The Best Ways to Enjoy Cruciferous Vegetables
How to cook cruciferous vegetables, why cruciferous veggies are good for you, and 20 recipes to help you eat more of them!
Marisa Moore is a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and culinary nutrition expert. Featured photographs by Brittany Conerly.
Okay, I’ll admit it. Cruciferous vegetables make my dietitian heart, brain, and body smile. They're not only delicious, but quite nutritious, too. If you don’t already feel the same, I’m hoping you will once you've read this article.
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Cruciferous vegetable FAQs
Crucifers are rich in sulphur-containing compounds known as glucosinolates, which contribute potential nutritional benefits as well as characteristic flavor. But that’s just the starting point for getting to know this family of produce.
What are cruciferous vegetables?
This vegetable family is quite diverse, with a long list of members. There’s cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, and arugula. There are also the more surprising ones — they don’t look like the rest and include radishes, horseradish, turnips, and rutabagas.
Cruciferous vegetable benefits
While this diverse group of vegetables may sometimes look very different — from rough, bulbous kohlrabi to delicate green watercress — they're connected by their potential nutrition benefits.
Leafy green cruciferous vegetables are a good source of vitamin K, fiber, and folate. Some are also high in Vitamin C. One of the main reasons these vegetables are sought after? The plant compounds cruciferous vegetables contain may lower the risk for certain cancers.
How to cook cruciferous vegetables
You can prepare crucifers in a variety of ways. Roasting is my go-to method for broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, but cooking these vegetables in the air fryer is quickly gaining ground.
You can saute cabbage and braise hardy greens like collards to tenderize them and infuse more flavor. Tender leafy watercress and arugula are perfect raw, while sturdy kohlrabi and turnips are great baked, roasted, or creamed.
How to store cruciferous vegetables
Many cruciferous vegetables are hardy. But moisture hastens spoilage, so the key is keeping them dry and cool. Use a salad spinner to remove any excess water from cut leafy greens, then refrigerate them in a bag with a clean kitchen towel for up to seven days. More delicate greens like watercress will stay fresh for two-three days and for up to five days when stored with the roots in water, the way you might store fresh herbs.
Stored properly in the refrigerator crisper, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts will stay fresh for at least a week, and a head cabbage will last up to a month. You can store root vegetables in this family — such as turnips and rutabagas — in a cool, dry, and dark place for several months.
Now that you know the health benefits and cooking basics, here are 20 recipes to help you explore delicious ways to eat cruciferous vegetables.
How to cook broccoli
Broccoli is one of the most common and family-friendly cruciferous vegetables. It’s also easy to prepare. You can buy it fresh or frozen.
Flavor and texture: grassy, slightly bitter, and crunchy when raw, tender and mellow when cooked
Best ways to cook broccoli: While you can eat broccoli raw, it’s more flavorful when cooked. Steaming or quickly sauteing broccoli helps retain most of its vitamin C, while roasting brings out the vegetable’s natural sweetness. Broccoli florets are tender and work as a side or tossed into pasta and other dishes. Shred raw trimmed broccoli stems for slaw or to add a veggie boost to sauces, burgers, and meatballs — or trim tough outer portions of stems, then thinly slice to cook with the florets.
Tip: Take care not to overcook broccoli, as the flavor and aroma will quickly go from pleasant to pungent.
With only six ingredients (including salt and pepper) this roasted broccoli is an example of how simple and delicious this vegetable can be. All you need is a hot oven and a handful of ingredients to make the magic happen.
Crunchy, creamy, and sweet, this cool broccoli salad is perfect for picnics and lunch boxes. Make a batch at the beginning of the week as part of meal prep for an easy way to get your cruciferous vegetable fix throughout the week.
Brighten up the day with this vegan broccoli soup. It uses cashews for creaminess and a generous dose of turmeric for bold color and flavor. (Looking for a traditional broccoli cheddar soup? This one has loads of fans on Yummly.)
How to cook cauliflower
It’s often called brain food for its uncanny resemblance to a human brain, and in fact, cauliflower is a good source of choline, a nutrient that promotes brain health. But let's focus on cauliflower’s many possibilities in the kitchen.
Flavor and texture: sweet and crunchy when raw, creamy and mellow when cooked
Best ways to cook cauliflower: From raw for dunking or roasted with Buffalo seasonings to simmered and pureed in soup, there are many ways to prepare cauliflower. Try your hand at stir-frying it or pulse it in a food processor raw to create cauliflower “rice.” You can even add raw cauliflower to smoothies to sneak in some extra health benefits.
Tip: As with broccoli, take care not to overcook cauliflower, or the naturally present sulfur compounds will get too strong.
Perfectly charred with a savory garlic seasoning and the welcome umami of Parmesan cheese, this is perfect as a snack or vegetable side — but you may want to make extra because this dish will go fast!
Mild, slightly sweet cauliflower is the ideal base for this generously spiced soup. It’s loaded up with cumin, coriander, ginger, and even cinnamon and includes turmeric for that beautiful golden color.
If you have yet to try cauliflower rice, this flavor-packed recipe is a great place to start. With crunchy almonds, fresh parsley, and olive oil, this veggie-rich side dish is filling and delicious. Pair it with fish, tofu, or chicken for a complete meal.
