Q: What plant did these vastly different vegetables stem from?

While they may seem an unlikely grouping, the Winter vegetables listed below are all from the same species. They are all classified as cultivars of Brassica Oleracea, one of the world’s most diverse plant species which includes kale, collard greens, broccoli, broccolini, chinese broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, Brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. Due to human cultivation and careful selection over thousands of years, the various cultivars of Brassica Oleracea have grown to be distinctively different in both appearance and flavour. One thing they all share however, is their nutritional value, supplying much needed Vitamin C, A, K, Dietary Fibre and Folate during the cooler winter months.  What is often overlooked when talking about Brassica Oleracea is the wonderful diversity of textures, flavours and colour they can bring to a winter menu.  

BROCCOLI:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

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Availability: all year, best May – Sept
Appearance: tightly formed head of flowers on thick, green stalks. Flowers range from blue-green to purple in colour
Selection: avoid heads with open or yellowed flowers, as these have a bitter taste
Storage: in vented plastic bag in refrigerator
Prep: cook lightly to retain flavour and nutritional value
Claim to Fame: Australia’s 10th largest vegetable crop, broccoli is considered a super-food due to its anti-cancer properties and nutritional value

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CAULIFLOWER:

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Availability: all year, best May – Sept
Appearance: white ‘curd’ (tightly packed florets) on a thick white stem
Selection: avoid brown discolouration of the curd and look for fresh leaves at the base of the curd (if still attached)
Storage: remove thick, outer leaves and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator
Prep: cut into florets and wash under cool water. It’s subtle creamy, nutty flavour make it perfect roasted, braised or fried in a warm winter salad, as a side-dish, pureed in soups or pickled
Claim to fame: good raw or cooked, cauliflower is packed with dietary fibre, folate and vitamin C

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PURPLE CAULIFLOWER:

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Availability: all year, best May – Sept
Appearance: purple ‘curd’ (tightly packed florets) on a thick white-purple stem
Selection: avoid brown discolouration of the curd and look for fresh leaves at the base of the curd (if still attached)
Storage: remove thick, outer leaves and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator
Prep: in the same manner as cauliflower
Claim to fame: vibrant purple colour caused by anthocyanins (antioxidant also found in red wine and red cabbage), delivers a sweeter, nuttier flavour than its white counterpart

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BROCCOFLOWER:

Image: www.perfection.com.au

Availability:  all year – best April to late August
Appearance:  looks like a cauliflower that has a light green tinted curd
Selection: similarly to cauliflower look for tightly pressed florets with no discolouration
Storage: remove thick, outer leaves and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator
Prep: in the same way as you would cauliflower – steam, stir-fry, or use in salads, crudités or dips
Claim to fame: a cross between cauliflower & broccoli, broccoflower is milder and sweeter than either parent and is high in Vitamin C

 

BROCCOLINI:

Image: www.perfection.com.au

Availability: all year
Appearance:  long, thin stems topped with small florets of tight green flowers (can also get purple sprouting broccolini)
Selection: look for glossy, bright green stalks and florets
Storage: in sealed plastic bag in refrigerator
Prep: wash, trim stalk and stir-fry, steam or boil
Claim to Fame: An Australian development, broccolini is a cross between broccoli & Japanese kale- it has an intense broccoli flavour yet looks more delicate on the plate

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CHINESE BROCCOLI: aka Gai-lan, Kai-lan, Chinese Kale

Image: www.taste.com.au

Availability: all year
Appearance: long white-green stem, large dark green leaves and a small number of tiny florets  
Selection: look for clean, crisp leaves, firm stems
Storage: loosely closed plastic bag in refrigerator
Prep: rinse, then snap florets and leaves from stem. Most often used chopped into stir-fries or as a side-dish. Can be steamed, blanched, braised or stir-fried
Claim to Fame: no wastage, both stem and leaves are eaten. Has a slightly stronger broccoli flavour, which can be slightly bitter

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GREEN CABBAGE:

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Availability: all year, best in Jun –Aug or November
Appearance: compact head of leaves that can be round, conical, loose or tight- with creamy white to green leaves and small white veins
Selection: choose heads that are heavy for size, with crisp, bright leaves
Storage: in bag in refrigerator
Prep: chop with a knife and use quickly to make the most of the flavour and nutrition.
Claim to fame: historically used as both food & medicine. It is very low in kilojoules but high in vitamin C, folate, potassium and dietary fibre

