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Top 5 Surprising Foods You May Have Never Tasted: Broccoli Rabe

Updated on January 30, 2010

This delicious, nutritious and versatile dark green leafy vegetable is a coveted ingredient in both Italian and Chinese recipes. It's also known as rapini, choy sum and Chinese flowering cabbage. Unlike broccoli, broccoli rabe never forms a head of florets.

With its zesty flavor, broccoli rabe is a perfect ingredient for plainer dishes, or it can be enjoyed alone as a savory side dish. Every delicious mouthful of broccoli rabe delivers vitamin C, beta-carotene and cancer-fighting nutrients you won't want to miss. Thanks to its growing popularity, broccoli rabe is widely available in supermarkets across the country.

Nutritional Perks

When you think of foods high in vitamin C, you probably don't think of dark green leafy vegetables like broccoli rabe. But the fact is, broccoli rabe is packed with vitamin C. One cup contains 72 milligrams: that's 120 times the Daily Value. And that's great, since vitamin C acts as a powerful antioxidant blocking the cell damage caused by free radicals. If left unchecked, free radicals can cause a host of problems, including heart disease and cancer.

Broccoli rabe also contains almost 8 milligrams of beta-carotene. Although there's no Daily Value for beta-carotene, the general recommended intake for an entire day is 15 to 20 milligrams. The beta-carotene in broccoli rabe acts as yet another powerful antioxidant in this veggie's cache of disease-fighting nutrients. Plus, a portion of the beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A, which is essential for eye and skin health. Vitamin A also plays a role in sperm development for men and normal fetal growth in pregnant women.

In addition to vitamin C and beta-carotene, broccoli rabe contains the phytochemical known as indole-3-carbinol, found in high concentrations in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli rabe. Indole-3-carbinol has been shown in animal studies to reduce the occurrence of breast cancer. Generally, indoles are known to trigger enzymes that inhibit the estrogen action that causes breast cancer.

Selecting Broccoli Rabe

Look for vegetables with bright green crisp leaves, and steer clear of leaves that are wilted, yellowing or have green patches of slime. The most tender broccoli rabe have thin and firm stems. The florets should be compact, closed and dark green. Avoid broccoli rabe that has yellow flowers which is a sign that the greens are past their prime.

Broccoli rabe is usually available year-round, although you may have some difficulty finding it midsummer.

Storage and Handling

Store broccoli rabe unwashed in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. To maximize storage time, place it in a wet towel or plastic bag before putting it in the refrigerator. It should keep for 2 to 3 days. To keep for longer, blanch and freeze.

Preparation Pointers

Broccoli rabe's long stalks of green leaves and small florets have a bitter zest that adds a superb flavor to bland foods.

Before eating, rinse thoroughly with cold water. Shake off water and cut about an inch off the ends of the stems. Though you can eat broccoli rabe raw, it's most commonly eaten cooked, as this enhances the flavor. Broccoli rabe can be enjoyed lightly sautéed and served alone as a hot or cold side dish. It's also terrific as an ingredient in potato, pasta or meat dishes.

Continued In Top 5 Surprising Foods You May Have Never Tasted: Jerusalem Artichokes


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    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I've just discovered this delicious vegetable in our local supermarket. Now it seems to be popping up everywhere. It is already popular with the family. Thanks for telling us about it.