Why You Shouldn’t Ever Cook Broccoli in Your Slow Cooker Again

Broccoli is one of my favourite vegetables. At just 34 calories per 100 grams, it supplies 148% of the vitamin C we need for a whole day. Did you know that 100 g of oranges would supply only 88%? Broccoli also supplies vitamins A, E and K, folates and vitamin B6, and the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Broccoli provides minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and iron. And like many vegetables, it is a good source of dietary fibre.

But please, don’t cook broccoli in your crockpot!

Broccoli in the Crockpot? Phew, What a Stench!

I have generally cooked broccoli two ways in my life: steamed (my preferred method) and in stir fries. But when my neighbour began talking about freezer to crockpot meals, I fell in love with my slow cooker all over again. The convenience of chopping all my vegetables in a single afternoon and having freezer meals for a week was great. So I started to do most of my cooking in our trusty crockpot.

Most of the recipes I tried during that first month of freezer to crockpot cooking were heavy on the root vegetables. Specifically, they had a lot of onions, carrots, and potatoes. But there were several recipes that incorporated nutrient-rich cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. I have to admit that I balked a bit at the idea of including these vegetables in recipes for the slow cooker, especially because cauliflower and broccoli become limp and tasteless if they’re overcooked. What I hadn’t expected was the stench.

Oh yes my friends, broccoli smells bad when you cook it in your crockpot!

The very first time we tried what was supposed to be a healthy beef and broccoli crock pot recipe, the whole house just reeked of sulfur. (Not to mention that the broccoli was mushy and lifeless, as I had feared it would be.) I tried tweaking my recipe by replacing the fresh broccoli I’d used at first with the commercially frozen stuff that was actually called for in the beef and broccoli recipe. I tried adding the broccoli during just the last hour. I tried tweaking the crockpot setting and the cooking time. But nothing really improved the situation all that much. It just stank. No matter what we tried, the smell was atrocious.

Using a crockpot to cook broccoli just seems to bring out the smell of sulfur more than other methods of cooking. I suspect it’s a combination of the longer, lower-temperature cooking and the contained moisture that is intended mainly for cooking hardier vegetables and less tender cuts of meat. While I have heard that some people are bothered by a bad smell when cooking boiled or steamed broccoli, I can’t remember it ever being an issue for me. It’s just trying to prepare broccoli in the slow cooker that stinks up my house.

Read more below…

Cooking broccoli the best way to boost sulforaphane and maximize health benefits | Fight cancer and improve your health | 24 Carrot Diet
Boost the sulforaphane content of your broccoli by steaming it
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Steamed Broccoli Cooks in Minutes

One question I eventually had to ask myself when I was in this full-on freezer to crockpot cooking craze was, Why am I cooking this meal in a slow cooker? A crockpot is an amazing tool for a busy family. A crockpot is a blessing when you’re feeding a big family on a budget, because you can buy inexpensive cuts of meat that are less tender and more flavourful. The longer cooking time helps to tenderize the meat, so the result is just as nice as the more expensive cuts.

A slow cooker is a huge help when you have school-age kids. It’s a relief to know dinner is taking care of itself when the kids are all coming in from school, wanting to tell Mama about their day, needing help with their homework, or waving the latest stack of permission slips and newsletters in your face. I’m sure many of you can relate!

But does that mean we need to cook every single meal in that much beloved crockpot? Is there a faster, more efficient way to cook your dinner? If food doesn’t need to be cooked slowly for several hours, then the answer is probably yes.

In the case of broccoli, it takes just minutes to cook. You can make steamed broccoli on the stovetop in about 3-5 minutes. Blanching broccoli in boiling water takes only 1-1/2 minutes. Cooking broccoli in a stir fry or steaming it in the microwave takes under 5 minutes. And even oven roasting your broccoli takes only about 15-20 minutes from start to finish.

So no, you don’t need a crockpot to cook your broccoli. You can do it any number of other ways in just minutes. Plopping it in the crockpot just isn’t saving you much time or work. And by cooking broccoli in the slow cooker, you’re missing out on important nutritional benefits.

 

Keep going….

Cooking broccoli too long can destroy sulforaphane, a #superfood antioxidant that fights #cancer
Prolonged cooking robs broccoli of important cancer-fighting nutrients like sulforaphane
Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Pexels

Crockpot Cooking Diminishes Broccoli Nutrition

Remember that I mentioned broccoli smells like sulfur when it’s cooked in a crockpot? That’s because it, like other cruciferous vegetables, is high in sulfur content. I know that might be a turn-off for a lot of people. That rotten egg smell is not appetizing at all. So it’s understandable that you might not associate stinky food with nutrition.

