How to cook broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables for best results

How to cook broccoli, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables for best results

By Becky Krystal

Washington Post

The question on our weekly live chat a few months ago was simply called “Broccoli”.

Can you recommend ways to cook this that make it taste good?

It’s a common mystery, not to mention cultural trope, in which President George HW Bush famously expressed his contempt for the green vegetable, an equally great source of disgust for the little girl in the Pixar movie “Inside Out” (interestingly enough). it changed to peppers) for Japanese audiences).

We have been told time and time again how good broccoli and its other cruciferous vegetables – cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower among them – are for us. Many of us need no admonition to eat them, but I admire all skeptics who are willing to be open-minded and give them a chance.

If you think the scent is dissuasive, it’s not just your imagination. As Harold McGee explains in “On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen,” these types of vegetables, like onions, have “defensive chemicals in their tissues.” When the plant cells are damaged, especially during prolonged boiling, the chemicals interact and start “a chain of reactions that generates bitter, sharp and strong-smelling compounds.”

But it is not inevitable. Whether it’s through cooking strategies or flavors, there are ways you can facilitate yourself to enjoy cruciferous vegetables. Here are a few of them.

Eat them raw

“Do not overcook broccoli or any of its relatives,” writes Deborah Madison in “The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.” broccoli-cauliflower-and-other / “When people do not like these vegetables, it is usually due to overcooking, which gives off a sulfurous odor. ” When uncooked, cruciferous vegetables can be mild and even sweet.

You can enjoy cauliflower and broccoli in something as simple as crudités, dipped in ranch dressing (especially homemade), a yogurt dip, hummus, muhammara, aioli or even a smoked black bean dip.

A massaged kale salad will give you “tender texture, fast turnaround time and no loss of micronutrients,” says Abra Berens in “Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables.” In addition, the work of rubbing a dressing into the kale will give lots of flavor that is evenly distributed. Check Kale, Clementine and Hazelnut Salad for one method ( If you are still worried about chewing large leaves of kale, it is perfectly OK to shred it, which also makes it easy to mix with other shredded vegetables, as in Shredded Kale Tri-Color Salad with Creamy Garlic Vinaigrette (tinyurl. com / 4z69jzkf).

Raw Brussels sprouts also work very well shredded in salads. Shredded Sprouts Slaw With Gorgonzola + Hazelnuts ( is simple but effective. If you’re still wary of the sulfur-containing odor, Nik Sharma notes in “The Flavor Equation” that you can first immerse cut or shredded sprouts in ice-cold water. Speaking of slaws, there are always coleslaw and other cabbage slaves, which can be light, refreshing and crispy, especially when a punchy dressing is paramount.

Use high heat

If you prefer your vegetables with a slightly smaller bite than raw, consider going in the opposite direction and giving them a quick run under or over high heat. “Charcoal works well with sprouts and cabbage because it softens texture, caramelizes sugars and neutralizes bitter-tasting compounds,” writes Christopher Kimball in “Milk Street Vegetables.” With the more intense heat, you get all these benefits in a short time, which reduces the likelihood that you will overcook cruciferous vegetables to the point that they are tasteless.

You have a number of options for utilizing high heat. In warmer weather, or if you are someone who cooks outside whatever the season, you may want to consider grilling. Berens is a special fan of grilling cabbage, but in the winter she goes over to burning wedges in a hot frying pan. Broilers are another solution.

Inside, my go-to strategy is high-temperature frying, ranging from 400 to 500 degrees, though I tend to prefer the top edge of the range. See roasted cabbage boats with tomatoes and chickpeas ( for an example. With high heat frying, you get the benefit of crisp edges quickly so you do not exceed the inside. Be sure to leave plenty of space between the bouquets, pieces or leaves you cook to avoid steaming instead of frying. Berens notes that slightly larger pieces of cauliflower will give you a nice crispy exterior without the interior turning into mash. Kale passers-by can be transformed into baked kale chips. “Do not be afraid of brown leaves!” says Berens. “You’re looking for crunchy ‘chips’.” I like my regular ones with salt, but you can garnish them with any number of garnishes, including red pepper flakes and nutritional yeast.

Frying and steaming are two other methods that deliver an intense amount of heat in a short amount of time, and when done properly, let you avoid the pitfalls of overcooking. I would be lying if I said that fried Brussels sprouts with paprika-spiced dipsauce ( did not help make me a devoted lover of the little cabbages. Fast steaming is another go-to strategy for me. I tend to steam a lot in my Instant Pot, but you can also do it with a little water, wine or broth in a covered frying pan or in the more traditional steamer basket set over a pot of boiling water. And do not overlook the microwave.

A quick sautéing in a hot frying pan is also a good feature.

Pick them

Good news from McGee: “When cabbage and their relatives are fermented to make sauerkraut or other pickles, almost all flavor precursors and their products are transformed into less bitter, less sharp substances.”

My colleague and declared cauliflower hater (his words, not mine!) Jim Webster actually found that he could tolerate, even enjoy, cauliflower when pickled. (See his recipe for Turmeric Pickled Cauliflower: If you are an anti-cauliflower crusader, you may get to nod along and laugh (OK, definitely laugh) at his journey, as well as fascinated by the dish . Or check out my primer on quick pickling to learn how to make your own recipe. If you do not want to pickle, you will find a wide variety of purchased options out there, including sauerkraut, kimchi and giardiniera.

Combine with great flavors

If, even after the above suggestions, you are still slowly retiring from the taste of cruciferous vegetables, you know what? It’s OK to mask it with other flavors! Even if you do not want to neutralize all the nutritional benefits of the vegetables with lots of cream, butter or cheese, strategic and restrained use of the right ingredients can help make you something more appealing to your taste or serve as a starting point. The Brussels sprouts above, for example, offer crumbled blue cheese. Cabbage with crispy bacon ( from Irish cooking legend Darina Allen has only two strips of bacon combined with a whole head of fast-cooked cabbage. Use a tablespoon or two of your reserved bacon fat to fry Brussels sprouts or incorporate it into a dressing. Creamy broccoli and bacon salad ( contains a few slices of bacon, white cheddar and a fat sour cream (or yogurt) and mayo dressing. And although I would not make it the only way to enjoy broccoli, if you occasionally want to top it with some cheddar or fold the cheese into a creamy soup, go for it.

You also do not have to turn to fats. Bold flavors come in all sorts of forms. For my roasted broccolini with lemon and chili flakes (, I relied on natural flavors and a quick, hot roast for ultimate appeal. Smoked peppers, garam masala and turmeric show the way in Tandoori Cauliflower (, which contains a double dose of spicy yogurt marinade. Harissa, za’atar, sumac and ras al hanout would also go well with roasted vegetables.


Roasted cabbage boats with tomatoes and chickpeas. MUST CREDIT Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman


Tukemeje pickled cauliflower. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman


Roasted broccolini with lemon and chili flakes. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Scott Suchman

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