The superhero of the vegetable kingdom, broccoli originated in Italy, where it has been grown for centuries. It was introduced to the United States in the early 20th century by Italian immigrants to meet a popular demand for this prized vegetable in the recently settled Italian neighborhoods in Boston.
Loaded with vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, folic acid, and rich in minerals like manganese, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, and iron, broccoli packs in a lot of nutritional benefit. Yet, it is low in calorific value, with merely 44 calories in one cup chopped and cooked; 24 calories in one cup of raw broccoli. Both cooked and raw broccoli are excellent additions to any meal plan.
When people say they dislike broccoli, it is usually because the broccoli they tried was past its peak of freshness or overcooked. Both bring out unpleasant-tasting sulfurous compounds.
Broccoli is readily available throughout the year its flavor is at its peak from October through April. When selecting broccoli, look for lively green leaves and firm, thin stalks. Woody stalks are a sign of over maturity. The florets should be compact, firmly closed, and of a deep green color. Reject any heads that show any sign of yellowing or tiny yellow flowers, as this is an indication of age.
Consume fresh broccoli as soon as you can, as it will not keep long. To store, mist the heads, wrap loosely in damp paper towels, and refrigerate. Use within two to three days. Do not store in a sealed plastic bag. Raw broccoli requires air circulation. A perforated plastic bag is fine. Do not wash broccoli until just before you prepare it.
The most basic preparation for broccoli is to separate the head into florets, and steam for seven to eight minutes until just cooked through. The color at this point is an even brighter shade of green than you started out with, not gray and dingy. Open the lid just slightly to let the sulfur compounds escape.
If you only need the florets for a dish, please don’t toss the stalks. Called “poor man’s asparagus” by the French, broccoli stalks are delicious. Simply cut off their branched top and tough bottom, and then cut the stalks crosswise into thin slices, or stand the stalk on a cutting board and run a paring knife from top to bottom, cutting deeply enough to pare away the tough outer layer. Stalks, whether diced, sliced into “coins,” or shredded, can be used in soups or salads. My favorite way to use the stalks is to mince it and add to a spinach dal recipe.
To enjoy broccoli’s true flavor, do what the Italians do and keep preparations simple. I like broccoli with just some chopped garlic, lightly sautéed in olive oil, salt, and pepper. Broccoli goes quite well with spicy and salty flavors. I often interchange cauliflower and broccoli in recipes.
Here are two of my favorite ways to enjoy broccoli.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
6-7 curry leaves
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon coriander powder (dhania powder)
1 teaspoon cumin powder (jeera powder)
1 teaspoon garam masala (optional)
½ teaspoon chili powder (or as per taste)
salt to taste
2 cups broccoli, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 medium size potato (baked and cubed)
1 tablespoon limejuice
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
Heat a wok or karahi. Heat oil and then add cumin seeds and curry leaves, stir for a minute. In quick succession add all the spice ingredients (except limejuice and cilantro) and mix it well. Immediately add broccoli, red bell pepper, and potato. Stir well to coat the vegetables with the spice blend. Add limejuice and cilantro. Remove from heat and serve with chapatti or sourdough bread.
Hema’s Hints: The bell pepper and broccoli should not be overcooked. It should remain crunchy.
BAKED BROCCOLI RICE SUPREME
2 cups cooked rice (white or brown)
4 cups chopped broccoli
1 tablespoon oil
2 or 3 garlic cloves
2 or 3 red chilies
1 teaspoon basil, fresh
1 teaspoon oregano, fresh
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
Heat oil in a pan and sauté garlic cloves and red chilies. Add broccoli with basil and oregano. After a quick stir-fry remove it from heat.
In baking pan layer one cup rice with two cups of stir fry broccoli and ½ cup cheese. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Cover it with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 10 minutes.
Serve piping hot with tomato soup.
Hema’s Hints: 1. If you prefer dried herbs instead of fresh, add ¾ teaspoon of basil and oregano each. 2. Pepper Jack cheese is a good alternative for cheddar cheese in this recipe.
Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of a television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet. www.massala.com