Get Your Brassica On!
You've probably sampled at least one of the Brassica oleracea species of vegetables since they
encompass a diverse range of edible delights. From cauliflower and broccoli to kale and cabbage
to Brussels sprouts and collards, this diversity lends itself to tasty side dishes as well as main
courses and as an added bonus, the group is packed with nutrients. Tasty and good for you!
Can't beat that combo!
But how can so many products come from just one species of plants? Well, they are all cultivars
of the same species meaning they were bred to maintain certain characteristics whether it's the
leaves, flowers or stalks or some combination of the three. Just look at Fido. Whether it's a
chihuahua or Rottweiler, bulldog or poodle, they all are in the species Canus lupus familiaris.
Same thing for Brassica oleracea, except they're split into seven major cultivar groups: Acephala
which includes kale and collards, Alboglabra which contains Chinese broccoli or gai lan, Botrytis
which includes cauliflower, Romanesco broccoli and broccoflower, Capitata which is cabbage,
Gemmifera which is Brussels sprouts, Gongylodes which is kohlrabi and Italica which is broccoli.
As a whole, the Brassica group is a good source of Vitamins A, C and K as well as folic acid,
pyridoxine, choline and manganese along with both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber. However
their specific nutritional bonus comes from sulfur compounds namely the isothiocyanates and
sulforaphanes which have exhibited anti-cancer properties in laboratory experiments.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have shown that another compound in the
Brassicas, 3,3'-diindolylmethane is a potent immune modulator with anti-viral, anti-bacterial
and anti-cancer properties. However before you suddenly convert to an all-Brassica diet, the
vegetable group also contain goitrogens which can reduce your ability to produce active thyroid
hormones. And the last time I checked, though being cancer-free is always good, always being
lethargic with weight gain and hair loss isn't so much of a good thing. But make sure you steam
instead of boil your Brassicas as boiling reduces the anti-cancers compounds. So enjoy Brassicas
in your diet but don't consume copious qualities simply for its anti-cancer properties. Eat them
for taste like I do.
I know it sounds like something that Jabba the Hutt regularly consumes but I'm talkin' 'bout
cauliflower. And it doesn't have to be that fancy-schmancy purple tinged cauliflower from the
specialty grocery store. The simple white head in your everyday supermarket is fine. Just make
sure you trim any of the brown or black "freckles" that appear on the florets (I'm not sure if the
plastic wrapping encourages the freckles). You can simply cut them into bite sized pieces and
steam for 3 to 4 minutes but my favorite application is to toss the pared florets in a mixture of
olive oil (citrus flavored olive oil also works), minced garlic and salt and black pepper, spread
them in a single row on a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes at 375-400 degrees or
until the ends start browning. Roasting brings out the inherent sweetness of any vegetable and
the garlic and citrus adds another dimension of flavors.
How About Acephala?
About 7 years ago, I posted a column highlighting the benefits of veggies that were primarily
used as garnishes and it included a recipe for a Kale & Mushroom Casserole that was my favorite
kale application at the time. Well the recipe does call for parboiled kale which reduces the
sulforaphanes and potential health benefits so I found a new application that calls for raw kale.
The kale is hearty enough to serve as a side under grilled chicken or pork or it simply can be
served as a side salad. Younger kale can be served immediately after tossing with the dressing
though mature kale takes about 30 minutes before the dressing "penetrates" and softens the
Maybe Some Italica?
This is the cultivar that the elder President Bush refuses to eat. I don't know why, I've always
enjoyed broccoli whether it was steamed, stir fried or pickled. Pickled? Pray tell, what is pickled
broccoli? Well, I know most broccoli applications simply call for those attractive florets either
tossed with salads or stir fries. But what do you do with those stalks? They often need to be
peeled lest you want to chew on the gnarly skin for hours. That's why I've heard of people
simply discarding the stalks in favor of the tender florets. Waste not, want not. Simply peel the
skin on tough stalks (tender stalks don't need peeling), slice into bite sized pieces then marinate
overnight in a mixture of miso, sugar, sake and rice wine vinegar then rinse the next day and
you have sumiso flavored broccoli pickles. Great with beer or sake!
Or Perhaps Gemmifera?
If I can enjoy Brussels sprouts in the 50th, your pleasure should be multiplied 10-fold. Why?
Sprouts in the 50th - though available fresh in most supermarkets - aren't the same as you
might obtain Stateside. I've seen those huge stalks with individual sprouts still attached at the
Ferry Building Marketplace which is leagues above the bin of severed sprouts - some already
yellowing on their outer leaves - at markets in the 50th. And ixnay on steaming these luscious
mini cabbages, I found a new love while attending the American Diabetes Association
conference in San Diego last year. Fried... with crispy bacon bits... Okay, I realize deep frying
anything and adding crisp bacon bits TOTALLY negates any potential health benefits! But like
any dry cooking, the inherent sweetness of any vegetable is magnified... then add crispy bits
(the crisp edges of each leaf) and add salty and savory bacon... Okay, perhaps not an approach
you want to consume on a regular basis so I've adapted my own take on savory Brussels sprouts.
Roasted with a hint of olive oil and garlic then either finished with citrus infused olive oil or
lemon zest. The perfect accompaniment to any holiday feast!
Brassica, it does a body (and palate) good!
So I encourage all of you in Nichi Bei Land to fortify your diets with more Brassica oleracea.
Great taste, hearty enough to stand on its own or as a great savory side with potential health
benefits to boot! Makes those other standard non-nutritive vegetables pale in comparison!
The Gochiso Gourmet's Kale Salad
6 cups chopped baby kale
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup sliced red cabbage
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1 & 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp agave syrup
Fresh ground black pepper & salt to taste
Mix dressing and toss with kale, carrots and red cabbage at least 30 minutes before serving
Last week I was informed that an esteemed pillar of the Japanese-American community had
passed on. Though I never met her, my brother in the Bay Area had mentioned on multiple
occasions that Yo Hironaka was one of my most avid followers and whenever their paths crossed
at JCCCNC meetings or other social functions, she would always mention a tidbit from one of
my recent columns. It was always gratifying that someone from a distant shore enjoyed what I
had to say. As someone who resides some 2500 miles from the nearest of the original 49 States,
feedback isn't always instant or immediately recognizable. But to think that I could touch
someone from those distant shores, especially someone whose contribution to the AJA
community far outweighed any simple words from this humble little writer is more than
gratifying. So to you Hironaka-san, I dedicate this column. May you rest in peace. Namu