April​/May 2008

Getting to Know: Cruciferous Vegetables

Everyone knows this family of vegetables is good for you. Here’s how we cook and serve them so they taste good, too.


However you choose to cook broccoli, give the heartier (but equally flavorful) peeled stems a minute or two head start before adding the tender florets. Look for broccoli with dark green, tightly packed florets and stems that are firm and not shriveled or dried-out.


Although the dense, pebbled crown (or curd) of this vegetable is often served raw, the “chalky” texture and “bland” flavor of cauliflower are improved with cooking. Steam, boil, or roast florets to bring out their “subtle, earthy sweetness” and “firm, crunchy texture.” Overcooked cauliflower may develop an unpleasantly sulfurous smell.

Colored Cauliflower

There is more to these vegetables than just aesthetics: The orange variety has roughly 25 times more vitamin A than traditional cauliflower and tastes a bit “like winter squash.” Purple cauliflower is high in antioxidants and has a “slightly bitter” flavor. Both varieties can be substituted for regular cauliflower in any application.


Broccoflower is a trademarked hybrid of broccoli and cauliflower that was developed in Holland. While the tightly packed curd is similar in texture to cauliflower, the flavor skews more toward broccoli, with a “mild wheatiness” and subtle “touch of sweetness.” Substitute for cauliflower in any application.


The delicate, intricately spiraled florets of this vegetable—which is sold as Romanesca cauliflower, broccoli, or cabbage—make it instantly recognizable. Its flavor combines “green beans and cauliflower,” with an “aftertaste of fresh corn.” Sprinkle steamed florets with lemon juice or sauté them in olive oil and finish with minced garlic.


Broccolini is a hybrid of Chinese kale and broccoli. Broccolini is typically sold in bunches like asparagus, and it can be prepared similarly. Its flavor is “slightly mineral” and “sweet, like a cross between spinach and asparagus.” Discard the bottom inch of the stems and steam, boil, sauté, or drizzle with olive oil and grill.


The root of a plant in the mustard family, radishes can be red, green, black, or white on the exterior, and their flesh ranges from deep pink to stark white. The most common variety is the Cherry Belle, a round, red radish with “crisp and refreshing” white flesh. Refrigerate in a zipper-lock bag. Eat raw, sauté, or pickle.

Brussels Sprout

Brussels sprouts, which grow in clusters on long stalks, are so named because they originated in Belgium. Smaller sprouts are “tender and sweet,” but those larger than an inch across can be “bitter,” with a “rotten egg” aroma. Trim the stem ends and remove any discolored leaves. We prefer Brussels sprouts when braised in a flavorful liquid (stock, cream, or cider) or tossed with olive oil and roasted.

Bok Choy

Also called Chinese white cabbage, bok choy looks like a wide-stalked version of Swiss chard. Its “tender, spinachy” leaves and “crisp” stalks are common ingredients in stir-fries; for the best texture, add the crisp white stalks first and the tender leaves toward the end of cooking. Look for deep green leaves devoid of yellowing. Wrap bok choy in damp paper towels before refrigerating.


When peeled and grated, this large (about a foot in length) brown root emits a noxious gas that can irritate the sinuses. The flavor of horseradish is “astringent,” with a “biting, nasal heat.” When exposed to air or heat, horseradish quickly loses its characteristic pungency, mellowing to a “bland, earthy sweetness.” Peel away the fibrous skin and shred the white flesh on a box grater.


This vegetable is sometimes referred to as a cabbage turnip. Look for firm kohlrabi bulbs that are no wider than 3 inches. Though most often sold without their leaves, the greens have an “earthy, mineral quality” when quickly sautéed, while the bulbs are “slightly bitter” and have a “garlicky kick.” The bulb should be peeled and sliced prior to being steamed, boiled, or stir-fried.


This Asian radish can grow to well over a foot in length. Unlike other varieties of radish, daikon has a slight sweetness and is only mildly spicy. Its texture is similar to a “water chestnut” and its flavor is “mild and milky to start,” with a “peppery finish.” We prefer daikon thinly sliced and eaten raw or quickly stir-fried. Wrap daikon in damp paper towels before refrigerating.