Which cruciferous vegetables should I eat?
December 7, 2007 3:59 PM   Subscribe

Which cruciferous vegetables should I eat?

I hate them, but science has convinced me of their nutritional necessity. I have further been convinced that they should be eaten raw. But I really, really hate them. Every last one of them, in fact. As I do not believe that I can mind-over-matter my way into enjoying these repulsive greens, I suppose that I ought to be tough, and find a way to put them down. Please help me find a way to do this painlessly as possible.

I'd like to maximize along a few variables:
1. Nutrient density-- The less I have to eat, the better. This is most important.
2. Shelf life-- If I can buy in bulk only twice per month, my life is easier.
3. Palatability-- Do any of these vegetables pair nicely with any specific sugarless and starchless foods?

What say you?
posted by Kwantsar to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I can only speak to #3 on your list, but have found roasted cauliflower to be quite yummy (way more so than the bland, mushy boiled/steamed cauliflower I had to eat as a kid). I haven't found many proteins that cauliflower doesn't pair well with, but that may just be me. In any case, here are a few recipes:

Roasted Cauliflower with Lemon, Olive Oil and Parmesan

And, a blog entry which claims that roasted cauliflower tastes like candy.

And, one that is supposedly like popcorn.
posted by justonegirl at 4:12 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Kale - you can boil it, drain it, fluff it, and put salad dressing on it, eat it cold or hot, it's a lot like a salad. I've also put it into sandwiches. I wouldn't recommend eating kale raw, though.

It keeps well frozen. You're going to have to freeze anything like this, until they come out with space-age dried fresh vegetables.

I like broccoli as a pizza topping; it's nice mixed with all the other pizza toppings.

I wouldn't bother with cauliflower; it has some nutrients, sure, but not nearly as many as its dark-green cousins.
posted by amtho at 4:13 PM on December 7, 2007

I say I don't believe you've tried them all. Do you really hate ALL of the following: brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, caulifower, chinese cabbage, turnips, rutabaga, bok choy, arugula, radish and watercress? This is not an exhaustive list: see Wikipedia for a list of them all. Of these, turnips and rutabagas probably have the longest shelf life (but are the least appealing to me personally). The greens probably have the greatest nutrient density if you don't boil them. And palatability is strictly a matter of personal choice.
posted by ubiquity at 4:15 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, justonegirl. I don't mean to harsh on your cauliflower groove - didn't see your post when I wrote mine. I guess it depends on what the OP's trying to accomplish. Cauliflower's certainly more nutritious than, say, bread, or actual popcorn.
posted by amtho at 4:15 PM on December 7, 2007

This recipe got my sprout-hating husband to actually look forward to eating them again. We also like to roast broccoli -- it tastes very good that way!
posted by sugarfish at 4:17 PM on December 7, 2007

Baby bok choi is especially yummy. Rinse, chop into quarters, and stir-fry with some shrimp, soy sauce, ginger, and red pepper -- delicious.
posted by scody at 4:20 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oven-roasted cauliflower has completely transformed my relationship with the crucifers.

I used to view cauliflower as a bland, soggy, bitter vector for ranch dressing or cheese sauce. Now I frequently eat a whole head by myself, chasing the last little crunchy brown bits at the bottom of the bowl. Kale, broccoli, and even brussels sprouts are all good this way.

Another way to eat brussels sprouts is quartered and sauteed in butter with leeks, prosciutto, and a good grinding of black pepper.

It's funny, because I used to hate all of the crucifers. We still call brussels sprouts "cat brains" in my family, my contemptuous name for them as a kid. But the thing I hated most -- their bitterness -- I've come to find quite delicious.

But honestly? If you really hate them -- even after oven-roasting -- then don't eat them. Life is too short to eat food you hate.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:20 PM on December 7, 2007

I'm with Kwantsar: I hate them ALL. And you know why? A certain percentage of people (including me and Kwantsar) are "tasters". Tasters have the gene that allows them to taste the bitter chemical that is in these nasty vegetables. If you don't have this gene, you cannot taste this chemical. So it's not strictly a matter of personal choice. If you're a taster, it's likely you won't like these foods very much, if at all.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 4:20 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

Also, a salad made of chopped lacinato kale in a garlicky Caesar dressing was the big hit of our Thanksgiving table. It was the only thing I went back for seconds on.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:22 PM on December 7, 2007

Tasters have the gene that allows them to taste the bitter chemical that is in these nasty vegetables. If you don't have this gene, you cannot taste this chemical. So it's not strictly a matter of personal choice.

