Let’s be honest, broccoli isn’t for everyone. Despite being a superfood, its bitter taste can be a turn off for many, especially children! There are also other reasons why you may be unable to get your hands on some broccoli, so what can you do when you’re out of it?
When the recipe calls for broccoli or you’re looking for a nutritional side-dish to replace broccoli with, many other vegetables like cauliflower, spinach, or even green beans can make for a good broccoli substitute full of nutrients.
The best substitutes for broccoli
The name broccoli comes from the Latin word “broccus” which means “sprout” and it’s probably a reference to the appearance of broccoli, which indeed looks like little sprouts or trees.
Because of its name, it is wrongly assumed this vegetable originated in Italy, but it was actually cultivated in Asia since ancient times.
Broccoli is public enemy number #1 of our kids, and even some adults have no problem in admitting they don’t enjoy the taste of broccoli that much.
Turns out, not everyone tastes broccoli the same way. In fact, some of us can’t fully taste the bitterness of broccoli and other vegetables, which makes it easier to consume said vegetables.
But apart from the ongoing war between pro-broccoli and anti-broccoli, we cannot deny that this vegetable is packed with nutrients, such as fibers and vitamins C and K. Just 100 grams of broccoli can make up to 99% of the recommended daily value for these nutrients!
Broccoli is also low in fat and calories, which makes it the perfect addition to many diets, such as the Keto diet, the vegan diet, and the military diet.
If broccoli doesn’t get much love in your family or you simply ran out of it, many vegetables from the same plant family can work as broccoli alternatives.
Cauliflower is one of those vegetables that look like broccoli and is indeed the best substitute for broccoli you can find.
Its texture and even its taste make cauliflower a vegetable similar to broccoli, except that cauliflower are slightly sweeter, so it might convince even the most stubborn broccoli hater.
The name cauliflower means “cabbage flower” and indeed this broccoli-like vegetable not only looks like broccoli, but it closely resembles cabbage as well. There are several varieties of cauliflower:
– Green cauliflower: it’s also called broccoflower and has a sweeter and milder taste than white cauliflower.
– White cauliflower: the most common variety of cauliflower, with a white head surrounded by green leaves.
– Purple cauliflower: this variant is full of antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that are responsible for our aging.
– Orange cauliflower: the orange variety is full of vitamin A and beta-carotene, so they’re the healthiest among the cauliflowers.
– Romanesco cauliflower: this variety is literally a cross between broccoli and cauliflower, in fact, it has a spiky appearance which is strikingly different from the others.
– Fioretto cauliflower: this variety is perfect for dipping because rather than presenting a large head, it has several little green stems with florets growing on the tips.
Cauliflower is best eaten cooked when substituting broccoli because when it’s raw it doesn’t have the same texture as broccoli.
There are many varieties of cabbage, but when choosing an alternative to broccoli, we can select the average green or purple cabbage. Chinese (napa) cabbage is actually from the same family as broccoli, but it is usually not considered as good of a substitute as the classic ones.
Among all vegetables like broccoli that are considered a superfood, green cabbage is one of the best choices because it’s packed with nutrients, aids digestion, and helps reduce the risk of heart disease.
Purple cabbage doesn’t fall behind its green brother, in fact, it’s even healthier than green cabbage and it’s actually considered a superfood, just like broccoli.
Both green and purple cabbage are great substitutes for broccoli because they taste very similar and can be used in almost all recipes that feature broccoli.
Remember to use a bigger amount of cabbage than you would use broccoli because this vegetable tends to shrink when cooked.
A less known, but definitely valid replacement for broccoli is kale, which comes from the same family of broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Kale is another superfood and it’s extremely versatile, so you can use it in all the recipes that originally call for broccoli and the final outcome will hardly be any different because kale has the same color and taste like broccoli.
Kale boasts several vitamins, fibers, antioxidants, calcium, beta carotene, and iron when cooked. It’s one of the most nutritious whole foods you can find, so it makes a perfect substitute for broccoli in a diet.
This vegetable gives its best in salads, soups, and smoothies, but also in sauteed, steamed, or pureed recipes.
Since some varieties of kale might be mixed with other vegetables, go for organic fresh kale if you’re looking for the healthiest alternative to broccoli.
4. Bok choy
This variety of Chinese white cabbage is not yet that famous in the U.S. but it’s been used in Chinese cuisine for thousands of years and it’s growing in popularity because of its nutritional value.
It’s enough to know that bok choy used to be employed as a medical remedy to know how healthy this vegetable is!
Bok choy doesn’t look like broccoli at all, and yet it’s part of the same plant family. It’s great used raw in salads, but it’s large and thick green leaves are ideal for soups as well.
This vegetable may not be available everywhere, but if you can’t find it at your local grocery store, look for the nearest Asian market or Chinese store.
5. Turnip greens
Staying within the Cruciferous vegetable family, which include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts, collard greens, and bok choy, we also find turnip greens.
Turnip greens have so many health benefits that it would be easier to say which benefits they don’t have. It is believed that a diet rich in this vegetable can help prevent diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer, Parkinson, autoimmune diseases, and several types of cancer.