How to cook Brussels sprouts
If you haven’t roasted Brussels sprouts at home yet, stop scrolling and add them to your meal plan and grocery cart.
Flavor and texture: bitter, slightly pungent, and crisp when raw, sweet when cooked
Best ways to cook Brussels sprouts: Brussels sprouts are best lightly steamed, sauteed, and especially roasted. Shred and saute them or toss the raw shreds with a vinaigrette and dried fruit for a crunchy salad. Avoid boiling Brussels sprouts in a lot of water as that leads to nutrient losses in the cooking liquid.
Tips: I personally prefer smaller Brussels sprouts because they have a milder flavor. Slice them in half (or quarters for larger ones) to roast. Overcooking Brussels sprouts pulls out the vegetable’s sulphur notes, which can lead to an unpleasant flavor.
This simple top-rated recipe walks you through the steps to making crisp, well-seasoned Brussels sprouts. No soggy, Army green vegetables here!
Brussels sprouts are delicious served with a hint of sweetness and a bit of tang. This recipe delivers on both with a balance of spicy mustard and sweet honey and dates.
This bright, citrus-flavored salad makes the best of winter produce for a healthy and satisfying dish. Serve as a hearty side for lunch or dinner.
How to cook cabbage
Humble and hardy, cabbage is a versatile and economical vegetable you can enjoy in many ways.
Flavor and texture: crunchy and a bit peppery when raw, tender and slightly sweet when cooked
Best ways to cook cabbage: You can braise, roast, stir-fry, and steam regular green, red, as well as napa and savoy cabbages — or eat them raw in a salad. This vegetable holds its own as a side dish or stuffed as a wrap for an entree. You can also enjoy cabbage fermented as sauerkraut or kimchi.
Tips: Adjust your cooking time and method depending on the type of cabbage. Napa and savoy cabbages have a softer, more tender texture and cook faster than regular green and red varieties.
Red cabbage is a colorful cousin to green cabbage and a fun way to switch things up. This pickled red cabbage makes a great simple side or a tasty topping for tacos, fish, and veggie bowls.
If you don't have a skillet cabbage recipe in your repertoire, this is it. Made simply with extra-virgin olive oil, butter, herbs, and a splash of vinegar, this easy side dish is perfect for weeknights or Sunday dinner.
Skip the multi-step "blanch, cook, stuff, and roll" process and make this easy recipe. It has all of the classic flavors of stuffed cabbage rolls — in a bowl.
How to cook kale
Kale has become the vegetable everyone loves to hate — and converts like to share. As a registered dietitian, I often get this question: Do I have to eat kale? No. But give it a chance. You just might get hooked.
Flavor and texture: somewhat bitter and leathery when raw, sweeter and tender when cooked, its flavor milder in the winter
Best ways to cook kale: To enjoy kale raw, remove the tough stems, then chop the leaves or puree them in a food processor or blender for a smoothie. For salad, massage the leaves with your favorite oil-based dressing to break down the tough fibers. Kale requires a longer cooking time than spinach, for example, to get tender. You can braise, saute, stir-fry, or simmer it for soup — and you can thinly slice the stems to cook as well.
Tips: New to kale? Look for Tuscan (aka dinosaur or lacinato) kale, which flaunts a softer texture and sweeter flavor compared to bright green curly kale.
Kale chips (aka roasted kale) are a crunchy melt-in-your-mouth, ready-in-minutes snack. These are spiced with cayenne, chili, and garlic powder for full-on flavor.
Sure, a Caesar salad with romaine alone is nice, but why not give your Caesar a cruciferous upgrade? Topped with crunchy croutons and tossed with an umami-rich homemade dressing, this isn't your run-of-the-mill dish.
Kale goes surprisingly well with pasta and this is the perfect way to put the two together! The kale pesto coats the pasta in a veggie-rich sauce for a satisfying meal.
More cruciferous vegetables
The cruciferous vegetable family is large, and we’re just getting started. There’s more to explore, including bok choy, arugula, radishes, horseradish, turnips, and kohlrabi.
Here’s your invitation to enjoy some more crucifers!
This classic flavor combination pairs baby arugula with a lemon vinaigrette and Parmesan. While this green is often served up fresh as a salad, arugula is a great spicy topper for pizza, too!
Switch up your typical weeknight side dish. Bold aromatics complement the bittersweet bok choy flavor in this easy recipe. Serve it with fish and rice for a restaurant-quality meal.
With its tomatoes and creole seasoning to enhance the meaty broth, this recipe reminds me of my favorite Southern-style collard greens. All you need is a side of cornbread.
Possibly the spiciest of the cruciferous crew, mustard greens have a peppery bite. Eat them raw, braised (often with other greens), or quickly sauteed and seasoned as in this dish.
The brown butter helps elevate this easy pantry recipe. You can store rutabagas for months, so whip this up for a little sweet dinner elegance any time.
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More vegetables, please!
Have we inspired you to turn over a new leaf when it comes to veggies? Or maybe your interest in them stems from long-cultivated eating habits? Well, we’ve got more healthy, delicious seeds to plant. Check out these next articles for easy ways to cook and enjoy vegetables.