Some people like bitter tasting things.
posted by juv3nal at 4:40 PM on December 7, 2007

Raw (slaw) or barely-cooked cabbage doesn't have to be terrible. You can even make eggrolls with it, and you know how it goes: when all else fails, fry.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:47 PM on December 7, 2007

I wonder if you might like kim chee. A source of cuciferosity in pickled form.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:11 PM on December 7, 2007

Broccoli x kale = delicious broccolini! It's a little sweeter than broccoli.
posted by nicwolff at 5:15 PM on December 7, 2007

Nobody has mentioned cauliflower raw, which is of course no wet and suggy but crunchy and creamy. Oh, and maybe I just like subtle flavors but I think that steamed cauliflower, with just a pinch of salt in the water, is very flavorful. And I like it raw too, but I love the cruciferous flavor -- so much so that I'll often eat the bits that are normally tossed off to the side when you cook the vegetables.

I realize your life is easier if you buy these in bulk, but other than apples and potatoes and members of the onion family I don't think there is much in the produce department that will outlast a week. Of course, they *do* freeze very well, so if you don't mind frozen that's an excellent choice.

I sense that most people, even if they dislike vegetables as a rule, tend to appreciate broccoli. Broccoli is really dense with nutrients and an excellent choice.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:16 PM on December 7, 2007

Best answer: Just keep eating them. Remember when your parents said you had to try at least three bites? There is sound reasoning to that. I have grown to love foods I used to despise, simply by trying them again and again. Sometimes having them prepared differently helps a lot. This particular bunch of vegetables are prepared best in Asian cuisine, although the 'raw' element of your question makes that a little more tricky...some vegetables (carrots and tomatoes come to mind) are actually better for you when cooked, so if you're flexible I've added some additional cooking info with my thoughts below.

Daikon will last forever. One obscenely huge daikon root (like an albino carrot on steroids) will last in the fridge for a loooong time (true for turnips, radishes, and all other roots). Wrap it up in plastic wrap as you go, keep in the crisper, you're fine. Daikon can be steamed, grated into the slaw/cold salad of your choosing, folded into dumplings (not raw, I know, but tasty), sliced thinly and put on salad.

Rapini is a great bitter complement if served alongside a rich or savory dish. Steam it slightly and away you go. Same with kale, although be careful, because eating too much kale in one sitting (yes, I know, that's ridiculous, but I've done it) can give you a tummy ache. If you're looking to make greens last, steam them slightly (or parboil for a few seconds for things like broccoli) and then freeze them in airtight containers. You can then toss a handful into a soup or thaw out and add to a salad.

If you are trying to get as much of them in as you can, I'd say finely chop some broccoli and cauliflower (I mean finely, so it looks like an herb more than a veg, the beauty of these two is the 'grainy' texture of the florets makes it easy to do), shred some daikon, carrots and radish, and mix the lot up in with a more traditional salad (you do like those, right? Cobb salad? Caesar salad?), so that they are just little bits in there. Or do the same and mix it into cole slaw (a relatively painless way to ingest some raw cabbage, by the way).
posted by SassHat at 5:23 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the above point about supertasters (not 'tasters') is well taken. If your genetic endowment has made you a supertaster, I doubt you are ever going to love these.

Beef and broccoli (quickly sauteed together with a little peanut oil, sherry and soy) is a traditional dish that is a nice marriage of flavors. You don't have to cook the broccoli much at all.

Pickled cauliflower isn't cooked. I'm fond of the Mezzetta spicy hot pickled cauliflower that I can get at my grocery store but I don't know if I could consume a whole serving of that daily.

