Mom Was Right

Take advantage of the cooler weather by getting some crunchy, tasty local broccoli.

FUN FACT: According to the Agriculture Council of America, we are eating 900 percent more broccoli than we were 20 years ago. The average American now eats four and a half pounds of it a year. photo: Clayton Hansen/istock photo

Broccoli is not a vegetable I’ve paid much attention to. It’s one of those good-for-you veggies that’s not very glamorous, and it’s never out of season in Island supermarkets. Then I started cooking broccoli from Waimea on the Big Island.

Only 9 percent of the market supply of broccoli is produced by Hawai‘i’s farmers; the rest comes from California, where most of the nation’s crop is grown. That’s not entirely a bad thing, as farmers use icing, vacuum cooling or hydrocooling after harvest to maintain freshness. But broccoli that hasn’t traveled far is deliciously different than shipped-in broccoli.

Broccoli is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, won bok and other leafy greens.

“Traditionally, broccoli likes [to grow in] a cooler climate, mid- to high 50s at night and low 80s during the day,” says Alec Sou, of Aloun Farm, where acres and acres of broccoli are planted on the ‘Ewa Plain of O‘ahu. Broccoli varieties vary in heat tolerance, but Sou finds the winter months suitable for growing broccoli for O‘ahu shoppers, who will be seeing it in markets in the next few months. In Waimea, as in Kula, Maui, year-round cooler temperatures make for perfect growing conditions.

Most broccoli produced today is actually broccoli crowns, the unopened flower buds or flower head attached to a short stalk. It can be harvested this way or produced by a specific variety, but the old-fashioned head, with a long, thick stem (often favored by Chinese restaurants) is harder to find these days. “Crowns take longer to grow,” says Earl Yamamoto, of B.E.S.T. Farm in Waimea, where broccoli has been planted since the 1960s. On the plus side, there’s no need to peel the stem before you cook the broccoli.

As for mom’s directive to eat your broccoli, it’s well founded: Broccoli is vitamin rich, high in fiber and low in calories. There’s more vitamin C in a stalk of broccoli, for example, than in an orange. Broccoli also contains vitamin A, calcium, beta-carotene and lutein (for healthy vision) and antioxidants, which may help fight cancer. A cup of chopped broccoli has a mere 30 calories and it provides a little protein and carbohydrates, too.

When buying broccoli, look for firm stalks and crowns with dark tops and a purplish color, which means there’s more beta-carotene. Avoid tiny yellow buds, as they indicate age, and if there’s an odor to the broccoli, don’t buy it. Quick cooking, especially steaming, preserves the nutrients in broccoli as well as its color and flavor.

Oh, yes, the flavor. Broccoli can be a little bitter, but try this tasty recipe below, which will have you reaching for seconds.

Scorched Broccoli

Defying the “gentle cooking to preserve nutrients” rule, this style of cooking broccoli is so good, you’ll eat extra, making up for any loss in nutrients. Combine it with pasta and an additional drizzle of olive oil for a light meal.

1 pound broccoli
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare broccoli, including stems, by cutting into bite-size pieces. Rinse and drain well; pat dry with a clean towel to remove any excess water.

Heat a large skillet on high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil. Toss in broccoli and garlic and cook for three to five minutes, stirring only occasionally to allow the broccoli to brown or even blacken. Season with salt and pepper and cook until desired tenderness is achieved. Remove from pan and serve at once. Serves four.