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Cooking Through Winter's Bitter Bounty

Monday, December 3, 2012

When the weather turns, the days get shorter and it's time to get out the winter clothes, it's also high season for the Brassicaceae, or mustard family, on your family's dinner table.  

The Brassica oleracea species in particular is the sturdy progenitor of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. Many of these vegetable varieties are in peak season in North America as the winter months approach.  

For those who delight in the fresh, climate-smart tastiness of seasonal or local produce, now is the time to embrace the Brassicas and all their bitter, cancer-preventing pungency. (Glucosinolates, the compounds that give the Brassicas their bitterness, are also thought to protect against cancer.)

Here are five green, nutritious and delicious recipes to help you and your family make the most of winter's surprising bounty. 

Sautéed warm red cabbage

It's not for nothing that cabbage holds a traditional place around the world in soups, stews, salads and fermented foods. Cabbage is the secret weapon of a green, nutritious and frugal winter kitchen. A single cup contains all the potassium of a banana, nearly three grams of satiating fiber and a respectable amount of calcium (comparable to a half a cup of cottage cheese) - all while pricing out at less than a quarter a serving. Low in pesticide residues, cabbage has a spot on EWG's Clean 15 list. This is one vegetable that should be placed with frequency - and gusto! - into your shopping cart and on the menu. 

Kid-approved roasted Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts are admittedly a hard sell for many. But if you haven't eaten them roasted, it's worth a try - caramelized, there's something truly special about their crispy leaves. A serving of Brussels sprouts (about seven) contains more potassium than a banana, as much vitamin C as a glass of orange juice and four grams of filling fiber. Not too shabby.  

Mashed cauliflower

Many think of cauliflower as a lighter version of broccoli. They're related but really shouldn't be thought of as equivalent. Even though cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, you won't find it in EWG's guide to Good Food on a Tight Budget. It just can't compete with its other cousins on nutrient merits alone, and it tends to be a little pricey. But that doesn't mean it doesn't deserve space on your plate. Variety is important for your health and happiness, and some creamy mashed cauliflower can mix up a midwinter mashed potato routine quite nicely. It also absorbs flavors well and makes for a savory, smoky side dish.

Roasted broccoli

Ah yes, broccoli - everyone's favorite dark green vegetable. It seems cruel to tout its benefits in the presence of the other, less appreciated Brassicas. But broccoli deserves the limelight, given that people actually eat it with some frequency and it's a potent source of potassium, folate, fiber, vitamins C and A and the eye-protecting antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. It is also lower in pesticide residues than many other dark green vegetables (kale, romaine lettuce and spinach). And at less than 50 cents a serving, it's a great buy, too.  

Krispy kale

Kale is a particularly stellar member of this robust family. One cup contains just as much potassium as a banana, more vitamin A and more than 55 times the lutein and zeaxanthin of 12 baby carrots. Opting for organic kale is a smart move if you can, as conventional kale is on EWG's Dirty Dozen + list and may contain pesticide residues of special concern.

You can learn more about feeding your family well on a tight budget here: Good Food on a Tight Budget

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