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RED CABBAGE:

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

Availability: all year, best Mar – May
Appearance: compact head of smooth red-purple leaves with small white veins
Selection: choose heads that are heavy for size, with crisp, bright leaves
Storage: in bag in refrigerator
Prep: when cooking add lemon or vinegar to water to protect colour, beware of colour bleeding into other ingredients
Claim to fame: has been used for pickling since the middle ages, however also lovely braised

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SAVOY CABBAGE:

Image: www.bbc.co.uk/food

Availability: all year
Appearance: round to elongated cabbage with wrinkly leaves that have serrated margins. Colour can be anywhere between yellow-green to blue-green
Selection: look for bright, fresh leaves and a head that is heavy for its size (though be aware that Savoy being less tightly furled that your standard green will be lighter)
Storage: place in plastic bag and store in fridge
Prep: prepare similarly to green cabbage, remove outer leaves and rinse before shredding into coleslaw, steaming, etc. Leaves can also be used to wrap ingredients
Claim to fame: slightly sweet with a tender crunch, Savoy is perfect for coleslaw. Often used in the place of green cabbage

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TUSCAN CABBAGE: aka Cavalo Nero, black cabbage, Tuscan kale

Image: www.foodconnect.com.au

Availability: all year
Appearance: sold in bunches of long dark green leaves. The leaves are heavily bubbled with a thick, white vein from stem to tip
Selection: look for firm, plump stalks and bright, fresh leaves
Storage: store unwashed in a sealed plastic bag in fridge
Prep: traditionally used in soups and pastas or steamed, this is also a fantastic stir-fry vegetable. Tuscan cabbage can survive longer cooking times without turning to mush and is also eaten raw (without the vein)
Claim to fame: used both raw and cooked, Tuscan cabbage has a mild cabbage flavour which can sometimes be a little bitter. Quintessential cabbage for Italian dishes.  SG&S also sells ‘black cabbage’ – a salad mix of baby Tuscan Cabbage leaves that taste similar but are more tender and delicate

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WOMBOK: aka Wong bok, Chinese Cabbage, Chinese leaves, Celery Cabbage

Image: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au

Availability: all year, best in May or between Sept – Dec
Appearance: elongated cabbage with large, broad leaves that are pale green with white ribs and veins. The leaves are not as tightly packed as ballhead etc
Selection: look for fresh, crisp leaves with no blemishes
Storage: loosely closed plastic bag in refrigerator
Prep: all purpose cabbage. Absorbs flavours so is fantastic in casseroles, stir-fries, soups or pickled (as with kimchi). Alternatively shred into dumplings, coleslaw, salads or burgers
Claim to fame: While not technically from Brassica Oleracea, this is so widely considered  a cabbage we have included it in this summary. Renowned for its good shelf life, mild, sweet flavour and crunchy texture, its leaves have a slight pepper flavour while the ribs are juicy, mild and sweet.  

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BRUSSELS SPROUTS:

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Availability: Mar – Sept
Appearance: look like tiny, green ballhead cabbages
Selection: look for small, firm, compact heads with fresh, green leaves
Storage: store untrimmed in plastic bag in the fridge
Prep: trim stem, remove tatty outer leaves then cut a shallow cross into the stem , this assists in even cooking. Do not overcook or a sulphur like odour will be released, drain thoroughly. Roasted with pancetta to bring out a lovely sweet, nutty flavour, alternatively boil, deep-fry, stir-fry or steam
Claim to Fame: Far out Brussels Sprout, these mini cabbages are undervalued as bitter old varieties and overcooking have given them a bad reputation. High in Vitamin C and K they are also shown to assist in cancer prevention

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A: All Brassica Oleracea cultivars are believed to have been derived from Wild Cabbage which was native to the limestone cliffs of England and France (think the white cliffs of Dover) thousands of years ago. The Romans and Greeks were known to have cultivated cabbage widely in their gardens and according to ‘Classical’ texts by Theophrastus and Pliny, diverse cultivars were already available. Over thousands of years Wild Cabbage has seen every trait manipulated to our culinary needs. With the Cambridge World History of Foods still citing over 400 types of cabbage, we can only imagine how many Brassica Oleracea variants have come and gone.

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