A Guide to Cruciferous Vegetables: What Are They and How to Cook With Them

Think broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts.

There’s been a lot of buzz about cruciferous vegetables lately. And if you’re into greens, you’re probably already eating a diet full of cruciferous veggies, but what are they, exactly? They’re greens, with similar origins and flavors, and once you know how to cook with them, you can use your cruciferous knowledge to swap veggies in and out of recipes and get even more creative in the kitchen. Here’s everything you need to know about cruciferous vegetables. 


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What Are Cruciferous Vegetables?

“Cruciferous vegetables are all from the mustard family, Brassicaceae,” explains Emilie Berner, Lead Chef of Online Plant-Based Culinary Arts & Food Operations at the Institute of Culinary Education. “Cultivated as early as 5,000 years ago, they are one of the dominant food crops worldwide, and many varieties have been developed through selective farming.” Examples of cruciferous veggies include cabbage, kale, bok choy, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, arugula, and more.

Both delicious and nutritious, cruciferous veggies are known for being rich in folate and vitamin K, with the darker green varieties also boasting high levels of vitamin A and vitamin C. They’re also high in fiber and lower in carbs, so they’re a popular food to help diners feel satiated without loading up on grains. “These plants are powerhouses of phytochemicals that may help combat cancer cells,” Berner says.

Cruciferous vegetables will also last for weeks in your crisper drawer, unlike other greens that tend to wilt quickly. “The nice thing about cruciferous vegetables is that because they are quite hardy, they will last in the refrigerator for a while,” Berner says. “I once had a forgotten, lonely cabbage in the drawer of the refrigerator, and when I discovered it some three weeks later and peeled off the outer leaves, it made for a delicious slaw.” 

How to Cook With Cruciferous Vegetables

For the most part, cruciferous vegetables can be enjoyed both raw and cooked. “They can be enjoyed raw—Brussel sprout slaw with a poppy seed vinaigrette is one of my favorite ways, and kale salads are on menus across America,” Berner notes. “I think they are superior in taste and texture when they are cooked, especially roasted.”

The tougher cruciferous vegetables, like kale, may need a bit of massaging and chopping to help with chewing and digesting. ‘Kale is tough, so I like to chiffonade it and break the leaves down by massaging it with a little salt, lemon juice, or oil, or all three for a salad,” Berner says. “This makes it much easier to consume and enjoy.” She recommends acids, such as lemon juice and vinegars, plus an element of sweetness, like apple, pear, or carrot, for a balanced cruciferous dish. “One of my favorite preparations for cauliflower is roasted with a curry vinaigrette served with toasted slivered almonds and currants,” Berner adds.

Cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower, can also be starchy and used in dishes for a satisfying bite and texture. “For example, cauliflower works well as a rice substitute, as a crust for pizza, and as a mash mixed with potatoes or rutabaga,” Berner says.

Recipes With Cruciferous Vegetables 

Ready to cook with cruciferous vegetables? Try these hearty recipes for an easy weeknight meal that’s packed with healthy veggies.

Cauliflower Steaks

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Swap out red meat for these cauliflower steaks that, well, definitely don’t taste meaty, but offer a similar satisfaction to a hearty meal. Serve with your favorite sides and sauces for a plant-centric feast.

One-Pan Salmon With Roasted Cabbage and Olive Vinaigrette

One-Pan Salmon With Roasted Cabbage and Olive Vinaigrette
Alison Miksch

Cabbage makes an excellent side dish all year round, and it lasts in your fridge for nearly a month, so you can have a go-to healthy dinner at the ready. This one-pan salmon comes together quickly, with a tangy olive vinaigrette to top it off.

Kimchi Cabbage Cakes

Here's a tasty way to transform a head of cabbage into a satisfying meal: Shred and toss it with spicy chopped kimchi and some eggs to make crispy cakes.
Victor Protasio

Kimchi is excellent for your gut, thanks to its fermentation, and these cabbage pancakes turn a humble head of cabbage into a crispy, satisfying meal. Swap out flour for a gluten-free alternative, if desired.

Orecchiette With Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts

Orecchiette with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts
Kan Kanbayashi

Pasta and cruciferous vegetables pair so well together because they’re starchy and have crunch. This roasted broccoli pasta makes for an excellent dinner, and it works as a leftover pasta salad too.

Brussels Sprouts Salad

Brussels Sprouts Salad
Heami Lee

Brussels sprouts are so delicious raw, and so easy to cook! They have a satisfying crunch in this recipe with a tangy vinaigrette that can be prepared ahead of guests coming over, or before you tote it to a potluck.

Crispy Pork and Bok Choy Larb

Crispy Pork and Bok Choy Larb
Greg DuPree

If larb isn’t a weeknight staple in your home yet, that’s about to change. This crispy ground pork and bok choy recipe is hugely flavorful, packed with nutrition, and quick to whip up.

Kale Chips 

Kale Chips
Kale Chips & Asthma. Chris Gramly E+ Getty Images

Swap your potato chips for a cruciferous veggie chip! Believe it or not, kale chips can be crunchy, satisfying, and they’re super adaptable to whatever flavors you want to put on them.

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