Ask me which vegetable I try to make sure I always have in the fridge, which veggie I try to never run out of and which I cook with most and the answer will be broccoli, broccoli and more broccoli. While I don’t remember ever eating it as a child, in my adult life I eat broccoli all the time. If I order Chinese food and the dish I want doesn’t include broccoli, I ask them to add some anyway. When I’m cooking, I munch on raw broccoli and once I’ve cooked it, if I didn’t control myself and set it aside, I would keep munching until none was left. To me, broccoli is the most versatile of all vegetables; there is hardly a dish that exists that I wouldn’t put it in. It can be cooked in several ways, and works in any ethnic cuisine. While most people are familiar with broccoli, broccolini and broccoli rabe may be new to some. Here’s a quick tutorial about these three veggies along with the best ways to cook with them, and of course, recipes.
1. The Three Green Amigos
Broccoli, broccolini and broccoli rabe are such close friends that people are always mistaking them for relatives. It’s not surprising since they all look pretty similar and their tastes are rather close. They are all very healthy and they all taste delicious, but the truth is that they come from three different families. Broccoli is a member of the cauliflower family. It has a green, grassy taste and can be eaten raw or cooked. Broccolini looks like baby broccoli, but it is actually a cross between regular broccoli and Chinese broccoli. It has long stems, bigger florets and less leaves. Broccolini is sweeter than regular broccoli, so people who think broccoli is too bitter may prefer the taste of broccolini. Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a member of the turnip family. In fact, its long leaves look like turnip greens. It has long stems and smaller florets than broccolini. Broccoli rabe is known for being quite bitter, so it is best to blanch it before further cooking with and eating it. It is popular in Italian and Chinese cuisine.
When choosing broccoli, make sure the heads feel heavy and have tight, green florets and firm stalks. Avoid yellowing florets or browning, dried out ends of the stalks. Store broccoli unwashed in an open plastic bag in the fridge, where it should last a week to ten days. Broccolini should have tight heads without flowers, firm stems and moist ends. Store broccolini in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the fridge where it should last a few days to a week. When choosing broccoli rabe, look for dark green leaves and bright green stalks. Avoid dull, yellowing leaves. Store in a plastic bag in the fridge where they will last for 3-5 days. See 6 Tips to Keep Your Veggies Fresh Longer and How to Properly Store Your Fruit and Vegetables for Maximum Freshness.
If you tend to find greens bitter, it will help to blanch them before eating them or cooking with them in a recipe. To blanch broccoli, broccolini or broccoli rabe, cut the vegetable into florets, or whatever size pieces you prefer. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the greens to the water and bring the water back to a boil. Cook the greens for just a few minutes. They will turn bright green. Drain the vegetables into a colander with cold water running over them or transfer them to an ice bath for just a few seconds to stop the cooking process. Allow them to dry and proceed with the recipe you are making. Check out How to Avoid These Common Mistakes While Cooking Vegetables for more tips.
Usually, I don’t get excited by the idea of steamed vegetables. Broccoli and broccolini are the exceptions, however. Sometimes I steam broccoli or broccolini in preparation for cooking it further in a recipe and I end up munching it all up. Broccoli and broccolini both have a strong enough taste that simply steaming them with salt is enough to make them delicious. To make Steamed Broccolini: trim the ends of the broccolini and remove any leaves. Separate the broccolini by cutting the thin upper stalks into separate pieces. You can definitely trim and cook the stems. Rinse the broccolini and pat it dry with paper towels. Add it to a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water. Alternatively, you can fill a large saute pan with 2 or 3 inches of water, bring it to a boil, add salt and the broccolini, cover the pot and cook. Let it cook 5-7 minutes, or until the broccolini becomes bright green and tender. When it’s done, you can season it with whatever spices you like or toss it with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Enjoy them tossed in Chinese garlic sauce for a healthy dinner.
4. Salads and Slaws
Whenever I go to the natural foods store that has a deli counter, I always want their “unchicken” salad, so I figured I should have my own recipe. I made mine with broccoli because I like adding green to everything. This would be delicious on a sandwich – my favorite way to have it is with lettuce, tomato, and tempeh bacon on toasted bread – or just atop a simple salad. To make my Tofu “Chicken” and Broccoli Salad: bring a large pot of water to a boiler with a steamer basket on top of it. When the water is at a rolling boil, steam a pressed and drained block of tofu for 3 minutes. Remove the tofu from the steamer basket and let it cool down so you can handle it. In the meantime, steam 2 heads of broccoli florets. Let them steam for about 4 minutes, drain them into a colander and let the cold water run over them to stop the cooking process. (Alternately, you can use an ice bath). Set the broccoli aside until ready to use. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cut the block of tofu into very small cubes. Add them to the skillet, flipping them often. You want them to cook just a bit so they get firmer but only slightly browned. We want to keep the white color. When they are done, transfer the tofu cubes into a large bowl. Add 2 chopped stalks of celery, ½ cup fresh chopped parsley, 4 Tbs. vegan mayo, 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard and1 Tbs. unsweetened dill relish to the bowl. Add ½ tsp. celery seed, ½ tsp. dried oregano, ½ tsp. garlic powder, ¼ tsp. mustard powder, and kosher salt and black pepper to taste and mix well until all the tofu is covered and the spices are well-distributed. Add the broccoli florets to the bowl and mix them in too. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Coleslaw is already filled with healthy cabbage and carrots, but we can add even more vegetables to the mix. My favorite veggie add-in is raw broccoli. First, use a peeler to make julienne slices from the broccoli stalks. Second, add small florets into the slaw. Toss it all with a vinaigrette dressing. Broccoli slaw is not only delicious but it’s extra-filling and satisfying. For more recipes, try this Sesame Tofu and Broccoli Salad and Superfood Salad with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Chickpeas, Kale, Sprouts and Seeds.
