Broccoli doesn't bring to mind romance, adventure or fun. But maybe it should. The latest Berkeley Wellness Letter reminds us of the ways this vegetable might help us stick around longer, to enjoy all of life's good stuff.

Part of the Brassicaceae family, broccoli is a powerhouse of nutrients and a few other things that are hard to pronounce. One cup has as much vitamin C as an orange, along with ample amounts of vitamin K, folate, fiber, potassium and beta carotene. If that doesn't impress, how about this: According to the Wellness Letter, it's also a good source of sulforaphane and phytochemicals, which scientists believe may inhibit cancer.

This all sounds great, but what if you just don't like broccoli? You're not alone, and you can blame your DNA. Researchers have found that some people have a genetic predisposition to dislike what they perceive as the bitter taste of the vegetable. One of the highest-profile broccoli-haters is former President George H. W. Bush, who famously said: “I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States, and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli.”

Even if you share the sentiments of the ex-prez, we know you're going to enjoy re-visiting Mollie Katzen's cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and her classic recipe of the same name.

Katzen's creative combinations of ingredients can make you see — and appreciate — vegetables in a new light. Her cookbooks are works of art, with the recipes enhanced by her drawings and paintings.

In an email, Katzen told us about her years as an art student, when she cooked in restaurants to put herself through school. “I always intended to be a working artist,” she writes, “but the cooking/cookbook writing career got larger and larger incrementally, and it took over.”

Her first recipes were jotted down in the margins of drawing journals so the style “was an organic outgrowth of what I was already doing. I self-published the first few editions of Moosewood Cookbook, so there was no editor or honcho dictating the style — I simply did it my way, which was the only way I know to make pages — i.e., hand-lettered and illustrated, kind of like an offbeat illuminated manuscript.”

We were curious about how she decided to use broccoli stalks to represent trees in her recipe. Katzen recalls she was making dinner for three artist friends and “wanted to do something visual and playful … I pulled the 'forest' together from the ingredients on hand.”

The resulting dish was a big hit and Katzen named her cookbook after the recipe, despite the objections of some people who tried to talk her out of it. But Katzen prevailed, and the book cover was graced with her iconic painting of a broccoli forest at night.

Credit: Amazon

Credit: Amazon

The Enchanted Broccoli Forest

From: Mollie Katzen

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Preliminary: Cook 2 cups brown or white rice in 3 cups boiling water until tender. (This will take 15 to 20 minutes for white, and 35 to 45 minutes for brown.) Fluff the rice with a fork and set aside.*

1 1-lb. bunch broccoli

1 Tbs. butter or canola oil (plus a little for the pan)

1 cup chopped onion

¾ tsp. salt

1 large clove garlic, minced

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

*Cooked rice

Freshly ground black pepper

Cayenne to taste

2 Tbs. minced fresh dill (2 tsp. dried)

3 Tbs. minced fresh mint (3 tsp. dried)

¼ cup fresh parsley

½ cup toasted sunflower seeds (optional)

1 packed cup grated cheddar or Swiss cheese (optional)

A little melted butter for the top (optional)

1. Trim the tough bottoms from the broccoli stalks, and cut the tops into smallish spears of whatever size suits you. Cook them in a steamer over boiling water until bright green and just barely tender. Rinse under cold running water, drain well, and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan.

3. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or a Dutch oven. Add the onion and salt, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the onion begins to soften. Add the garlic and lemon juice, and sauté for about 2 minutes longer. Stir in the cooked rice, some black pepper and cayenne to taste, the herbs, and the optional sunflower seeds and/or cheese. Taste to correct salt, if necessary, and spread into the prepared pan.

4. Now for the fun part. Arrange the broccoli (the forest trees) upright in the rice, and, if desired, drizzle with melted butter. Cover loosely with foil, and bake until just heated through (15 to 20 minutes). Serve right away.

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