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Types of broccoli available in New Zealand, plus the 8 best ways to eat it.

Broccoli is a cruciferous green vegetable from the brassica family, closely related to cauliflower, cabbage, kale and Brussels sprouts. In NZ, broccoli is an immensely popular vegetable with a mustardy taste and crisp, tender texture, prized for its many health benefits.

The 3 types of broccoli

There are three commonly grown broccoli varieties widely available in New Zealand.

1. Calabrese broccoli

Referred to simply as 'broccoli', this is the most popular type of broccoli in NZ. Calabrese closely resembles cauliflower and features a large (10 to 20cm) dark, bluish-green head of broccoli florets, on thick stems.

2. Chinese sprouting broccoli

Chinese broccoli

Favoured in Asian cuisine and also referred to as 'gai lan', Chinese broccoli features long, thin, green stems. Instead of a head of flower buds, they have soft green leaves. Both the leaves and stem are completely edible.

3. Long stemmed broccoli (Broccolini)

Long stemmed broccoli

Long stemmed broccoli is a hybrid cross between Calabrese broccoli and Chinese broccoli and was originally developed in Japan. This variety has long, slender young stems, reminiscent of asparagus, topped with small dark, green florets. The entire vegetable, leaves, stems and flowers is edible and has a sweet flavour.

How to buy and store broccoli

When buying, look for bright green broccoli, with a compact head of bud clusters. Avoid broccoli with yellowed leaves or yellow flowers which indicate it's past its best. Yellowed broccoli is still safe to eat but may taste more bitter.

Raw broccoli is very perishable so should be bought as close to the day you plan to use it. Once home, store in the refrigerator, ideally in a brown paper bag. Broccoli is sensitive to ethylene, so keep separate from ethylene producing fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, apples, bananas and pears.

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How to prepare broccoli

  1. Clean broccoli by wiping any dirty spots then pat with a paper towel to dry.
  2. Apart from the bottom inch of broccoli stems, minimise food waste and eat the entire vegetable. Cut off and dispose of the bottom inch of the stem, which can be tough and woody. Only peel the stems if they are to be cooked quickly as in stir fries, otherwise there's no need.
  3. If peeling, run your peeler down the stem until the dark green skin reveals a pale, almost white flesh. You can then slice the stem into thin circular coins or dice if you prefer.
  4. Using a sharp knife, separate the head into small florets.
How to prepare Broccolini and Chinese broccoli
  1. Wipe and dry completely.
  2. Broccolini stalks and florets can remain intact and be cooked whole, alternatively the stalk can be removed and finely sliced or julienned.
  3. Chinese broccoli can be eaten whole or the stem, leaves and flowers can be finely chopped and cooked quickly together.
Broccoli can be eaten raw

Broccoli slaw

This versatile green vegetable is delicious eaten raw and is great thinly sliced and tossed in salad recipes, or as small broccoli florets dipped into hummus. Raw broccoli can be grated and added to coleslaw to boost its flavour and nutrient content. 

Broccoli rice

You can finely chop broccoli heads and large florets into the size of rice grains, creating what is referred to as 'broccoli rice'. Broccoli rice can be eaten as a plant based, gluten free, low carb, nutritional alternative to regular white or brown rice. In some stores, prepared broccoli rice is available in the fresh produce department or freezer.

8 of the best ways to cook broccoli

An incredibly versatile vegetable to cook, broccoli is traditionally served as a plain, boiled side dish. Why not impress your family by trying one of these alternative cooking methods - we highly recommend the roasted broccoli recipe below:

  • Blanching: If eating raw broccoli doesn't appeal, you can blanch it quickly by plunging into boiling water for 2 minutes, then cool rapidly in cold water. Blanching improves the taste and flavour and creates a crisp, tender texture which you can then go on to stir fry.
  • Boiling: Don't leave broccoli unattended when boiling, as it can become soggy very quickly and valuable nutrients can leach out and be lost in the water. Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook for 3-4 minutes until crisp and tender.
  • Steaming: Freshly steamed tender, crisp broccoli is far tastier and more nutritious than raw and boiled. Steam cooking optimises its nutrient availability and flavour.
    Trim florets and place into a steamer basket and place over a pan of boiling water for 3 minutes until tender. Coat with olive oil and seasoning before serving.
  • Microwave: Microwaving broccoli is really simple and makes a delicious side dish to go with fish or poultry.
    Place the florets into a microwavable bowl, add 3 tablespoons of water, cover and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Then toss in a simple dressing made with lemon juice (1 tsp), melted butter (25g), a drizzle of olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Sauteed: Broccolini and Chinese broccoli are best suited to cooking rapidly on a high heat. We recommend you blanch for 2 minutes first, then immerse in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain, then toss in a hot pan over high heat with 2 Tbsp of melted butter, a generous pinch of lemon zest, 1 tsp of minced garlic, 1/2 tsp of lemon juice and freshly ground salt and pepper.
  • Stir fried broccoli: Chinese broccoli or gai lan is perfect when stir fried, it also pairs well with oyster sauce.
  • Oven roasted broccoli: Roasting is possibly the tastiest method to cook broccoli. Toss the sliced main stem and florets in olive oil. Add salt and pepper, then place in a single layer on a baking sheet and pop into a hot oven for 20 minutes, until it starts to brown and crisp. The high temperature caramelises the outside creating a deliciously sweet, nutty flavour. You can then toss it in a bowl with lemon zest, lemon juice and salty Parmesan cheese for the perfect roasted broccoli dish.
  • Chargrilled: Steamed broccoli or Broccolini is delicious chargrilled on the barbecue or under the grill. The principles are the same as oven roasting, where the combination of high heat and quick cooking time creates a wonderfully charred, sweet, tasty, nutty flavour to the florets.

Nutrition and health benefits of eating broccoli

Broccoli is a low carb, high fibre, keto friendly vegetable which can support weight loss. It's a good source of these vitamins and minerals, which are more readily available once gently cooked.

  • Vitamin C: An antioxidant, which supports the immune system and improves skin health
  • Vitamin K: Helps with blood clotting and promotes bone health
  • Iron: A mineral essential for transporting oxygen to red blood cells
  • Potassium: A mineral essential to control blood pressure and prevent heart disease
  • Sulforaphane: This is a sulphur compound believed to slow the ageing process and has been linked to improving heart health, diabetes, digestion and bone health.

You can find out more about other seasonal fruits and vegetables here.

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