Broccoli may not initially seem like the best plant for the home garden. Especially after I tell you that broccoli can take quite a bit of work to get that one nice, decent-sized broccoli head. Harvesting the head can sometimes get you a few small heads too but considering the plant needs a lot of fertilizer and compost to fruit, is prone to aphid infestation and cabbage worm decimation, and its seedlings are a favorite of squirrels and fruit rats, broccoli may not seem so worth it. However, if you take into account that the beautiful and nutritious broccoli is more than just the head, you may have another opinion!
Broccoli is already famously nutritious. It preceded kale in the public eye for its high levels of cancer-fighting elements, like phytonutrients.
Phytonutrients are natural chemicals found in vegetables. They are not vitamins or minerals but rather natural chemicals that help promote immunity and prevent disease. In broccoli, there are some phytonutrients in the plant called glucosinolates that when chewed, and even more so when lightly steamed with bit of fat, may prevent the growth of cancer. Broccoli also contains indole-3-carbinol, a phytochemical that suppresses estrogen-sensitive cancers and carotenoids, including beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These are all potent antioxidants that as you may know prevent diseases of the eye. Now here’s the exciting news for home gardeners – there are even more phytonutrients in the leaves of broccoli than in the head and stalk!
That’s right – the entire broccoli plant is edible. Once the leaves of the plant reach 4 to 6 inches long, you can start to harvest a few leaves each week. Once the plant is finished producing heads or flowers, you can eat the entire plant. Now THAT’S a plant worth growing and eating.
While we are on the subject of eating all of your broccoli plant, you CAN eat the head once it flowers. (Your broccoli may have too little water if it seems to be bolting.) The yellow broccoli flowers are sometimes sold as a delicacy so go ahead and eat ‘em! They can be eaten raw or cooked and have a pleasant, mild taste. Toss them in salads or steam them by tossing with hot pasta.
So now you know broccoli leaves are nutritious, let’s see how to make them delicious! (There will be a few growing tips at the end.) Broccoli leaves are a tough green like kale, cabbage and collards so you can use them anywhere you would use these greens (cauliflower and brussel sprout greens can be substituted too.) Blanch them and roll up rice and meat, sautee them in stir-fries…You can also juice your broccoli stalks and leaves.
Broccoli Leaf Green Juice
5 large broccoli leaves
3 stalks celery
1 inch knob of ginger
2 green apples
large handful of parsley
Wash and cut all produce to fit into your juicer and juice away!
The most common way to prepare greens is sauteeing. Greens can be a bit tough for salads so sauteeing is a great way of making them palatable. Also, a light steaming with some fat brings them to their most nutritious. Here are two ways to saute with slightly different flavor profiles.
Italian Sautéed Broccoli Greens
2 cup Broccoli Greens, cooked (which is about 15 large raw leaves)
1/4 cup Green Onion, chopped
5 sprigs fresh Rosemary, minced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Bacon Grease
1 tsp Salt and Pepper, to taste
Wash broccoli greens and remove stems (including the primary vein bisecting the leaves). Tear broccoli leaves into small pieces, chop green onion, mince garlic and rosemary. Heat the bacon grease in a large soup pot or french oven over medium high heat. Saute green onion and garlic for 2 minutes, then add the broccoli greens and rosemary. Saute for 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
Asian Sautéed Broccoli Greens
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. broccoli leaves
3 tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 tbsp. finely chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 fresno chiles, halved, seeded, and finely chopped
2 tbsp. lime juice
1 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
Bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. Roughly chop broccoli leaves. Cook leaves until just tender, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Heat oil in a 10″ nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ginger, garlic, and chiles; cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add reserved broccoli; cook until hot, about 2 minutes. Stir in lime juice, soy sauce, and vinegar and season with salt.
Another great use of greens is to chop them up finely into a yummy pesto. You can add basil, parley, dill or other herbs to your pesto or just go all greens! Pesto can be tossed in pasta or risotto, added to soups, sauces and marinades and can dress up all meats and veggie dishes.
Broccoli Leaf Pesto
makes just under 2 cups
½ cup blanched almonds, walnuts, pine nuts or sunflower seeds
1 large garlic clove, smashed
3 cups chopped broccoli leaves
2 cups basil leaves (or use all broccoli leaves)
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Place cheese, nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until very finely chopped. Add broccoli, basil, salt, pepper and lemon juice and pulse until chopped. With the food processor running, add olive oil in a steady stream until you achieve a smooth texture. Taste for seasoning and add additional olive oil to make a looser pesto. If you want to freeze pesto, omit cheese.
Now, I don’t want to blow your mind but your kale chips can be made out of o t h e r g r e e n s.
Cut the leaves and take out the stalk. Toss the leaves in olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt and garlic powder. Bake at 350* for 8 minutes.
Here’s my favorite broccoli recipe ever. This soup is sooo delish and you can use all parts of the broccoli plant in it.
Broccoli & Spinach Soup
2 heads broccoli with 6-10 leaves
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 leeks, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups chicken stock
2 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 bunch fresh baby spinach (8-10 ounces)
1/4 tsp ground cardamom (can substitute ground ginger, cinnamon, cumin and/or coriander)
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
6 poached eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
Chop the broccoli florets and leaves. Peel the stems and thinly slice. Melt the butter and add the onion, leeks, carrot, and garlic. Cook over low heat until wilted, 10 minutes.
Add the stock, broccoli, tomatoes and parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and cover. Simmer 25 minutes.
Stir in cardamom, nutmeg, and salt and pepper. Cook 1 minute longer and remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly. Puree the soup. Add spinach leaves and lemon juice. I would top mine with a yummy poached egg, chives and a swirl of olive oil.
Grow your broccoli from seedling if possible. Seeds take some time to germinate which is fine if you start early enough. Broccoli likes chilly weather so don’t plant until we get some cool nights.
Nasturtiums and dill are super companion plants. Onion, celery, potatoes, beets, garlic, radish and aromatic herbs are also friendly garden mates.
Add a high-nitrogen, high-calcium fertilizer and compost to the soil. Broccoli gets really large. Give them 3 feet across. Keep them clear of aphids by spraying them liberally with soapy water. Cabbage worms should be relentlessly searched for and destroyed.
Cut your heads off early if you want to ensure they don’t flower on ya.
Now get out there and enjoy those edible, nutritious, versatile and delicious leaves!