Getting the most from your greens plus a quick curry

I have a big pile of food-related books to read, each with a different focus and all fascinating. Currently, I’m working my way through ‘How Not To Die’ by the wonderful Dr Michael Gregor, who has a head full of knowledge, a bag-load of common sense and a fabulously dry sense of humour  (plus lots of bowel humour – it’s a nurse thing!).

Dr Gregor does an amazing job of examining all the latest research about food and health, questioning the validity of the conclusions and providing clarity for anyone interested in eating good food – that is, food that is good for you! His website – – is packed full of 5 minute videos covering all sorts of topics, checking the facts behind the headlines and challenging spurious claims found in newspaper headlines and on-line. There is so much confusions out there, it’s hard to identify the ‘truth’!

You may have noticed that I’m a big fan of cruciferous vegetables, wonderful produce like broccoli, cabbage of all sorts, cauliflower, kale and watercress. Dr Gregor is too and regularly refers to research findings about how the sulphur-containing compounds found within these veggies can promote good health, particularly in preventing and even treating some types of cancer, supporting the immune system and liver function (there’s many others too). Broccoli has been researched the most, but all cruciferous veggies contain the beneficial phytonutrient sulforaphane. But there is a potential problem in accessing it – for sulforaphane to become available, it needs to be activated by another chemical reaction involving an enzyme (myrosinase). This occurs once the broccoli or other cruciferous veg is cut or bitten into. All ok so far. The problem is how we tend to eat this group of veggies – cooked. Heat kills myrosinase – and no myrosinase, no magical sulforaphane. But who really likes to eat lots of raw broccoli? I know I’m not keen!

Fortunately, there is something you can use to overcome this problem – patience! Sulforaphane is heat resistant, so cooking is not an issue, you just need time for it to form. So to get the most magic out of your broccoli, just chop it and leave for 30 minutes or so before you cook it. This gives plenty of time for all the enzymes to do their business and create lots of this wonderful phytonutrient that your body will just love. It does mean you have to plan ahead a little, but if you’re cooking other things as well, just remember to chop the broc first, then get on with the rest of it. Then you can cook it however you like, although please don’t boil the life out of it, especially if you are using food to manage a health problem, as there are other wonderful nutrients inside that will suffer. Also, if you’re trying to persuade your kids to eat veg, serving up soggy offerings is not going to help (remembering granny’s over-cooked Christmas sprouts!).

So try to remember to give your greens time to brew to get the most out of them – you won’t notice the benefit, but your body will. Here’s a quick curry recipe featuring brilliant broccoli to try out this weekend. Packed full of flavour and amazing nutrients, eating well never tasted so good!

Broccoli and squash curry (serves 4)

1 head of broccoli
1 medium onion
1 large clove garlic
2cm chunk ginger, peeled
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 small squash
½ teaspoon turmeric
½-1 teaspoon red chilli powder (depending on heat requirements)
salt and pepper
fresh coriander

First, rinse the broccoli and chop of the stems and dice. Chop the broccoli heads into small pieces and put to one side to allow the phytonutrients do their thing.

Roughly chop the onion, garlic and ginger then place in a small blender and blitz into a paste with a little water. Wash and peel the squash. Chop into small chunks/bite sized pieces.

Place a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard and cumin seeds. Dry toast them for a couple of minutes until they release a lovely aroma and start to pop. Take the pan off the heat for a moment and stir in the paste mix (if the pan is too hot it will burn). Pop the pan back on the heat, turning it down a bit, and sauté for a few minutes until the paste starts to lightly brown. Stir in the spices with a little water and continue to cook for another couple of minutes.

Add the chopped squash and broccoli stems along with some salt and pepper and stir well. Add about 50ml of water, bring to the boil, then pop on a lid and reduce the heat. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft. If the mix is dry, add a little more water along with the broccoli heads and simmer for 5 minutes or so until the broccoli is lightly cooked through (I still like it with a bit of bite). Turn off the heat and garnish with chopped fresh coriander. Serve with dairy-free yoghurt, rice or whole-wheat chapatti.



Purple power

Broccoli is definitely part of the ‘in’ crowd when it comes to superfood veg. Once only served as over-cooked mush (and sadly still is in some establishments), broccoli comes into its own when prepared and served with a little thought and attention. As much as I love those bright green tight florets, and eat them whenever I can, there’s a purple sibling that, in my mind, trumps green every time – the beautiful, delicate and seasonal purple sprouting broccoli (PSB).

Green broccoli by itself is pretty amazing, packed full of healthy nutrients like vitamins A, C and some B vitamins, as well as manganese, iron, various phytonutrients and of course fibre. The phytonutrients in broccoli are amazing at helping to support the body’s detoxification and one in particular helps eliminates the nasty leftovers out of the body. So it’s great ingredient to use for a body spring clean.

So what’s so good about the purple stuff? Simply put, it just is! PSB has all of the benefits of green – and more. A higher amount of nutrients like zinc and iron, more B vitamins and more fibre, as the stems and leaves are eaten as well as the florets. And it’s purple, and purple food is good!

Even with normal broccoli, I always eat as much of the stem as possible, saving the thick stalk to use in soups or stir fries. The stem is packed with fibre and nutrients so is just as important as the florets. And because the stems of PSB are so much thinner, they’re easier to eat. And the leaves of PSB – now they really are a winner as they are packed full of calcium, potassium and vitamin C, so great for your bones and immune system. In fact, PSB just has more antioxidants than it’s green counterpart, but needs care as they are also more readily lost in the cooking process.

It’s rare to find PSB in supermarkets, although I have noticed it a couple of times. I’ve tried to grow my own as it’s one of those veg that is so gorgeous picked and eaten within a short period of time, but the slugs love them too and my crop is woeful to say the least! Veg boxes are your best bet for fresh, good quality PSB.

We had a gorgeous bagful this week in our Riverford veg box and I couldn’t wait to dive in and munch it all up. I find the best way to prepare it to retain as many as the nutrient goodies as possible is to give it a quick wash, trim off the woody end and then slice up the the stalk so it’s thinner, then steam briefly or stir fry quickly. It’s beautiful deep flavour and colour is retained that way, along with the goodness.

I made this simple pasta dish and it was wolfed down – even the teenage boy who suddenly declared he doesn’t like broccoli (!) tucked in with gusto, so it’s confirmed teenage friendly. Keeping the PSB lightly cooked gives texture and flavour. If you can’t get your hands on any PSB, then of course use green – it’s still fabulous, even without the purple power!

Purples sprouting and walnut spaghetti
250g purple sprouting broccoli
1 onion, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
50g walnuts, lightly toasted
extra virgin olive oil
spaghetti – wholewheat or gluten free
Start cooking your spaghetti as this will takes the longest. Once this is up and bubbling, prepare the PSB. Rinse under a running tap, trim any woody ends then slice the stalks up the centre to make thinner. Place in a steamer and steam for a couple of minutes – do not over cook as you’ll loose the nutrients. Meanwhile, sauté the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the garlic and steamed PSB and stir fry on a low heat for a few more minutes – add a little of the steaming water if the pan gets a bit dry so the garlic doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper. Add the PSB mix to the cooked spaghetti, and serve topped with the walnuts and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil.