Like it or not, mom was right about broccoli

April 13, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

It's official. Broccoli is g-o-o-o-o-o-d for you. Superfood. Just what the doctor ordered.

In fact, in light of a report from scientists at Johns Hopkins University yesterday, even such notorious broccoli haters as former President George Bush may have to eat the stuff.

Researchers at Hopkins found that broccoli contains an abundance of a chemical called sulforaphane, which is credited with preventing or slowing the development of breast cancer in mice. The chemical also occurs in Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and other members of the cruciferous family.

The notion that diet can have a profound impact on disease prevention has been growing over the past 10 years, with fiber, vitamins and beta carotene taking their turns in the spotlight.

And now it's broccoli's turn.

"I love it. It's a great vegetable," says Randy Stahl, executive chef at the Brass Elephant. "My kids love it. It's an easy sell to my family. We use a lot of broccoli in the restaurant, too. At one time, we had broccoli every night."

Among dishes diners have enjoyed at the restaurant are crispy fish on a bed of lightly sauteed broccoli florets, and broccoli with roasted red peppers and pine nuts.

"It's my favorite vegetable!" says Nancy Longo, chef-owner of Pierpoint in Fells Point. It's a great vegetable, it's very versatile. I've used it in a vegetable mixture, used it in some of our pastas, I've put it in a pesto -- blanched it, mixed it with oil and herbs and some green onions -- you can't do that with every vegetable."

We are already, on the whole, a nation of broccoli lovers, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics. Production has risen dramatically in the last two decades, from 168.2 million pounds in 1974 to a projected 980 million pounds this year. Consumption has risen over the same period from 0.8 pounds per capita in 1974 to 3.1 pounds in 1994. Almost all of the increase was in fresh broccoli -- bunches, florets, chopped and spears.

"It's a staple among vegetables," says caterer Jerry Edwards, of Chef's Expressions in Timonium. "It's always there" at banquets and other events.

"My favorite broccoli dish is pasta broccoli." It's a simple dish: Peel the broccoli stems and chop them; cut the tops into florets and steam. Drain the broccoli, add some olive oil and garlic, toss with cooked cappellini and sprinkle with grated Reggiano or Asiago cheese.

Part of broccoli's appeal may be its availability. A little broccoli is imported, but most of it comes from California (year-'round production), Arizona and Texas (fall and winter harvests), and Oregon (mid-July to end of December harvest), according to the USDA Economic Research Service in Washington.

And yesterday, broccoli was flying out of area grocery stores. "The Roland Avenue store has more than doubled the sales of broccoli," says Nancy Cohen Kaplow, CEO of the two Eddie's supermarkets. "And the Charles Street store has increased significantly." Normally, the Roland Avenue store goes through a case of broccoli a day -- 20 pounds -- while the larger Baltimore County store sells 5 to 6 cases, or about 120 pounds a day of broccoli. "It's one of our fastest-selling vegetables," Ms. Kaplow says. "It always has been."

She concedes, however, that her children will eat broccoli only if they can't see it -- say, when it's tucked under melted cheese on top of a baked potato.

Home cooks trying to get more healthful food on the family table might try a number of ways to increase broccoli consumption.

Marjorie Centofanti, Hopkins media representative, suggests broccoli slaw. "It's for people who don't like broccoli. Unfortunately, I'm one of them -- but I eat it because of what's going on around here."

She uses the stems, not the flowers. She trims the stems and peels them if they're tough, then grates them and mixes them with raisins, grated carrots and mayonnaise. If she's feeling adventurous, she says, she tosses in a little curry powder to spice up the dish. "This doesn't taste so 'broccoloid.' "

"Teaming it with something else is the key," says Mr. Edwards. "You're not going to get a whole nation eating steamed broccoli."

Nutritionist Sherri Sabol, spokeswoman for the Maryland Dietetic Association, suggests that if plain steamed broccoli doesn't appeal, folks might try topping it with a reduced-fat cheese sauce -- "just to develop a taste for it." She cautions not to cook broccoli too long: "The more you boil it, the more vitamins and nutrients leach into the water."

But, before you join the crowd in the produce section, just how much broccoli should you be consuming? Well, there's no answer yet.

While the efficacy of sulforaphane in preventing the development of tumors is clear, the relationship between broccoli consumption and the beneficial effects is not so clear.

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