Here's a google search that suggests that the leafy green cruciferae - kale, brussel sprouts, rapini, maybe broccoli - are going to be the most nutrient dense. Of these, I'd only eat broccoli raw.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:36 PM on December 7, 2007

Are you anchovy adverse? If not, try this:

In a large saute pan or other large (3 qt or more) straight sided cooking vessel with lid, heat olive oil over medium or medium high heat 'til hot. Add a few crushed or minced cloves of garlic and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add as many anchovies as you like. The recipe I base it off of calls for something like 4, but I like more than that, most of a small tin of oil packed ones. Stir until the anchovies are broken up. Dump in your cut broccoli (at least 1 large head) and a 1/4 cup of water, stir until well mixed, put the lid on, lower the heat to medium-low or medium and let cook for 10 minutes. Eat as a side dish or toss with cooked pasta. The broccoli is cooked much more than usual, but it gives it more of a chance to absorb the flavors. It may negatively impact the phytochemical goodness of the little trees, but it makes them so darn tasty you'll eat an entire head yourself. Perhaps this can serve as a gateway cruciferous dish. Or, rationalize that the benefits you get from the garlic and the fish offset the overcooking of the broccoli.
posted by mollweide at 6:13 PM on December 7, 2007

We used to have a restaurant that made broccoli, I suspect it was sauteed in butter and maybe olive oil. I hate broccoli, and I would eat that stuff like it was candy, and everyone else's at the table too. So I think it's the way it's cooked, and if you keep trying various ways of cooking, there is hope you can stand the stuff.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:19 PM on December 7, 2007

Forget the supermarket. Go to the best Italian deli you know, and talk with them about really good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The varieties are complex and delicious--as with wine. Get some Reggiano parmesan while you're at it. You can cook any of these vegetables with sugarfish's recipe--a sauté/steam combo (not too hot) in the good olive oil. Add a bit of butter for flavor if you wish. Just before serving add another dash of grated parmesan and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar. For variation, bake some firm russet potatoes a day ahead, peel off the outer skin, dice into cubes, and sauté with the greens and a bit of chopped parsley. Good ingredients make for good taste. Funny how people will drop twenty or thirty bucks for a bottle of wine, yet won't do the same for yummy oil or vinegar that will improve every meal for six months.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:36 PM on December 7, 2007

Here's an amazingly simple cabbage recipe (Indian) that kicks so much ass. I can't guarantee you'll like it, but I hope you give it a shot.

Cabbage Salad with Mustard Seeds
6 well-packed cups (1 pound) shredded green cabbage
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated
1 to 2 fresh hot green chiles, cut into fine shreds
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (cider works fine as well)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 teaspoon whole brown mustard seeds

Combine the cabbage, carrot, chiles, salt, vinegar and cayenne in a large bowl and toss well to mix. Put the oil in a small frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as the seeds begin to pop, a matter of seconds, pout the oil and the seeds over the salad. Toss well to mix. Set aside for 1 hour or longer (to "pickle" as it were), refrigerating if necessary.

Serves 6
posted by O9scar at 6:46 PM on December 7, 2007 [12 favorites]

I love broccoli in general, but it's especially good steamed with either butter and lemon juice or butter and balsamic vinegar. I also have a brussels sprouts recipe that involves chicken stock, a little brown sugar, toasted pecans and salt. I'll send you the recipe if you'd like; it's delicious. I had brussels sprouts the first time like this and I honestly was surprised when I heard they were supposed to be bitter.
posted by MadamM at 7:28 PM on December 7, 2007

I just ate another plate of a yummy Thai salad that I swear is the southeast Asian answer to cole slaw. I think you could add or swap in a good quantity of slivered cabbage without adversely affecting the tastiness.

Original recipe calls for a green papaya, finely shredded, no skin. I didn't have a green papaya and so used half a cucumber and 1.5 Granny Smith apples. For you, I'd use a third of a cucumber, one apple, and a cup and a half of cabbage slivers.

