15 April 2010

Getting Raabed

If you’ve been to the market in the last several weeks, you’ve probably seen raabs (or rabes) alongside various greens. Raabs are the flowering stems of the plants that fall into the very large family called brassicaceae—the cabbage or mustard family. In this family are vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, kale, broccoli, turnips, mustards, kholrabi and radishes, to name a few.

Many are familiar with broccoli rabe (also known as rapini, cime di rapa, broccoli raab, broccoli di rape, among others). But while broccoli raab has been bred as its own distinct plant (and in the same cultivar group as turnips), these other raabs are the flowering stems of the plants—the kales, collards and Brussels sprouts, for example.

Just as herbs bolt, flower and then go to seed, so, too do these plants. For example, Brussels sprout raab are the flowering stems in spring from the fall crop of the same vegetable. Jamie from Groundworks Organics said that rabes were always considered “farmer food” and not something you’d normally see being sold. These flowering tips, he said, were among the few greens still growing in late winter. And the window of time they’re available is too short for most grocery stores to bother selling them.

But times have changed. Maybe we’re more conscious of what we throw away. Overlooked produce suddenly becomes popular. People are willing to try new things.

The bundles are like a bunch of flowers—the colorful stems, leaves and flowers make for a nice change from their leaf-only cousins. Each tastes slightly different and most are more mild than broccoli rabe, which can be quite bitter. All are very nutritious-and include vitamins like C, A or K and potassium, calcium and iron. And many have anti-cancer properties, and are high in antioxidants.

One of the best ways to cook raab is to boil just until the stems are tender. and then drain. Heat some olive oil in a skillet, add some crushed garlic and a pinch of red pepper flake. Add the rabe, tossing with tongs till coated with oil and seasonings. Add salt to taste and a squeeze of lemon. Great as a side dish or tossed with pasta.

—Jane Pellicciotto