When Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” there’s little doubt in my mind that he was referring to foods drawn from the brassica family. Ounce for ounce, brassicas contain more healing properties than any other branch of food. We’re not just talking your basic building blocks of vitamins and minerals—though brassicas are full of these—but foods also rich in phytochemicals that act as anticarcinogenics (anticancer), anti-inflammatories, and promote liver detoxification.
Even though these foods have been around for eons, it’s only in the last few years that science is unraveling all the goodness that brassicas have to offer. In fact, if you’re reading about brassicas here for the first time, consider yourself ahead of the curve; I recently spoke to an audience of 300 nurses, and when I asked for a show of hands of those who knew what brassicas were, maybe a dozen hands went up.
Why is there so little public awareness of these superfoods? Maybe brassicas are in need of a good PR campaign, à la the dancing California Raisins; all I know is there’s plenty of raw material to work with. There are more than a dozen brassicas you’ve probably heard of, including veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Each is a nutritional powerhouse. Broccoli warehouses vitamin K, essential in promoting bone health and reducing the impact of osteoporosis. Cauliflower is loaded, as are many brassicas, with glucosinolates that keep the immune system from overreacting: Such overreaction may be a major player in wrecking health, as it can lead to the kind of chronic inflammation now being linked to cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. In fact, studies show glucosinolates in brassicas may play a role in knocking down a host of cancers, including those that occur in the lungs and alimentary canal (a fancy name that means our entire 20-foot-long digestive tract). Cabbage is rich in a specific phyto-chemical, indole-3-carbinol, which promotes the liver’s removal of estrogen from the body, a benefit to women concerned with hormone-related breast cancer. Brussels sprouts have chemicals believed to play a role in keeping the body’s DNA intact and functioning properly.
In a sense, brassicas are like tiny mechanics, constantly doing tune-ups throughout the body. We certainly need the help; cellular metabolism is amazing but messy, constantly spewing forth toxic by-products that need to be flushed from the system.
A brassica such as kale is a one-man maintenance shop; its high fiber binds with cholesterol to sweep unnecessary fat out of the body, and it’s been shown to inhibit inflammation associated with arthritis.
I could go on and on, citing study after study. It doesn’t matter which brassica you’re looking at—collard greens, horseradish, arugula, even wasabi—the health benefits are enormous. Which begs the question: if brassicas are so good for you, why do we let these power hitters so often ride the pine instead of making their way to the plate?
The simple answer is that, at first glance, brassicas are often pretty darn unwieldy. The aforementioned kale is a big mound of leaves, cabbage looks like a bowling ball, and purple cauliflower resembles something you’d see in a science fiction movie or perhaps a Zombie flick. Braiiiiiiiinnnnnsssssss!!!!
It takes a certain amount of culinary courage to go one on one with a brassica for the first time. You can feel like you need a machete, but as Laura Russell so wonderfully explains, a sharp large knife and a good cutting board can whittle any brassica down to size quickly and efficiently. Aside from their sheer bulk, brassicas have a reputation for being bitter tasting, notably for a sizable percentage of the population who are so-called “supertasters,” aka, folks born with extremely sensitive taste buds. Let’s face it, most of us encountered brassicas when we were young, and if the cook didn’t know how to counter the pungency we ended up looking at the brassica with disdain, a nasty “pill” of culinary medicine to be swallowed.
That’s why it is such a delight to see Russell elevate the brassicas’ taste to a place commensurate with their superstar nutritional prowess. Each recipe in this book delivers on that promise, and as a cook I can appreciate the time and effort that Laura has put into these creative recipes. I often think of brassicas as the emeralds of the food world, so valuable are they to maintaining and promoting health. In this book, Laura Russell allows all of us to partake of their wealth, with dishes that will entice us to go for our greens, again and again.
For this, I can only give thanks. Enjoy!
Rebecca Katz, MS
author of The Longevity Kitchen and Cancer Fighting Kitchen
Cauliflower with Salsa Verde
Cauliflower shines when paired with boldly flavored ingredients like capers, mustard, and olives. Here, I combined that zesty trio with olive oil and fresh herbs in a bright salsa verde, which I spoon over simply roasted florets. You could sauté the cauliflower instead of roasting it, but slipping it into the oven for a quick roast takes the least amount of effort.
1 medium head cauliflower, cored and cut into bite-size florets (about 5 cups)
6 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)
1⁄2 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1⁄4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon drained capers, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 Cerignola or other large green olives, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 1⁄3 cup)
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Put the cauliflower on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and toss to coat evenly, then spread in a single layer.
Roast the cauliflower, stirring once or twice, for about 15 minutes, until golden brown and tender but not mushy. Taste a floret for doneness; larger florets may take slightly longer to cook.
Meanwhile, to make the salsa verde, in a small bowl, combine the parsley, chives, capers, mustard, lemon zest, pepper, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and stir to mix well. Stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons oil and the olives. (The salsa verde can be made up to 1 day ahead, covered, and refrigerated until serving.)
Transfer the cooked cauliflower to a serving platter and drizzle the salsa verde over the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.