But in fact, this sulfur is important to our bodies, being the third most abundant mineral by weight. Vegetables that contain large amounts of sulfur have a long list of health benefits. Organic sulfur compounds have the potential to prevent or treat a wide array of medical conditions, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, arthritis, and even cancer. Brassicas like broccoli are very rich in sulfur. And one of its sulfur-containing components in particular, called sulforaphane, is thought to be “one of the most powerful anticarcinogens found in food.

Without getting too technical on you, sulfur is one of the key components of a class of chemicals called glucosinolates. They are what gives the pungent smell and strong taste to brassicas such as kale, mustard greens, cabbage, and of course, broccoli. When we chop, chew, and digest cruciferous vegetables, an enzyme is activated that breaks down the glucosinolates into antioxidants like sulforaphane and indoles (which have their own health benefits such as balancing hormones.)

 

There’s still more…

Health Benefits of Sulforaphane in Broccoli & Other Brassicas
Learn more about the health benefits of sulforaphane. Grab yourself a free copy of this cool infographic, courtesy of 24 Carrot Diet!
Graphic made in Canva

 

So here’s the problem with cooking broccoli in your slow cooker: the enzyme that makes sulfur-rich compounds like sulforaphane available to our bodies is destroyed by prolonged heating. Our bodies don’t do a great job of liberating that sulforaphane, so this is an issue.

Knowing that heat destroys the enzyme, the very best thing we can do when we make broccoli is to chop it up a bit before cooking, which starts the chemical breakdown. That should be followed by steaming for 3-4 minutes, or until it is “tough-tender.” This has actually been shown to increase the antioxidants, including sulforaphane. It has also been shown to improve the folate and carotenoid content of the broccoli, which means that you’re getting more of a whole bunch of nutrients when you steam your broccoli instead of tossing it into the crockpot.

So please, use fresh broccoli or blanch it at home and flash freeze it for later use. Your broccoli will be a nice, bright green. It will retain more of its crunch and flavour. And it will be more nutritious too!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Featured image made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user allanlau2000

That Celebrity Hummus Recipe Calls for Canned Chickpeas and You’ve Only Got Dried – Now What?

Hummus, a humble dish of pureed chickpeas, sesame paste, and olive oil, is probably the best recognized and most popular Middle Eastern food. You can buy it in even the tiniest grocery store in the smallest rural town. In fact, you can probably find everything from the simplest garlic hummus to fancy versions that incorporate olives, roasted red pepper, eggplant, or even beets.

The convenience of buying prepared hummus is obvious: just open the container and start dipping. But there are plenty of advantages to making your own hummus at home, not the least of which are the difference in price and the fact that you can control what goes into the dip you’re going to feed to your kids. There is also the fun of trying out different recipes, including the ones created by celebrity chefs like Alton Brown, Gordon Ramsay, of Jamie Oliver.

Pinterest is filled with page after page of hummus recipes. Even the keyword suggestions from Pinterest’s Guided Search scroll on for many pages! But according to the folks at the Kitchn, the most popular hummus recipe right now is the Barefoot Contessa recipe. As the recipe they link to has been saved 41,000 times on Pinterest, you know they aren’t exaggerating its popularity!

The recipe is a nice, clean, simple one that really only strays from traditional hummus in its addition of hot sauce. The problem? It begins with canned chickpeas.

Oh. And we almost never buy canned beans.

It is so discouraging that almost every recipe that uses beans calls for commercially prepared canned beans! And almost no recipe ever comes with instructions for converting to dried beans. So if you prefer to use dry beans for the ease of storage, health benefits or huge cost savings, you are going to have to work harder to use those recipes.

 

Dry chickpeas are less expensive, healthier, and easier to store than canned (Graphic by ulleo/Pixabay/CC0)
Learn to convert recipes so you can cook with dried legumes like these chickpeas (garbanzo beans.) You can even freeze cooked beans to cut down on cooking and prep time for your next recipe!
(Image: ulleo/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

 

Fortunately, Ina Garten has kindly spelled things out very clearly in her hummus recipe. She measures the amount of chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) in cups instead of cans. And she is measuring the drained beans, instead of the beans in their liquid. So it’s easy enough to be sure that you’ll have the exact quantity of cooked chickpeas to make this popular hummus. She was even kind enough to give the amount of reserved liquid needed to make Barefoot Contessa hummus – and she suggests using water as a substitute in case the cooking liquid isn’t available.

(Note: Many other recipes won’t tell you how much liquid to add. Fortunately, the texture of the hummus is what dictates how much liquid to add. So just make sure there’s enough cooking liquid or plain water to process the beans into a smooth puree. If your hummus seems a bit dry, you can add more of the cooking liquid. Or just increase the amount of olive oil a wee bit!)

