Annabel Langbein: Winter crucifers (+ recipes)
Back around 440 BC, Hippocrates, the great Greek physician, is thought to have come up with the line “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”. Swap the thy for ‘your’ and you have a tenet we are now realising truly does stand the test of time, especially when you look at the latest initiatives on improving human nutrition.
Around the US, instead of just prescribing standard medications, doctors have now realised the importance of teaching their patients how to cook, and are prescribing culinary education programmes in the hopes of improving nutrition and overall health. Some medical schools have even introduced culinary curriculums to train more doctors to talk to patients about food and good nutrition.
Without having to engage in what is increasingly becoming a political debate around food — there is so much to consider, including climate change, sustainability and ethics — there is one group of foods we can all eat and enjoy whether we are vegan, paleo or raw foodist, without stress or worry, knowing they will benefit our health. I’m talking about brassicas, likely to be the healthiest group of foods on the planet.
The group of vegetables that make up the Brassicaceae family were once known as crucifers, named for their cross-shaped flowers and, in the case of the fruiting members such as cabbages, caulis and broccoli, the split hollow cross inside the stalks.
Gram for gram, the vegetables from this family contain more healing properties than any other food group. As well as being chock-full of vitamins and minerals, brassicas are a powerhouse of phytochemicals that provide protective nutrition — acting as anti-carcinogens, anti-inflammatories and promoting liver detoxification.
There are more than 20 vegetables in this family, including familiar names such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, bok choy and other Asian cabbages, brussels sprouts, radishes and rocket as well as other lesser-known veges such as horseradish, land cress, turnips, swedes, mizuna, kohlrabi and mustard.
Each has its own particular nutritional highlights: broccoli is a good source of vitamin K, which promotes bone health; cabbage has a specific phytochemical that promotes the liver’s removal of estrogen, and brussels sprouts have been shown to protect the body’s DNA structure.
From the spicy pepperiness of rocket and radish, to the pungent tastes of mustard and kale and the mild, sweet, grassy flavours of broccoli and cabbage, brassicas are the new darlings of the kitchen.
Serve them raw, roast or grill them, or turn them into soups, salads or stir-fries for a daily fix of protective goodness for which your body will thank you. This week’s tasty recipes that will help liven up the last few weeks of your winter.
This is my favourite cafe-style broccoli salad. You can prep it ahead of time and dress just before you serve. Peeling the broccoli stalks makes them nice and tender. Get the recipe
Here’s my version of a delicious salad they serve at Barbuto restaurant in New York. It’s really a kale caesar salad; the tangy anchovy flavours in the dressing work really well with the stronger flavour of kale.
Choose young leaves for maximum tenderness. Make the dressing ahead and toss the salad just before serving. Massaging kale or cabbage ensures it will be juicy tender and sweet. Get the recipe
The natural sugars in flowering and fruiting brassicas, such as brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli, can be coaxed out with roasting, stir-frying or grilling.
This high-heat cooking is a much better option than boiling, which runs the risk of breaking down the cell membranes and releasing an unpleasant sulphurous smell. Get the recipe
Cheap Thrills (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) is on sale now at Paper Plus, The Warehouse and all good bookstores. Find out more at annabel-langbein.com or follow Annabel on Facebook or Instagram.