All cruciferous vegetables—in the Cruciferae or Brassicaceae plant family—have something to offer, including vitamin C and carotenoids like beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Their pungency comes from sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates, which, when chopped or chewed, break down into substances that may have anti-cancer properties. These nutrition powerhouses are called cruciferous or crucifers because their flowers, if allowed to bloom, have four petals that form a cross (crux in Latin). Our eight recipes offer plenty of variety with their focus on bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and more.
Both the florets and the stalks of broccoli are worth eating: The florets (where the seeds and flowers develop) have higher amounts of beta carotene and other carotenoids as well as more sulforaphane, a compound that boosts production of enzymes that detoxify carcinogens, while inhibiting other enzymes that activate carcinogens. The stalks, on the other hand, have more fiber. Luckily, this recipe uses both parts!
Cabbage was a dietary staple of the Greeks and early Romans, though they probably consumed a type that had loose leaves. It wasn’t until the Middle Ages when compact-headed varieties with overlapping leaves, capable of thriving in cold climates, were developed in northern Europe. This soup is a variant of minestrone. It uses cabbage, but you can easily substitute a leafy green crucifer such as collards, beet greens, or turnip greens. The flavor will be slightly different, but the end result will still be delicious.
When you think “slaw,” you might think of a crunchy salad loaded with creamy mayo. Our slaw recipe takes out lots of the fat (it uses reduced-fat mayo and nonfat yogurt), while leaving in all of the creaminess. Cabbage is the most classic slaw ingredient, but the carrots, apples, and pears featured here make for good slaw companions. And the cider vinegar and apple cider add tanginess to keep your taste buds dancing.
Whether it’s “riced,” used in pizza crust, made into “steaks,” or served whole in restaurants, cauliflower is the new “it” vegetable these days. This recipe, however, gets back to the basics—sort of like a mac and cheese dish but where the “mac” is cauliflower. Though white cauliflower is one of the more anemic crucifers (meaning somewhat lower in nutrients and phytochemicals), you can boost the health profile of this recipe by using more colorful cauliflower varieties (green, orange, purple), if you can find them at your market.
Though kale’s superstar days have been waning of late, you can still find it just about everywhere—from upscale markets to corner delis, from hip restaurants to beach cafes. With good reason: It’s especially high in vitamin K (good for bones) and beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A). Plus, it has laudable levels of potassium, manganese, and fiber along with some iron, magnesium, and other nutrients. Making your own kale chips is much cheaper than buying packaged products. And they’re a lot healthier than potato chips.
Named after the capital of Belgium, where they may have first been cultivated, Brussels sprouts look like diminutive heads of cabbage and are similar to cabbage in taste but slightly milder in flavor and denser in texture. Like other crucifers, they are nutrient-dense and offer plentiful vitamin C, fiber, folate, and other B vitamins, as well as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin and potential cancer-fighting compounds. In this recipe, the earthy, cabbage-y flavor of the Brussels sprouts is nicely complemented by chestnuts.
Can you say baby bok choy 10 times fast? If not that’s okay—the important thing is to eat this vegetable since it’s a good source of beta carotene, vitamin C, and other healthful compounds. This petite, immature bok choy is shaped like its mature counterpart, but is more tender and milder in flavor and can be cooked whole (though this recipe calls for cutting into even smaller units). If you can’t find baby bok choy, look for the smallest heads of regular bok choy.
Swiss chard is a cruciferous vegetable that is a member of the beet family (Amaranthaceae). But unlike other beets it’s grown for its stems and leaves, not its root. The plant’s dark green leaves are wider and flatter than beet greens and have a full-bodied texture similar to spinach. It’s a rich source of beta carotene and potassium and supplies fiber, vitamin C, and magnesium. This recipe is super healthful and super easy—the washed Swiss chard has enough water clinging to its leaves to cook beautifully in its own steam.
Why do crucifers cause bloating in many people? To blame are complex sugars called oligosaccharides (also in beans) that bacteria in the large intestine feed on, releasing gas. Cooking does not help. If you’re not used to these vegetables, start slowly with small portions and gradually increase amounts. If you don’t tolerate them well, try eating small portions more often. Or try an enzyme product (such as Beano) that helps break down the sugar so it’s more digestible.