The other stuff is: four cloves garlic, cut into a couple pieces each; two scallions (white part only), chopped; half or more of a jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped; half a teaspoon of salt. Crush these things together until they threaten to turn into a paste. Add the cabbage (heck, beat on it a little too), cucumber, and apple, a few cut green beans, two Roma tomatoes (open them and drain the liquid, this salad's wet enough already) sliced as thin as you can manage, juice of a lime or half a lemon, a tablespoon of sugar, and three tablespoons of fish sauce. You knew there was going to be fish sauce. Mix it all. Serve with a slotted spoon and sprinkle peanuts on top. Totally delicious. I'm about to go to the fridge and drink off the juice from this salad, seriously.

'Course, I'm not a supertaster, so ...
posted by eritain at 7:31 PM on December 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

I suffer from a near inability to eat spinach, but I consume about a cup of it eat day because of its antioxidative properties by sticking it in a blender with some blueberries and orange juice. The resulting mixture doesn't taste great but it is palatable and I can drink it quickly. Perhaps the same can be done with your cruciferous vegetables.
posted by 517 at 8:44 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: AxMe truly exceeded my expectations this time. I'll try all of the raw suggestions, and many of the cooked suggestions (my understanding of the science is that more cooking = fewer nutrients).

and even though "best answer" is pretty lame, SassHat really spoke to the question. I'll give out more as I try the suggestions. Thanks, everyone. Seriously.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2007

Heresy, but I hate them too. Whenever I'm at some food event and someone has some lovely local kohlrabi, I just have to grin and bear it. People rave about it and I can barely swallow it without gagging. Maybe I'm a supertaster...I like other bitter things though. To me they aren't bitter, they are indescribably strong and overpowering and gross.

Thankfully I lovelovelove vinegar and olive oil. Kale, arugula, and watercress are bearable, if not somewhat good, when raw if doused with some very nice vinaigrette and tossed with some mild field greens. I always feel good afterwards because I think about all the nutrition I got without having to endure something like broccoli.

Nthing weapons-grade pandemonium in that you need the really good stuff if you are going to be eating the oil and vinegar raw.
posted by melissam at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2007

Before you turn yourself inside out jamming these raw crucifers (ominous name!) down your own throat, I'd like you to spare a moment to consider the possibility that there might be some good reason they don't appeal to you, even that they may not be good for you-- you especially.

You may have heard you share your distaste for broccoli with George H. W. Bush, the President's father, but I believe it was less publicized that he was diagnosed with Graves disease while in the White House (as were Barbara and their dog, but that's another story), which is an autoimmune condition that results in hyperthyroidism:

United States President George H. W. Bush developed new atrial fibrillation and was diagnosed in 1991 with hyperthyroidism due to the disease and was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with radioactive iodine. By coincidence (or so it is presumed, since the ultimate cause of this disease remains unknown), the president's wife, Barbara Bush, and the Bushes' pet dog, a springer spaniel named Millie, also developed the disease about the same time, which in Barbara's case produced severe infiltrative exophthalmos and a cosmetic change in the appearance of her eyes.

But broccoli and the other crucifers just happen to contain a potent thyroid inhibitor, thiouracil, and thiouracils just happen to be the source of the bitter taste of broccoli. In fact, the level of ability to taste a derivative of thiouracil (6-n-propyl-2-thiouracil) is the very basis for the test used to divide human beings into the categories of supertaster, taster, and non-taster.

It strains (my) credulity that the President hated a food which contains significant levels of a chemical that would have had an impact on his Graves disease purely coincidentally; that this hated food might have worked to oppose the effects of the disease would seem to imply the that the Graves itself might have been part of his body's attempt to cope with some other underlying problem (as does the fact that Barbara and Millie got Graves at the same time, in my opinion).

So perhaps you, Kwantsar, also may dislike crucifers because of their thyroid blocking properties-- and perhaps this is a distaste which is widely shared, and for just those reasons. When I was looking over links for this answer I ran across a report of an intriguing study which I thought could mean that people who are supertasters might have generally higher thyroid levels than the rest of us:

researchers at Rutgers University and elsewhere... have found people especially sensitive to bitter compounds in broccoli and other foods tend to be thinner than others.
The Rutgers study, on nearly 50 women in their 40s, found "supertasters," people most sensitive to bitter tastes, were 20 percent thinner than "nontasters," those not sensitive to bitter tastes.

