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Celebrate cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and other healthful brassicas

Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org

Purple Sprouting Broccoli. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org

A lot of us already know about red and white cabbage, but what about purple broccoli or orange cauliflower?

Those are some members of the brassica family of plants, which also includes Brussels sprouts, kale, collards, mustards, kohlrabi, radish, rutabaga, turnip and Chinese cabbage.

Foodies are in love with these vegetables, known for their strong aroma when cooked and their high nutritional value. They also taste good. My favorites are broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbages.

The resurgence of interest in these old-fashion vegetables has prompted the National Garden Bureau, a trade group that promotes growing plants, to name 2017 the Year of the Brassica.

The family members sometimes are referred to as cole crops, an English adaptation of caulis, Latin for stem. Or you may hear them called cruciferous, which refers to their four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross.

Cheddar or orange cauliflower. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org

Cheddar or orange cauliflower. Photo courtesy National Garden Bureau/ngb.org

These are usually planted as transplanted in early spring for summer harvest. Some, such as broccoli and mustards, can be planted again in July for harvesting in fall and early winter.

Probably the biggest consideration to growing these plants is their susceptibility to insect damage, especially from cabbageworms and flea beetles. Many gardeners cover these plants with row covers to help control the insects. Another effective control is Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt. This is a non-selective bacteria that kills caterpillars — all kinds, from cabbageworms to the caterpillars of monarchs and other butterflies. Always read and follow the label directions.

Grow these plants in full sun and well-drained soil. They are fairly drought tolerant once established.

Each type of plant has different growing habits and horticultural requirements, so follow the seed packet instructions, plant labels or other sources, including Purdue University’s Vegetable Gardening Tips. Of course, if you don’t want to grow these vegetables, you can still celebrate their year by purchasing them at farmers markets, which is where I usually get mine. Here’s one of my favorite, easy dishes.

Roasted Brussels sprouts

Clean and trim the Brussels sprouts and pat them dry with paper towel or clean cloth. Place sprouts on a baking sheet, but don’t crowd them. Drizzle with olive oil and season with kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper. Using your hands or spatula, coat the Brussels sprouts with the oil and seasoning. Roast in 400 F oven 30 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Turn the sprouts every 10 minutes or so. Serve as they are as a vegetable side dish, or sprinkle the sprouts with shredded Parmesan, pierce them with a toothpick and serve as an hors d’ oeuvres.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Salt and Pepper. (C) bhofack2/iStockphoto.com

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Salt and Pepper. (C) bhofack2/iStockphoto.com

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