Its cruciferous cousin may get all the love, but broccoli rabe (also known as rapini) is a nutrient-packed superfood worth seeking out on your next grocery run. Not a broccoli fan? Don't turn up your nose. "If you hate broccoli, you may not necessarily hate broccoli rabe," says Lisa Hayim, registered dietician and founder of The WellNecessities. "Despite the name, broccoli rabe is closer to the turnip family than to broccoli. Its flavor is stronger and has a bitter taste, most reminiscent of the flavor of raw kale."
Before you do a supermarket sweep, take note: "When selecting broccoli rabe, choose ones with dark green leaves and bright green stems. You also want to look for firm, dark green florets that are tightly compact," says Rachel Stahl, RD, CDN, a NYC-based registered dietitian.
Read on for five reasons you should bag some rabe ASAP, and three delectable broccoli rabe recipes.
It's Brimming With Vitamins and Minerals
Just 3.5 oz of broccoli rabe (a little more than two cups) contains more than half your daily values of vitamins A and C. In fact, broccoli rabe has more than 350% more vitamin A than blackberries, and five times more vitamin A than summer squash. Vitamin A (along with D, E and K) is a fat-soluble vitamin, so pair broccoli rabe with olive oil, canola oil or even avocado for absorption.
Eat This! Tip
Broccoli rabe is a good source of iron. However, iron is harder to absorb from plant-based foods than animal sources, says Stahl. She suggests cooking the veggie with lemon. "Vitamin C-rich foods help make plant-based iron more absorbable. The acid in lemons helps break down the cell walls in broccoli rabe, tenderizing the leaves and making them less bitter," says Stahl. Lemons too tart? "You can combine broccoli rabe or other dark, leafy green vegetables with other vitamin C-rich foods, including citrus fruits, strawberries, tomatoes and bell peppers," she adds.
It Keeps Your Digestive System Running Smoothly
Broccoli rabe has two grams of fiber per cup, keeping you fuller longer, quelling cravings and helping you lose weight.
Eat This! Tip
Pair it with any of these High-Fiber Foods for Weight Loss.
It Lowers Your Risk for Heart Disease
Broccoli rabe offers powerful anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as folate and vitamin C. The veggie has ten times more folic acid than blueberries.
Eat This! Tip
If you have old garlic lying around, you might want to pair it with a bunch of broccoli rabe. "Sprouted" garlic, or the bulbs that have bright green shoots popping out through their center, may contain more heart-healthy antioxidants than fresh bulbs. Learn more about the Best Foods to Lower the Risk of Heart Disease here.
It Helps Strengthen Your Bones
Broccoli rabe has more than 100% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin K in just a half-cup. "Vitamin K is important in the body because it plays a key role in blood clotting," says Stahl. In addition to boosting bone health, rabe also detoxes the liver, thanks to its high sulfur content.
Eat This! Tip
For healthy bones, vitamin D is also key. Although rabe lacks that nutrient, it can be part of a D-rich dinner: "One of my favorite ways to enjoy broccoli rabe is tossed with whole-grain pasta, minced garlic, sundried tomatoes, white beans, and fresh basil," says Stahl. "I serve this with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice with freshly ground black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese."
It Helps Protect Your Eyesight
Broccoli rabe also contains lutein, an antioxidant that works to shield your retinas from damaging free radicals. And file this under amazing: "It may help fight cancer, due to high levels of glucosinolates, which your body converts into cancer-fighting molecules," says Stahl. (It's only one of the foods we recommend for healthy eyes.)
Eat This! Tip
When adding rapini to your diet, consider cooking instead of eating it raw. "Broccoli rabe is known to have a bitter taste when raw, which is why I love to steam or sauté it with 2 teaspoons of olive oil and season with fresh garlic, pepper, and a pinch of salt," says Stahl, who recommends removing the tough ends of the stems before cooking. Blanching the veggie — bringing it to a boil, then transferring to an ice bath — releases flavor.
