Cruciferae: The Scary Vegetables

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scary cruciferous pumpkin
With Halloween around the corner, it’s time to talk about something that really gives kids the creeps. Forget about vampires (those hunky blood suckers) or zombies (they have feelings too). What terrifies many children are cruciferous vegetables. Even the name sounds scary -- sort of like crucify or crucio (for all you Harry Potter fans).

Cruciferous vegetables, also known as brassicaceae, are the ones that hit the market in fall, just in time for Halloween. Cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are just a few of the commonly unloved veggies that make up this plant variety. Yet although the cruciferae are often sneered at, and even loathed by some, they are hardly villains. Dubbed super vegetables, they are full of antioxidants and vitamins, are thought to have cancer-preventing and fighting agents, and also protect against cardiovascular disease. So, contrary to popular belief, these under appreciated vegetables are actually the heroes of the food world.

brussels sprouts on the stalk

Yet as much as I put myself in the role of PR rep for these amazing plants, multitudes of kids (and even some adults) meet a plateful of cauliflower, kale or Brussels sprouts with scrunched up faces and pursed lips. Of course there are many people (adults and children alike) who love all things cruciferous, but I don't think it's farfetched to say these vegetables have a bad rap.

But don't lose heart. If your child has decided she hates all things cruciferous, you can trick her into getting excited about eating them. Don't worry. I'm not suggesting you hide the vegetables (as I am strongly against deceiving kids about food -- Santa Claus, however, is a different matter). Rather, I support getting your children interested in eating these amazing vegetables with their eyes wide open, and some of the little darlings will even come to love them. The younger your kids are, the easier your job. So if your kids are a little older, your task will be more difficult, but with a little effort -- along with a fair amount of Parmesan cheese and bacon -- it's possible to convince your kids that cruciferous vegetables are not only edible, but quite tasty.


Here are a few ways to get your kids to eat all things cruciferous. A few of the items on this list repeat some tips I provided last year, but as they really do work, it's worth mentioning them here again.

cauliflower in various colors

• Try roasting your vegetables instead of steaming or boiling them. Roasting allows the natural sugars in the vegetables to caramelize, which makes them more flavorful. It is also a great way to make sure the veggies turn out al dente instead of mushy. And, if you need another incentive, boiling and steaming emit the vegetables natural gassy odors while roasting helps contain the smells.

• Try fun colored vegetables. Right now you can find purple or yellow cauliflower, or those lovely Tuscan ones with spiky cones all over them. Even the most cauliflower-hating kid will be interested in nibbling something purple.

• Buy an entire stalk of Brussels sprouts. It's fun to take the sprouts off the stalk, and you are then left with a long green baton your kids can play with.

• Don't overcook your cruciferous veggies as they are high in gas and cooking them for too long makes them stinky. See if you can get your kids to eat the broccoli or cauliflower raw (with salad dressing or melted cheese if necessary) and then cook the rest al dente.

• Make a creamy soup. When blended with milk or cream and butter, vegetables become much more manageable for kids who reject foods out of hand because of weird textures. So if your child thinks Brussels sprout leaves are slimy, puree them.

• Add bacon and cheese (if you eat these things). Let's face it, everything really does taste better with bacon and cheese. Kale sautéed with bacon or pancetta is truly amazing. And cauliflower baked au gratin with cheese and butter is beyond decadent. Toss in your children's favorite pasta to make the dish even more appealing.

• Take your kids to a garden or farm at picking time. Picking vegetables is fun and kids are far more likely to eat something they got to commune with in the garden. Many local farms have family days where you and your brood can pick to your hearts' content.

• Let your kids pick out your weekly vegetables in the market. Go to a farmer's market if you can as they offer inviting opportunities for your little ones to touch, smell, and even talk with a farmer.

And now for that irresistible purple soup.

purple cauliflower soup

Roasted Purple Cauliflower Soup

Serves: 4 people

1 medium head of purple cauliflower chopped into small florets
1 medium potato chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small onion chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
4 Tbsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Lay the cut up cauliflower and potato in a pan. Drizzle on some olive oil, black pepper, and salt (kosher or sea salt preferably). Roast in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until you can easily pierce the cauliflower and potato pieces with a fork.
2. In a medium pot, sauté the onion in 2 Tbsp butter until soft. Add in the roasted cauliflower and potato along with the chicken or vegetable stock. Cook until the broth is heated through.
3. Using a hand or stand blender, blend the cauliflower mixture until all chunks are gone and the soup is smooth.
4. Add the mixture back to the pot and mix in the milk. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the soup to a low simmer.
5. Mix in the Parmesan cheese and the remaining 2 Tbsp butter. Serve.