Getting Started: How Many Beans to Use

Cooking any recipe that calls for canned beans raises the question of dry bean to canned bean conversion. Exactly how should you measure your beans, and how many dried chickpeas do you need to make your favourite hummus?

There are a number of web sites that offer conversion charts for dry beans to cooked bean amounts. But I really have to take my hat off to Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats, who tackled the question like a true food scientist. He measured the volume of dried beans before cooking and then weighed and measured the same beans after cooking and draining.

According to his results, one pound of chickpeas is just under 3 cups when dry. The cooked and drained beans will weigh 3 lb 4 oz and its volume will be 7 cups.

So how many dry chickpeas do you need to make the Barefoot Contessa’s hummus recipe? Well, the recipe calls for “2 cups canned chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved.” That’s less than a third of the yield if you were to start with a pound of dried garbanzos. So you have a few options:

  1. Start with just under 1/3 lb, or around 5 oz of dried garbanzo beans;

  2. Try to find other recipes that call for chickpeas so you can use up the extra beans you’ll be cooking;

  3. Get a pressure canner and learn to can your own legumes so you can enjoy the convenience of canned beans without worrying about BPA and other chemical additives;

  4. Triple your recipe and serve hummus to the whole neighbourhood;

  5. Resort to using canned beans and avoid the conversion headache altogether.

Or, you could simply learn to freeze your cooked beans! This way, you can cook a large batch of dried beans – any kind – in advance. You then divide them into smaller portions for your favourite recipes.

 

How to Make Hummus Using Dry Chickpeas (Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Ajale)
Learn to make hummus from dried chickpeas and freeze the rest for your next recipe
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Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Ajale

Freezing Leftover Beans

I only discovered that cooked beans can be frozen about a year ago. And I have to admit, I’ve only done it a couple of times. It was super handy when I wanted to make last-minute chili. And yes, I have used frozen chickpeas to make hummus. There was absolutely no taste difference in the hummus but I did have to add extra oil because I’d frozen my beans without liquid, the way most people seem to do it.

I’ve since learned that freezing beans in their cooking liquid is not only possible but recommended. According to Erin Alderson of Naturally Ella, freezing beans in their cooking liquid helps to stave off freezer burn. This would be especially true if you’re storing your beans in rigid containers like canning jars, rather than in freezer bags. If you do opt to store cooked beans without liquid in rigid containers – say, for salads or burritos – you should use these sooner than the beans that are stored in their cooking liquid.

To freeze chickpeas in their cooking liquid, be sure you are working with cooled beans (this is both for general safety and to decrease the chances of foodborne illness.) Measure them into freezer-safe canning jars and then pour the cooking liquid over them. A standard 15-oz can of beans contains about 1-1/2 cups of beans once drained. That will fill a pint (500 ml) jar once the cooking liquid has been added, leaving 1/2” headspace. If you prefer, you can also measure out the 2 cups the Barefoot Contessa hummus recipe calls for. If you don’t have a freezer-safe jar that will hold this many beans, you can use a freezer bag or another freezer-safe rigid container instead.

To use beans frozen in liquid, let them thaw slowly in the fridge (it will take about a day) or place the container in cool water to defrost. This will speed up thawing time, while at the same time helping to keep harmful bacteria at bay. If you have frozen your beans without liquid, you can defrost them more quickly in cool water. I wouldn’t suggest trying to use them frozen, as you might if you were cooking up a batch of chili – at least, not unless you want hummus that has the consistency of a frozen fruit smoothie!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Featured image made in Canva using a public domain graphic by Pixabay user Ajale

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

Can’t Figure Out Why All those Nasty Bugs are Feasting on Your Cabbage Plants?

Pest control can be tricky in an organic garden. You know you want the best quality food for your family but choosing not to use chemical pesticides means you may see more bugs in your vegetable garden. Opting for raised garden beds can help to reduce the number of hungry pests you have to cope with. But ultimately, you will need to have a plan for insect control or insect removal to keep your organic vegetables safe from all that munching.

Many organic gardeners look to companion plants that repel insects from the vegetable patch. Many of these are strong-smelling herbs and flowers such as chervil, rue, or marigolds. You may also have read that companion plants like nasturtiums both repel harmful insects and attract beneficial pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and even hummingbirds to the garden. Based on claims like this, many gardeners grow nasturtiums in their container gardens and use them as edging plants in their vegetable gardens.

Are your nasturtiums attracting bugs that eat your cabbage plants?
Nasturtiums are edible flowers that are often used to repel insect pests and attract pollinators to a garden
(Image: zrenate/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

What? The Bugs are Eating the Nasturtiums?

