially certain types of cancer) because of its potent provision of vital antioxidants and phytochemicals.
Provided you managed to plant those brassica seedlings in late summer you will be rewarded with a steady supply of powerhouse harvests though the winter. Broccoli to my mind offers the best value in the brassica family. Not only can I get everyone to eat it (there are a couple of young vegetable-phobes in my family), but it’s one of those ‘cut and come again’ vegetables that produces a second crop of smaller, sweet offshoot heads after the main trunk and head have been cut. The inner stem too, once peeled of its tough outer skin, makes a super crunchy, sweet snack. Like all leafy green vegetables, brassicas need soil with a high level of organic matter. To get broccoli or cauliflower to develop a good dense head, add a little potash or ash (check the wood used has not been treated).
Brassicas are generally best suited to quick, light cooking. Cabbage, however, does manage a slow braise – especially when it is stuffed. To cook a large head of broccoli to green yet tender perfection with minimal loss of nutrients, peel off the outer skin from the stems, cut into florets, and place in a pot with a little water, a generous splash of extra virgin oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, put the lid on and cook over high heat until it is easily pierced with a sharp knife but still green (about five minutes). There is no residual water left at end of cooking (so minimal vitamin loss) and the vegetables are just tender but still vibrantly green. Winter is also a good time to enjoy bitter greens such as chicory, radicchio and endive.
For more about growing winter vegetables see my blog The Late-Summer Garden.
These are some of my favourite recipes for brassicas:
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