I’m weird. If you haven’t figured that out by now, let me assure you – I’m a bizarre creature. One of my unique attributes is a liking, nay, a passion for a green vegetable called broccoli rabe.
I want to share the joys of growing, cooking, and enjoying this garden superfood powerhouse with you. This article marks the first in a series of articles, recipes, and more dedicated to broccoli rabe.
Broccoli Rabe, the Surprising Superfood
“What is that?”
That’s often the question I get when people stare at the tall, leafy green plants growing in my raised bed vegetable garden. Many people, including avid gardeners, have never seen, much less tasted, broccoli rabe.
Broccoli rabe is a vegetable with many aliases. Broccolini, rabe, rapini, broccoli rabe are all names for a leafy green from the mustard family. It’s more closely related to the turnip than to broccoli, and geneticists and historians confirm that it shares more in common with a far-away turnip ancestor in China than it does to a broccoli plant. Rabe (I’ll use broccoli rabe and rabe as a nickname for the vegetable throughout the book) probably came from China and eventually arrived in the Mediterranean.
One thing that’s important to note: broccoli rabe is NOT broccoli! I’ve seen so many articles online that mix up the two as if they are interchangeable. That’s like saying a potato and an apple are the same thing because in French, pomme (apple) and pomme de terre (potato) both include the word pomme. No. Just – no. Such different vegetables, broccoli rabe and broccoli. Both wonderful, healthy, nutritious veggies, but different in their genetics, botanical families, growing habits, and enjoyment in recipes.
Known as cime di rapa in Italy, broccoli rabe is part of the cuisines of southern Italy, Portugal, and southern France. In the United States, you’ll find it more easily in the grocery stores in New York and New Jersey, where broccoli rabe first entered this country as an immigrant sometime in the early 20th century. Why New Jersey? New Jersey greeted many Italian immigrants in the 20th century, many from southern Italy. As with any wave of immigrants, they brought with them the recipes they loved and the plants they cherished.
A meal can consist of a plate half-filled with broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and garlic, Italian sausage, and a loaf of crusty Italian bread with a glass of red wine. It’s the perfect meal for authentic taste and flavor.
Broccoli rabe plants consist of a stem, leaves, and the tiny broccoli-like florets are the tips. The florets open into yellow flower reminiscent of wild mustard and another reminder that the plant is closely related to the mustard family of vegetables.
All aerial parts are edible, but you’ll find that the lower part of the stem on mature plants is tough. Rabe is best enjoyed by stripping or cutting off the lower ends. The thin stems, leaves, and unopened florets can be eaten. Some people strip off the leaves or clip off the stems. If you strip off the leaves, compost the stems.
Nutrition Superstar: Broccoli Rabe Nutrients and Calories
Everyone talks about kale a superfood. Honestly, broccoli rabe makes kale look like a slacker. Check out the nutrition info on broccoli rabe:
One bunch, cooked (about 1 cup)
Protein: 16.7 g
- Omega 3 fatty acids: 568 mg
- Omega 6 fatty acids: 87 mg
- Fiber: 12 g
- Vitamin A: 396% of your Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin C: 270% of your DV
- Vitamin E: 55% DV
- Vitamin K: 1398% DV
- Thiamin: 49% DV
- Niacin: 44% DV
- Vitamin B6: 48% DV
- Folate: 78% DV
- Calcium: 52%
- Iron: 31%
- Magnetium: 29%
- Potassium: 43%
- Manganese: 83%
I didn’t include some of the smaller amounts but check out the numbers above. This, my friends, is the true definition of a superfood…one just packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein. For the complete nutrition profile, visit Nutrition Data.
Protein? Surprised? If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, broccoli rabe provides 16 grams of protein!
[Tweet “Meet the real superfood – broccoli rabe. Low calories, excellent nutrition.”]
For those on inflammation-fighting diets, the ratio of Omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is particularly noteworthy. Omega 3 is in short supply in most modern diets. We tend to eat more processed oils and fats that contain Omega 6 than 3, and Omega 3s are the ones that are good for fighting inflammation (that’s the ‘good fat’ in fish oils). Just be eating one cup of cooked broccoli rabe, you’ve exceeded the 500 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids that many health and nutrition experts recommend.
Have you grown broccoli rabe in your spring garden? If yes, then you’re in for a treat. I’ll be sharing posts and recipes on this vegetable over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!
If you are new to growing it, here are some posts I’ve written to help you grow this delicious, healthy vegetable.
Happy (and healthy) gardening. Keep growing!