Here are three of our favorite recipes for broccoli rabe, compliments of Andy Boy, a California-based produce company:
Broccoli Rabe Tropical Power Smoothie
Low in sodium and clocking in with only 216 calories per serving, this tasty smoothie is also loaded with 60% of your recommended daily value of Vitamin C. It already contains 4 grams of protein, but to boost it further, add one of these natural, plant-based protein powders.
Prep: 5 min
Cook: 2 min
Total: 7 min
1 cup broccoli rabe leaves, stems removed
1 apple, cored
1 banana, peeled
¼ cup parsley
¼ cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons honey
1 cup pineapple juice
Place all ingredients in a blender and process on high until completely smooth. Pour into two glasses and serve.
Broccoli Rabe Kimchi
We've never met a rapini side dish we didn't like, but this one takes the cake for total mouthwatering deliciousness. Fermented foods like kimchi can be a boon for a flat belly and healthy gut. Here, kimchi gets savory flavor from miso, garlic, chili powder and green onion. With eight grams of fiber, 312% of your daily recommended value of Vitamin A and more than 40% of your daily recommended value for Vitamin C, this side is as tasty as it is nutritious.
Prep: 40 min
Cook: 0 min
Total: 40 min
½ Bunch broccoli rabe
4 Cloves garlic, minced
1-Inch piece of ginger, minced
¼ Cup Korean chili powder (kochukaru), or to taste
1 Tablespoon miso paste
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Small bunch green onions, cut into 1 inch pieces
½ Cup julienned carrots
- Cut the rabe into 1-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a generous amount of kosher salt, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and toss. Let sit for ½ hour. The purpose of salting the greens is two-fold: it acts a preservative and draws water out of the greens, tenderizing in the process.
- While the greens are brining, combine the garlic, ginger, kochukaru, miso paste, and remaining tablespoon of sugar. It will be very thick. Thin with a bit of warm water (1 tablespoon at a time) until smooth. You're looking for the consistency of sour cream. Taste and adjust if needed. Stir in the green onions and carrots.
- Rinse and drain the broccoli rabe. Thoroughly mix with the kochukaru paste. Taste and season with salt if necessary. Pack tightly into jars.
- Seal tightly and refrigerate. The kimchi will be tasty right away but even better after 24 hours. It will continue to ferment for up to two weeks and keep in the fridge for up to 1 month.
Braised Broccoli Rabe Grilled Cheese
You had us at melted cheddar. This healthy comfort food spotlights broccoli rabe, with tanginess and kick from red chili pepper flakes, garlic and lemon. We love that it has 30 grams of protein per sandwich, 30% of your recommended daily value of iron and 20% of your DV of vitamin A.
Prep: 1 hr
Cook: 15 min
Total: 1 hr 15 min
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
Pinch chili flakes
1 bunch broccoli rabe, bottom 2-inches cut off, washed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
8 slices of good bread
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
- Sauté the garlic and chili flakes in the olive oil over medium high heat in a large skillet or dutch oven until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the broccoli rabe and sauté until just starting to color, about 2 to 3 minutes more. Add 1/2 cup water to the pot, cover, and gently simmer for 1 hour. Give the broccoli rabe a stir a few times throughout the process. If the pan is dry add just a bit of water to keep the broccoli rabe from scorching.
- After an hour the broccoli rabe will be very tender and slumped. Finish with just a squeeze of fresh lemon.
- Butter one side of each slice of bread.
- Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add four slices of bread (or two at a time if that's what fits in the pan) butter side down and top the bread with 1/4 of the broccoli rabe. On top of that add roughly 1/2 cup grated cheese. Top with another slice of bread, this time butter side up.
- Grill until golden and the cheese has melted, about 3 minutes per side. Give the sandwich a gentle press with a spatula to compress the sandwich so the broccoli rabe and cheese really meld together. Serve immediately.
Images courtesy of Andy Boy
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