5. Soups and Sauces
When we think about broccoli, it’s probably the shape of the florets that come to mind, but it can also be used to make soups and sauces that are delicious and pretty to look at. For a smooth and healthy soup, try this Raw Cream of Broccoli Mushroom Soup that will warm you right up. This Pine Nut and Broccoli Cream Reginette with Chargrilled Peppers is one way to get broccoli into a pasta dish on the sly. The crunch of broccoli gets paired with creamy sauce in this Potatoes and Porcini Mushroom Ravioli in Broccoli Cream Sauce dish. Broccoli adds a greener touch to pesto in this Raw Vegan Lasagna with Cashew Cheese and Broccoli Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.
My absolutely favorite way to eat broccoli, broccolini and broccoli rabe is to saute it. In fact, sautéing is my favorite way to cook almost any vegetable. It’s fast, easy and you end up with a dish that is filled with flavor. When I saute broccoli I don’t bother to blanch it first, but broccoli rabe needs to be. To make Sauteed Garlicky Broccoli Rabe: heat 1 Tbs. olive oil and 1 Tbs. vegan butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute 6 minced garlic cloves until they just start to brown. Add a pinch of red pepper flakes and one bunch of blanched and drained broccoli rabe. Saute the broccoli rabe for 3 minutes until it is bright and verdant. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with vegan grated parmesan, if desired.
Roasted vegetables taste like nothing else. They get brown and crisp on the outside. Their natural sugars caramelize, making them sweet and concentrating their veggie flavor. Whether you are going to eat them straight from the oven or use them in a veggie burger, you won’t want to miss the intense flavor that is only brought out by roasting. To make Roasted Broccoli, cut the broccoli into equal-sized florets. Trim and cut the stalks into equal-sized pieces. Toss the broccoli with olive oil, salt, and pepper and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the florets are browned and crisp and the stalks are tender.
A delicious way to use that roasted broccoli is in a pasta dish. When you roast the broccoli, also roast some grape tomatoes. They will burst in the oven. After roasting, toss the vegetables with pasta for incredible flavor. For more ideas on how to use your roasted broccoli, see 10 Quick, Healthy (and Creative!) Meal Ideas Using Roasted Veggies.
Speaking of pasta, broccoli is hearty enough to hold up in baked pasta dishes and casseroles. Broccoli, tofu, pasta and nutritional yeast come together to make this Broccoli “Cheese” Pasta Bake. If you prefer mushrooms, try this Vegan Broccoli Mushroom Rotini Casserole. Besides adding broccoli to your noodles, you can actually make noodles out of broccoli. Read Switch Up Your Pasta Game – How to Use Spiralized Veggies as Noodles and then make this Tofu Scramble with Broccoli Noodles and this Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodles and White Bean Salad. If you don’t have a spiralizer, don’t worry. You can make veggies noodles with a regular vegetable peeler.
Broccoli and broccolini are favorite vegetables for stir-fries. There is no better veggie to really fill out a dish and make it filling and satisfying. Whenever I make a Chinese stir-fry or a veggie lo mein, I have to add broccoli to it. Try this Indonesian Veggie Stir-Fried Noodles, Vegetable Lo Mein, Indian Spicy Potatoes and Broccoli and this Indian-Chinese Broccoli Manchurian Stir-Fry. For tips on making the perfect stir-fry, read Secrets to Sautéing and Stir-Frying Chinese Style.
10. Greener Sides
Before I was vegan and before I could cook, I used to love the rice that came in a box with seasoning packets. My favorite was the one with cheese and broccoli. I was craving it, so I made my own vegan version. It tasted even better than I remembered. To make my Cheesy Rice with Broccoli: heat some olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add ½ a diced red onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 3 minutes until softened. Add 2 cups brown rice and cook for a couple of minutes until it looks chalky. Add 3 ¾ cups water, stir and bring the water to a boil. Cover the pot, lower the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes or until the water is absorbed. While the rice is cooking, cut a head of broccoli, both stem and florets, into bite-sized pieces. When you cut the stem, trim off the outermost layer which can be tough. Two minutes before the water is absorbed, add the broccoli to the pot with the rice to steam. Then turn off the heat and let the rice and broccoli sit in the covered pot for 10 minutes.
Heat 2 Tbs. vegan butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tbs. flour and whisk until combined. Let the roux cook for 1 minute to get rid of the flour taste. Whisk in 2 cups non-dairy milk and keep whisking until all of the roux is dissolved. Let it cook over medium heat. It will thicken a bit. Add salt and pepper to your taste, as well as a pinch of nutmeg. Now you have a béchamel sauce. When the béchamel sauce is thicker and hot, turn off the heat and add 1 cup vegan cheddar cheese. Stir to melt the cheese and then add 1 tsp. Dijon mustard. Taste for seasoning. Add the cheese sauce to the rice and broccoli. Mix well to combine. Serve while hot. You could also make this dish with broccolini.
Broccoli is an extremely versatile veggie, and if you have never tried broccolini or broccoli rabe, now is the time to try some of these amazing recipes. You just may find you have a new favorite vegetable… or three.
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