If there’s any one group of vegetables deserving praise, it’s the cruciferous family, which includes Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, Swiss chard, kale, rutabagas and turnips. All these vegetables bear four-petal flowers that resemble the shape of a cross. Tasty and versatile, they pack a serious punch nutritionally, and best of all, they really shine this time of year. Crucifers are rich in antioxidants, a great source of fiber and full of vitamins such as A and C. Research increasingly suggests these vegetables are valuable allies in the fight against many cancers.
The cabbage is the granddaddy of the family. From the smooth-leafed red and green varieties you find in traditional coleslaw, to their more tender, sweeter relatives, napa and savoy, cabbage makes a great addition to many dishes. Choosing the right cooking technique preserves their sweetness: sautéing or braising them just to the point when their color is brightest, and then removing from the heat, preserves their natural sugars. Look for heavy heads with tightly bound leaves; they’re best eaten within five days, but can keep in the refrigerator for longer periods of time.
For those of us who love the piquancy of bitter flavors, Brussels sprouts are a tremendous pleasure. Roasted or sautéed, paired with bacon or butter, these tiny cabbage-like vegetables – probably developed in 15th-century Belgium – add a sophisticated note to the menu. If you decide to sauté, blanch first and then introduce them to the skillet; blanching produces a milder flavor.
Finally, we come to cauliflower, another versatile vegetable loaded with vitamin C. Though it’s probably easiest to steam cauliflower, roasting caramelizes the exterior and brings out its natural sweetness. Toss cauliflower florets in two tablespoons each olive oil, orange or lemon juice, and sugar or honey. Bake in a single layer at 400° about 35 minutes or until the cauliflower is fork-tender and golden brown on the outside. Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, cauliflower will keep refrigerated up to one week.