Eating broccoli and Brussels sprouts lowers risk of heart attack or stroke. Here’s a delicious recipe to get them in your diet
- Maintaining blood vessel health becomes increasingly important as we grow older. Eating cruciferous vegetables – including kale and bok choy – regularly helps
- Forget the overcooked, mushy servings of broccoli and sprouts you may have had as a child – there are great ways to prepare them, a chef and restaurateur says
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are among Christian Mongendre’s favourite vegetables, but the Hong Kong-born chef, who owns Treehouse.eco, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant in the city’s Central district, understands why some people turn their noses up at them.
“They may not look at these vegetables as interesting or exciting. When they were young they might have been forced to eat overcooked, mushy broccoli and Brussels sprouts, so now as adults they remember these veggies as looking unappetising and tasting even worse,” Mongendre says.
“These vegetables are probably an acquired taste, but the only way around this is to eat more of them,” he says. “The more often you consume them, the more you fine-tune your palate to enjoy their natural sweetness and earthiness.”
There’s another good reason to develop a taste for broccoli and Brussels sprouts. We know they have potential cancer-fighting benefits, thanks to their high antioxidant content, but research published in August 2020 in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating more cruciferous vegetables is associated with less extensive blood vessel disease in older women.
Women in the study who consumed more than 45g of cruciferous vegetables every day were 46 per cent less likely to have extensive build-up of calcium on the inner walls of their aorta compared to those who consumed little or no cruciferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables are high in vitamin K, which the researchers say may be involved in inhibiting the calcification process that occurs in our blood vessels. A build-up of fatty calcium deposits on the inner walls of our vessels can reduce the flow of blood circulating around the body and is the leading cause of heart attack and stroke.
Dr Malcolm Mackay, a family doctor and plant-based nutrition advocate from Melbourne, Australia, says the antioxidants in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts also protect against cholesterol plaque formation, while their high nitrate content boosts nitric oxide production, which is essential for healthy arteries.
According to government website Healthy HK, heart diseases have been the third leading cause of death in Hong Kong since the 1960s. So it might be a good idea to start increasing your intake of broccoli, Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, bok choy, cauliflower and Swiss chard.
Mackay starts every morning with a plate of steamed kale sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. And when he prepares broccoli and Brussels sprouts for his children, he does it very simply: steamed just long enough so that they are not crunchy or bitter, then flavoured with lemon juice.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts pair perfectly with many other vegetables, from carrots and squash to bell peppers, and this is perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy them, especially since it is wise to include a variety of colourful vegetables in our diet.
And forget the mushy, soggy, bitter, dull-coloured broccoli and Brussels sprouts of your childhood. There are countless ways to make these vegetables look and taste more appealing.
He prepares Brussels sprouts simply too, usually just roasted with olive oil, lemon and garlic, or with orange juice and chopped almonds for extra crunch. He says the vegetables can also be blended into soups, or cut into small pieces or shredded and used as pizza toppings.
“These really are exciting vegetables, so you should highlight their beautiful flavours, not hide them,” he says. “How you present them is important too, because when something looks good you’re more likely to want to eat it.”
Plant-based dietitian Rebecca Phillips, from Botanic Nutrition in Sydney, says that when shopping for vegetables, choose what’s in season and store them properly until you need them.
“If the produce is in season it means it’s at its best in terms of flavour and nutrition. And make sure to use them when they’re fresh. Don’t leave them to wilt away in the fridge.”
She also shares some useful tips for cooking broccoli and Brussels sprouts. “When they’re overcooked and mushy they release sulphur, a pungent smell that many people find off-putting. If boiled in too much water, they end up losing their water-soluble nutrients.
“It’s best to steam them until cooked but not until they’re too soft. They also work well roasted or stir-fried. Add herbs and spices for extra flavour.”
Mongendre uses a zaatar blend when preparing broccoli and Brussels sprouts. This savoury seasoning contains dried herbs such as wild thyme and oregano, and sumac, a spice that adds a tangy lemon flavour to dishes. He shares a healthy recipe that’s easy to rustle up.
Maple-roasted Brussels sprouts and chilli-charred broccoli
Ingredients (serves 6):
350g fresh Brussels sprouts
350g fresh broccoli
Half a medium red onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, thickly sliced
1 Thai red chilli, sliced, plus extra for garnish
50g extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
Zaatar blend (make this yourself or purchase a pre-made blend), to taste
Coriander leaves for garnish
Black sesame seeds or other crunchy seeds or nuts
A dash of lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 190ºC.
2. Trim the bottom of each Brussels sprout and peel away the outer layer of leaves (this is where you will notice dirt and brown spots). Slice each sprout in half and arrange on a baking sheet.
3. Slice any large broccoli florets in half but leave the smaller ones whole. Add to the baking sheet. Add the onion, garlic and chilli.
4. Drizzle oil and maple syrup over the vegetables. Sprinkle over the Zaatar blend. Using a spatula, stir the vegetables so everything is coated with the oil, syrup and zaatar blend. Arrange the vegetables in a single layer so they cook evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.
5. Place the roasted vegetables in a deep dish and garnish with extra chilli, coriander leaves and black sesame seeds. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper.