Cabbage Patch Meals

Cruciferous vegetables add flavor, nutrition and a “bite” to meal service.

By 
Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

Brussels Sprouts Salad from Maine Central Institute.

Crucifer may rhyme with Lucifer, but there’s nothing devilish about the huge family of vegetables that includes cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. In fact, some research indicates cruciferous vegetables may have lifesaving properties.

“The vegetables have sulfur and [cancer researchers] think they may help with neutralizing carcinogenic compounds,” says Lisa Eberhart, R.D., dietitian for North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. “Plus, they are high in nutrients and low in calories. A mass of greens will boil down and not be calorie dense. Kale is really trending. For a half a cup of kale it’s about 18 calories.”

Eberhart says that while the term cruciferous isn’t commonly used, the vegetables are plentiful on menus. “I’m the only one I know who even knows that word,” she says, “but in the South we use a lot of cabbage. We put slaw on almost all barbecue sandwiches. It’s just not barbecue if it doesn’t have slaw.”

Baked cauliflower and cheese is one of the most popular dishes at an “athletes’ table” that is designed for sports-minded students. “It’s one of the things that they request,” Eberhart says.

NC State’s vegetarians give high marks on comment cards for a broccoli tofu that highlights baked tofu and Asian flavors, such as sweet Thai chili sauce, soy sauce and sesame oil.
Brussels sprouts were a tough sell at the university, Eberhart notes, until the staff started roasting a frozen product this fall. Even then, students needed a little persuasion to try them.

“We had samples being given out by attractive coeds, and [then] people tried them,” Eberhart says, adding that student acceptability of the vegetable has increased. “The 18- to 22-year-old students are really experimental,” Eberhart adds. “So we want to expose them. My major job is getting students to expand their culinary choices.”

The non-meat option: At Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., Beth Yesford, senior director of food and nutrition, tries to offer at least one non-meat dish every day, and many feature crucifers. For a creative take on stuffed cabbage, for example, the hospital’s kitchen staff combines cooked whole-wheat couscous, mint and feta cheese instead of the traditional meat filling. The feta, along with the couscous, binds the filling, so it remains cohesive when served. The rolls simmer in a housemade tomato sauce seasoned with cinnamon and red wine vinegar.

The dish is very popular and it also fits into Yesford’s successful 500-for-$5 promotion, which offers dishes that have 500 or less calories for $5 each.

Diners often don’t think of cruciferous vegetables as being exciting, but some operators are finding ways to spice up these healthful veggies. In Milpitas, Calif., at Cisco’s Paradise Café, Bon Appétit chef Alex Olson has had great success with caramelized cauliflower. Olson seasons small florets with hot pepper, parsley, shallots, garlic, butter and lemon, then serves it with delicate flavored proteins, such as chicken or mild fish. On a typical day the chef serves 60 to 70 orders of the cauliflower side.

“If you make those vegetables interesting, customers tear them up,” Olson says. But it can be technically challenging to cook so much at a large operation, he adds, so he pan-fries the florets in many nonstick pans all at once.

“I get a bunch of sauté pans going,” Olson says. “I just cover the stove and let it rip.” To finish the side, he simply adds a touch of butter to keep it light.

“I don’t do much fatty food anymore,” Olson adds, in order to keep the food healthful. And he offers Cisco employees dishes that help maintain energy levels rather than making them sluggish after a meal.

“We don’t want to put [the staff] to sleep when they have to go back to work” after eating at the cafeteria. “I try to put a lot of vegetables on the menu.”

Broccoli’s kid appeal: At Kimball Union Academy, a coed boarding and day school in Meriden, N.H., the culinary team “utilizes a lot of vegetables that are on the cruciferous list,” says Steven George, director of dining services for Flik Independent School Dining at the account. Of the large crucifer family, George’s most popular option is broccoli. The vegetable is primarily cooked by the students themselves in stir-fries at a do-it-yourself wok station.

When the young people pick out and add the broccoli themselves, they often use more, George says. He also features broccoli in a sweet-and-sour tofu salad with Himalayan red rice, Thai chili paste and ginger.

“We have a large Asian population, and they seem to like that salad a lot,” George adds. “For kids who are adventurous, it goes over pretty well.” The key part of getting the kids to increase consumption of healthful foods is to bury unpopular good-for-you ingredients, rather than make them the focus of a dish, he adds.  

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
umass amherst food

Restaurateurs in Amherst, Mass., aren’t happy with UMass Dining .

Registered dietitian Dianne Sutherland told local NBC affiliate WWLP News in May that the high quality of food served on campus means students aren’t visiting neighborhood eateries as frequently as those businesses might like.

“Even our vendors who we work with, they get complaints from the restaurants that students are staying on campus,” she said. “They are already paying for the food; why should they [go] off campus to eat?” More than 19,000 Amherst students are on a meal plan—6,000 of whom live off campus...

Ideas and Innovation
lettuce eat dining

Forced to battle crumbling infrastructure and a constant churn of trends, sometimes the best way to save a foodservice operation is to change it entirely. As Steve Mangan, director of dining at the University of Michigan, puts it, “At some point when your building starts to fail, the cost of maintenance stands out.” But for operators with limited budgets, the challenge is discerning the right time to do so—and how far to take it.

At Jefferson High School, change came because little worked anymore. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa, school’s cafeteria hadn’t been updated since 1957; students...

Managing Your Business
farmer produce

The seeds of farm-to-table 2.0 have officially blown into noncommercial foodservice. Since the movement has caught the attention of the segment during the past decade, operators have broadened agricultural collaborations outside of just supply. As a result, a new strain of the movement has been created that treats farms as allies in events, training and innovative growing systems.

The 500-bed Overlook Medical Center in Summit, N.J., didn’t start out sourcing produce from local farms; instead, it administered its own growing programs, including an on-site garden and honeybee apiary...

Ideas and Innovation
fsd screenshot web

A full year has passed since we redesigned FoodService Director magazine, taking the publication from its longtime tabloid dimensions to a more convenient size and more creative design, and recasting the content to provide actionable, peer-to-peer insights and ideas for FSDs.

Now we are thrilled to announce that we’ve extended the makeover to our website as well. The new FoodServiceDirector.com has been redesigned to be more engaging and even easier to use. We’ve made it faster to find information, from recipes to HR best practices, that will help you run your facility better....

FSD Resources