Monday, January 12, 2009

Broccoli: Eat it Weekly!


Broccoli has been around for more than 2,000 years. Initially it was eaten primarily by the Italians, with the Romans taking the lead.

Historically, broccoli has not been a popular veggie as many cultures did not care for its taste—with the U.S. being one of those cultures. Broccoli started being planted in gardens in the U.S. in the 1700s, though it has only been commercially produced in the U.S. since the 1920s.

Broccoli's popularity has risen to an all-time high and our palates seem to have changed with broccoli acquiring new fans all of the time—perhaps due in large part to its newly identified status as a superhero of the vegetable kingdom. Labeled a ”Super Food” by Dr. Steven Pratt, coauthor of The New York Times; bestselling book Super Foods, broccoli is a vegetable that should be seen on your plate in great frequency (at least once per week).

When it comes to nutrition, broccoli has a lot to offer. The stems of broccoli are similar tasting to asparagus and the florets are like cauliflower. A cup of cooked broccoli offers as much calcium as two ounces of milk, as much vitamin C as an orange, and is very rich in vitamin A. Broccoli also contains vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. It is also high in fiber and low in calories.

By including broccoli regularly in your diet, you can help reduce and prevent ailments such as cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, and high blood pressure, and it may help lower blood cholesterol. The nutrients in broccoli also build strong bones, boost the immune system, and lower the incidence of cataracts and birth defects. In addition, broccoli's wealth of the trace mineral chromium may be effective in preventing adult-onset diabetes in some people.

Age to introduce: 8–10 months (cooked and pureed).

At the market: Good-quality broccoli should have fresh-looking, light-green stalks of consistent thickness. Look for bright-green or purplish-green heads. Don't purchase broccoli with yellow flowers and enlarged buds. These are signs of overmaturity.

Storage at home:
Store broccoli, unwashed, in loose or perforated plastic bags in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator for up 3–5 days. Wash broccoli just before using it.

Here are a few easy ideas for adding broccoli in your meals:

1. Crunchier coleslaw: Replace some or all the green cabbage in your coleslaw recipe with shredded broccoli stems. To shred, use a coarse-size grater or the shredding disc on a food processor. Your slaw will stay crunchier longer than cabbage and is more colorful, too.

2. Brighten up a crudité: Blanch broccoli or and add it to a crudité platter. Blanching the broccoli will soften it slightly for easy eating and bring out the bright-green color. To blanch, place broccoli in boiling water for 60 seconds. Drain and rinse with cold water until cooled. Serve with your favorite dip.

3. Don't forget the stems. Many cookbooks suggest only using florets, but the stems are tasty and high in fiber. Instead of tossing them out, julienne them and add them to recipes.

4. Add broccoli to a soup recipe. Almost any traditional vegetable, chicken, or beef soup recipe will get a boost from broccoli. Simply cut the stems and florets into bite-sized pieces and add during the last few minutes of cooking.

5. Add an Asian touch to the old standby, steamed broccoli. Just before serving, toss the broccoli with a tablespoon or two of sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds as a garnish.

6. Impress your guests with an outstanding sauce. Simply put steamed broccoli into the blender or food processor along with vegetable broth, a little olive oil, and seasonings to create a delicious sauce over brown rice, baked potatoes, polenta, or pasta.

Toddler Treat:
Broccoli and Rice Casserole
Many toddlers know broccoli as "trees.” Simply steamed, it is a perfect finger food. While broccoli is terrific in its native "tree" form, it is also yummy chopped, julienned, or puréed. Our Broccoli and Rice Casserole is a great example of what can be done with puréed broccoli. If you don't feel like making the rice called for in the recipe, stop by a Chinese restaurant and buy a quart to go! (By the way, brown rice is better for you than white rice.)

Ingredients:

2 cups chopped broccoli
3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
2–3 cups of cooked brown or white rice
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Steam broccoli until tender (about 3–4 minutes in microwave or on stovetop). Place broccoli, soup stock, oil, and lemon juice in a blender or food processor and process to a smooth puree. Place rice and cheese in an ovenproof dish. Pour broccoli mixture over the rice and cheese. Toss mixture gently to blend ingredients. Place in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until heated through and the cheese is melted. (Instead of using the oven, you can heat this dish in the microwave for 3 minutes, stir, and cook 3 more minutes).

Storage:
Refrigerate leftovers for 3–5 days or can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby. Visit them at www.freshbaby.com and subscribe to their Fresh Ideas newsletter. Fresh Baby Baby Food Kits and other products are available at many fine specialty stores and national chains including Target, Wild Oats, and Whole Foods Markets.