The flavor of turnip greens is rather strong and fragrant, so they might not be everyone’s favorite broccoli substitute. However, when cooked or boiled turnip greens become milder in both taste and smell.
6. Brussel sprouts
Brussel sprouts look like small cabbages and are packed with nutrients like vitamin C and K, and omega 3; they’re also low in calories and fat, therefore making a healthy alternative to broccoli.
They’re very easy to find in stores and in different forms, such as pickled, frozen, or canned. They’re so popular because they can fit any recipe, so you can swap them for broccoli in every dish, from salads to pasta.
Brussel sprouts taste a little like cabbage but have a stronger flavor. When cooked, they might take a bitter note, which makes them more similar to broccoli. But even when eaten raw, they’re very close to broccoli in both texture and taste.
There are more than 100 varieties of Brussel sprouts, but surprisingly they all look and taste quite similar, so you don’t really need to worry even if you don’t know which variety to pick.
7. Collard greens
Collard greens are a type of leafy vegetables with very large leaves and tough stems. They’re usually cooked using the technique known as moist heat because it makes them softer and reduces the bitterness of their flavor.
Coming from the same family as kale, cabbage, and turnip greens, they share the same qualities and are often cooked following the same recipes, so they are interchangeable.
The best way to use collard greens in your diet is to include them in slow-cooking recipes, and they are especially good with beans, ham, and okra.
Since the flavor of collard green is rather bitter and their texture is tough, the longer you cook them the milder and sweeter they become. Of course, they won’t ever lose their bitterness completely, but you can make them more enjoyable, especially for kids.
8. Baby spinach leaves
So far we mentioned several vegetables that come from the same family as broccoli, but there are also a few other vegetables coming from different plant families that can work as broccoli alternatives pretty well.
Baby spinach leaves are simply small spinach leaves. If you’re wondering why you can’t just use spinach as a substitute for broccoli, it’s not that you can’t, but it will taste quite different from broccoli.
Spinach leaves have a different flavor from spinach itself and it’s closer to the taste of broccoli so your recipe will not be affected by the change.
Baby spinach leaves are easy to prepare because you just need to rinse them thoroughly before cooking them. You can cook baby spinach leaves in many ways, as long as you remember to add a large quantity of them because they tend to shrink when cooked.
You can also use baby spinach leaves as a raw substitute for broccoli in salads.
9. Green beans
Green beans might not be as nutritious as other replacements for broccoli, but they contain a good amount of fibers and vitamins, so they deserve their place at the table of the healthy broccoli replacements.
Green beans are quite popular and they make a great stand-alone dish even if you don’t add them to any recipe. Because of their qualities, they make a good substitute for different vegetables, including broccoli, okra, and cucumber.
Do prefer fresh green beans to canned green beans. Real fresh green beans should be firm to the touch and snap when you try to bend them in half. If you can’t find the fresh product, use frozen green beans instead.
Replace broccoli with green beans in any recipe you want, apart from ‘broccoli rice’. Green beans are best used in cooked recipes, but if you enjoy the taste of raw green beans, do unleash your creativity!
Many people think that asparagus isn’t that good by itself, however, there are some exceptions, like fried asparagus, which is a tasty snack that is often used to replace fried okra.
Asparagus can be thick or thin, and thick asparagus may be a little tougher, but apart from this small difference that has no relevance during the cooking process, they’re basically the same.
Asparagus is high in both vitamins and minerals, so it’s a great choice when you want to replace broccoli in a recipe. Use it in soups, pasta, salads, omelet, but don’t use it to make broccoli rice.
Asparagus is versatile and can be boiled, grilled, roasted, sauteed and steamed, or even used raw.
11. Swiss chard
Swiss chard is the white-stemmed variety of chard, which has many different varieties in different colors, even though swiss chard has by now become a synonym of general chard.
This leafy vegetable is a good source of vitamins, fibers, magnesium, manganese, and proteins. On top of being highly nutritious, chard is also visually appealing, especially the red-stem variety, but all varieties of this vegetable make a great visual addition to your dish.
Use swiss chard as a broccoli substitute in steamed, pureed, fried, and pickled recipes, or even in salads, where its good looks shine the most. Be mindful that swiss chard tastes as bitter as broccoli, so people who don’t like broccoli will not like this alternative.
How to choose a broccoli substitute.
Choosing a broccoli substitute is fairly easy: you’re either looking for something with a bitter broccoli taste, or you’re trying to find a more benevolent alternative.
The main reason people look for a broccoli replacement is that they have kids, family members, or guests that might not enjoy the bitterness of broccoli.
Luckily, most broccoli substitutes do not carry that signature bitterness, even if they come from the same family as broccoli-like cauliflower, cabbage, and kale.
If you’re simply out of broccoli and wish to keep the flavor as close as possible to the original, your choice is reduced to Brussel sprouts, collard greens, or swiss chard.
Since broccoli is highly nutritious, if you don’t mind sacrificing the original taste in order to obtain additional health benefits, you should definitely consider cabbage, kale, or turnip greens.
You may not be familiar with all of the alternatives to broccoli we mentioned, but they’re all healthy and tasty substitutes that will enrich your dish, so you really can’t make a bad choice!