Cruciferous vegetables: A lot of different cabbage relatives

  • Food columnist Tinky Weisblat holds a broccoli. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/MARK FRASER

  • Cauliflower at a farm stand. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/TINKY WEISBLAT



For The Recorder
Published: 10/12/2021 2:25:20 PM

The time of cruciferous vegetables has arrived. This vitamin-rich group consists of a lot of different cabbage relatives, most of them green. Cruciferous vegetables include kale, Brussels sprouts, and even horseradish.

The name “cruciferous” relates to the word cross; a crucifer is a person who carries a cross in a religious procession. Cruciferous vegetables have a four-petal flower that evokes the image of a cross.

Many cruciferous vegetables have been with us on and off throughout the growing season, including kale, bokchoy, and arugula. My favorites, broccoli and cauliflower, have really only come into their own in recent weeks. They like cool weather, and they last beautifully in the refrigerator.

I hope I won’t discourage readers when I say that cruciferous vegetables are good for us. They are heart healthy and may help fight cancer in the body. They aren’t always popular with fussy eaters, however.

The most famous anti-cruciferous crusader was President George H.W. Bush, who banned broccoli from Air Force One during his time in office.

He told the press, “I do not like broccoli. And I have not liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I’m president of the United States, and I’m not going to eat any more broccoli!”

Broccoli farmers shipped tons and tons of their produce to the White House in protest, and the “Washington Post” dubbed Bush’s stance ”Broccoligate.”

In 2016, a 5-year-old named Cooper wrote a letter that told the former president, “I just want you to know that I love broccoli! I ate all of my broccoli, and then I ate my twin brother’s broccoli. Chase does not like broccoli either.

“Mr. President, broccoli is really good for you. I wish you liked broccoli like I do.”

Bush posted a copy of the letter on Twitter, noting wryly, “Proud of young Cooper’s interest in healthy eating. His declared love of broccoli is genuine, if also unpersuasive.”

According to research at the Kentucky School of Medicine, the 41st president may have been genetically pre-disposed to dislike broccoli. A certain inherited combination of genes makes such vegetables taste much more bitter to some eaters than to the rest of us.

I wasn’t always a huge fan of cruciferous vegetables. Like President Bush, I was force fed healthy greens as a child and felt a bit rebellious about the whole food group.

As an adult, however, I have discovered creative ways to enjoy my vegetables. Kale loses much of its bitterness when massaged and added to salad or soup … or when tossed with oil and salt and transformed into kale chips.

I adore cauliflower raw with dips and hummus, roasted in the oven, or made into a soup like the one below.

As for broccoli, I frequently incorporate it into stir fries. I also enjoy it raw, particularly in salads like the one I share today. I can’t promise you that George H.W. Bush would have liked the salad. If he found cute young Cooper unpersuasive, he probably would have refused my invitation to try a new broccoli dish.

I can tell you that I have served it to fussy children who thought they didn’t like broccoli but ended up gobbling up every bite.

Pam’s Cauliflower Cheese Soup

If you’re looking for an over-the-top cruciferous soup, this is it. It comes from Pam Gerry of Charlemont. Pam is currently a professional caregiver. In my mother’s final year, in fact, Pam pretty much defined the word “caregiver.”

She and her husband Michael once ran a restaurant in Buckland, and she has a huge repertoire of delicious comfort-food recipes.

Pam actually makes this recipe with broccoli, and it’s good that way, but I find it even more flavorful with cauliflower. I’d definitely start with the lower amounts of milk and half and half and add more if you think you need them.

I like to serve this soup with parsley croutons. To make these, cut slightly stale bread into cubes. Toss the cubes in olive oil, salt, and chopped parsley; then bake them in a single layer at 350 degrees until they are golden brown, turning from time to time.


1 large head of cauliflower

2 carrots, chopped

1 large onion or 2 leeks, chopped

1 quart chicken or vegetable stock

enough water to cover the vegetables

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter

1/2 cup flour

4 ounces cream cheese (Pam uses an entire 8-ounce block, but I think half of one is plenty; the soup is quite rich.)

2/3 to 1 cup milk

2/3 to 1 cup half and half

2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

a generous dollop of sherry (optional; it gives a lovely smooth flavor but may obscure the cauliflower taste a little)

chopped fresh parsley to taste


In an almost covered stock pot cook the vegetables, the stock, the water, the salt, and the pepper until they are tender. Carefully puree the mixture with a blender or immersion blender. (If you like chunky soup, reserve 1 cup of the veggies before pureeing.) Return the soup to a boil.

In a separate pot, melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook the roux for at least a minute, whisking; then stir it into the boiling soup. Stir in the cream cheese, the milk, the half and half, and the sherry. Reduce the heat and allow the soup to thicken slightly.

Turn off the heat. Stir in the shredded cheese and the reserved vegetables if you have put some aside. Ladle into bowls, and garnish with parsley. Serves 6.

Broccoli Salad

A version of this recipe appears in my “Pudding Hollow Cookbook.” Over the years, I have adapted it; the seasonal apples are my most recent addition. I go back and forth between the wine and cider vinegars. Red wine vinegar is tarter, but local cider vinegar is more autumnal. I leave the choice up to you.

If you want to make this recipe in advance, hold off on adding the red onion and the apple until the last minute. Over time, the onion makes the whole salad taste like onion—and the apple may discolor a bit. And feel free to vary amounts of the ingredients to your own taste.

If you want to serve vegetarians, you may omit the bacon, but do add salt to taste to the dressing.


1 medium bunch broccoli, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

1/2 small red onion, chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries

6 to 8 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

2 small apples (or 1 large apple), cored and sliced

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon local, raw honey

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar or cider vinegar


Combine the first 6 ingredients. Mix the remaining ingredients into a dressing, and toss half of the resulting dressing onto the salad, adding more dressing if needed. Refrigerate leftover dressing. Serves 4 to 8, depending on what other vegetables you have on the table.

TinkyWeisblat is the award-winning author of “The Pudding Hollow Cookbook,” “Pulling Taffy,” and “Love, Laughter, and Rhubarb.” Visit her website,

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