As you undoubtedly know, people with higher levels of thyroid hormone can consume more calories without gaining weight, all other things being equal, because their metabolic rates tend to be higher, and they would therefore tend to be thinner. Whether their metabolic rates are higher partly because they can taste thyroid blockers, dislike and so avoid them is an interesting question. (The reported study apparently explains that supertasters eat fewer fatty high-calorie foods; I'm using its results to try to point in a different direction).
posted by jamjam at 9:18 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh my, I have been hugely remiss: in neglecting to post occhiblu's broccoli arrabiata again. This is one of the very best things that you can eat.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:20 PM on December 7, 2007

Broccoli stalks (peeled, raw) are incredible -- sweet, crunchy, flavourful yumminess. Peel with paring knife and don't worry about wasting a bit. Ask the grocery if they have extra stalks after preparing their "broccoli crowns for twice the price" packs!
posted by Rumple at 11:49 PM on December 7, 2007

General advice: don't make them the main event. Work them into other things. So:

- make stir-fried vegetables and include a cruciferous one in the mixture
- make soup (minestrone is nice) and put some shredded cabbage/kale/whatever in it
- make egg foo young
- make warm vegetable salad with your favourite dressing and roast sweet potatoes and pumpkin and browned onions AND something cruciferous and steamed.

And so on. Sneak them in and fool yourself with mixed forkfuls.

Or just don't eat them. There are plenty of goodies in other green vegetables. Some cuisines have healthy eaters and few cruciferous vegetables. Eat tomatoes and peppers and spinach and cos lettuce and onions and garlic and whatever else that isn't cruciferous, and you'll still be getting all the vitamins and minerals and antioxidants that anyone has ever shown you might need.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:45 AM on December 8, 2007

I just love broccoli and when I hear people say they don't like it I do wonder whether they're overcooking it ? You want to steam it until you can just cut it with a knife and it's a really, really bright green (it shouldn't be crunchy however). Even I don't like it (well quite as much) when it's been cooked so it's that sort of metafilter green colour.

If you still don't like it try a little cheese grated on top - beautiful !
posted by southof40 at 2:33 AM on December 8, 2007

If Seth Roberts is correct, we learn to enjoy foods due to flavor-calorie associations. So, add some butter and choke it down. It should get easier with subsequent eatings as your brain learns to associate the flavor of the vegetable with the calories of the butter.
posted by kindall at 9:04 AM on December 8, 2007

My partner and I make smoothies in the morning for breakfast - just fruit, yogurt, and so on, and we occasionally add raw kale. It turns the smoothy a vibrant green, and gives it a bit of a grassy flavour, but we love it. Just make sure to blend the hell out of it.
posted by arcticwoman at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2007

Red cabbage is a revelation. Less of that uh, cabbagey, smell. Makes fantastic coleslaw -- put in some grated carrots to sweeten it up a bit. Eat as a side dish along some sort of Big Meat dish.

Radishes sliced very very thin and lightly pickled with lime juice and chile are a traditional accompaniment to tacos. After enjoying them that way, I got to the point where I could slice 'em thin, squirt 'em with lime juice, and dip them in salsa.

The secret to brussels sprouts is to cook them in bacon fat or duck fat. I'll order them prepared this way at restaurants, but haven't moved up to cooking them at home yet. Actually, the secret to most of these veggies is that they taste better cooked with bacon fat or duck fat.

/Formerly picky, now adventurous eater, but the cruciferous veggies were among the last of my conquests. I still don't like broccoli or cauliflower, but have learned to like a lot of others.
posted by desuetude at 11:49 AM on December 8, 2007

Kale is one of the healthiest vegetabes there is, because it is green (significant amounts of chlorophyll, vitamin K and minerals) AND cruciferous. I often make a smoothie with a handful (or two) of kale, a banana, frozen berries and (not too much) soymilk. You don't taste the kale if you use enough frozen fruit. Sometimes I go for really healthy and add more kale and a little agave nectar. That's more of an aquired taste, but I really like it now. But start small. Even one oz of kale is a really healthy addition to your diet.
posted by davar at 12:55 PM on December 8, 2007

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