I recently wrote a Facebook post highlighting the use of nasturtiums as a companion plant. The post published on the 24 Carrot Diet page and I then shared it on my personal profile. Within minutes, I received two responses talking about bugs and nasturtiums.

The first comment came from a neighbour who is starting a home-based greenhouse business. He mentioned that last summer he found small black beetles (maybe flea beetles?) were attracted to his nasturtiums. These same bugs also had a particular affinity for plants in the brassica, or cabbage, family. He said he was glad he had put the nasturtiums into his flower beds, and not in his vegetable garden as he’d been planning on doing.

Another friend from back East mentioned that the area of her garden that was bordered by nasturtiums has been devastated by slugs, another pest that likes to eat members of the cabbage family (among other things.)

Until that moment, I had never questioned claims that nasturtiums repel garden pests. The pungent smell of the leaves and flowers is supposed to keep many insects away, just as the smell of a marigold would. And since I had never had trouble with any insects in my nasturtium plants, I always believed that to be true.

Well, it turns out that I only had half the story . . .

Yes, some insects do find the smell of nasturtiums unpleasant. But it turns out that nasturtiums do have natural predators. According to Burpee, nasturtiums fall prey to aphids, cabbage looper, leafhoppers, leafminers, and slugs. If you noticed that a lot of these yard pests also like to feast on brassicas, you are right. And that’s because nasturtiums are related to brassicas.

Now that’s something I’ll bet you didn’t know!

Nasturtiums are Related to Brassicas

I didn’t make the connection between nasturtiums and the bugs my friends were talking about until I did a little bit of digging – online, not in the garden this time. It took me a moment since nasturtium is not in the same genus as cabbage and its various cultivars: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collards, and kohlrabi among them. It isn’t even in the same family as the cabbage, the Brassicaceae which include many other brassicas besides the cabbage cultivars: rutabagas, turnips, mustard and cress, and seed crops such as rapeseed and canola that are used to make oil.

But the nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, is a member of a larger order of plants that includes the Brassicaceae. It’s called Brassicales and its almost twenty constituent families include other familiar plants such as capers, horseradish and papaya. They also include the family Tropaeolaceae, of which the genus Tropaeolum is the sole member.

And that would seem to make nasturtiums and cabbages something like distant cousins!

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Can companion plants like nasturtium actual attract insect pests to your vegetable garden?
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Will Nasturtiums Attract Insect Pests to Your Garden?

So, does growing nasturtiums in your yard bring insect predators to your vegetable garden? That’s probably a question for a master gardener. As I said, I’ve never had problems with insects attacking my nasturtiums. So I have no personal experience to draw on in answering that question. What I can say is that it’s best to experiment a bit and see what happens in your own garden. And it may take several years of trying different things before you get an answer that makes sense.

I’ve always grown nasturtiums in garden pots or hanging baskets. And I’ve usually grown them close to the house, rather than in a vegetable patch or raised garden beds. This may be part of the reason my plants didn’t attract some of the pests that others are seeing, particularly the slugs.

Using Nasturtiums as a Trap Crop

One thing you may want to try if you’re overrun with pests that attack your brassica plants is to use nasturtiums as a trap crop. Try to time the planting so your nasturtium will be blooming right around the time that you normally see the yard pest that you want to target. For example, if aphids are an issue in your organic vegetable garden during May and June, this is when you need your nasturtiums to be their most attractive.

Plant them close to your brassicas so the aphids will go to them instead of your developing broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Then watch the nasturtium plants for signs of an aphid infestation. You want to cut back the affected growth and take it well away from your garden, removing the aphids with it. This will help remove some of the pests from your garden. And not to worry, nasturtiums do grow back after being pruned!

You’ll have to play around a little with the timing, placement, and number of nasturtiums you plant. Depending on how many insects invade your garden, you may want to plant nasturtiums right next to your brassicas and other vulnerable crops. And of course, if you were wanting to harvest the nasturtium leaves or the plant’s edible flowers, you’ll want to have another planting elsewhere in your yard, where it’s less likely to be eaten by the bugs.

As I said in my introduction, do it yourself pest control can take a little working out. Then again, starting a home vegetable garden or maintaining an existing garden has to be viewed as an investment in your family’s health. Growing your own vegetables organically is one of the best ways you can be sure you’re putting healthy food on the table every day. So don’t be discouraged if it takes time to learn which pests you’re dealing with and to become familiar with their habits. Eventually, you’ll have all kinds of strategies for yard pest control – and for enjoying those lovely nasturtiums alongside their brassica cousins!

 

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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!