RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

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RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby Robin Garr » Thu Apr 27, 2006 11:49 am

Veggies in disguise

Here are a few words rarely heard in the annals of culinary lore: "If you're not going to finish those Brussels sprouts, can I have them?"

Let's face it: Even though we know vegetables are good for us, most obligate carnivores like me consider veggies just a little bit, well, boring. Give me a nice juicy steak and I'm happy; and I'll gladly consume just about anything on pasta. But the vegetable course too often seems like an afterthought, a dish to be borne out of duty but not with any real pleasure.

I'm always trying to improve my ways, though, and one approach I've found helpful is to play "disguise the veggie," inventing creative ways to present the same old, same old as something new and interesting.

Today, in place of the usual detailed recipe, let's talk about procedures I used to make two often-shunned vegetables into something that might just make you want to come back for a second helping.

<B>BROCCOLI "SPAGHETTI"</B>
Next time you have a few broccoli "trees" in the fridge, don't throw away the "trunks" after preparing the florets in the traditional way. (Hint: A dollop of cheese sauce or hollandaise can make those boring old florets more appealing, if you don't mind the calories.) Anyway, another night, take out the reserved broccoli stems. Cut off the tough, woody end, peel them lightly if you prefer for esthetic reasons, although it's not really necessary. Then cut the stems into long, thin strips, using a chef's knife or, for efficiency, your food processor's shredding disk.

You can use these strips very much like short strands of spaghetti. Steam them briefly, until just crisp-tender, or sautee them in olive oil with a little garlic, then sauce with your choice of toppings. Marinara or Italian meat sauce would be nice; I went the quick and easy route by simply tossing the shreds with a splash of heavy cream (a couple of tablespoons) and a shake of ground cumin, salt and pepper, stirring over high heat until the cream thickened a little.

<B>BRUSSELS SPROUT "SLAW"</B>
Ranging in size from marble to golf ball, these dark-green spheres resemble baby cabbages, and they typically suffer the same mistreatment as cabbage often does at the hands of careless cooks, who tend to overcook them into nasty, mushy, stinky orbs. Undercooking doesn't do much more for them, yielding hard, chewy bites. (If you can master the timing issue, though, the perfectly cooked whole sprout can be much improved by tossing in a bath of browned butter, salt and pepper and chopped pecans.)

Here's a technique that solves the problem entirely by deconstructing the hard balls into a light, quick-cooking "slaw." To serve two, take about 8 to 10 ounces (250-300g) Brussels sprouts (maybe six to 12 of them, depending on size). Rinse them, cut off and discard the stem end, then, starting at the top, cut them crosswise into very thin slices. Put the result in a bowl, stir to break up the slices into individual strands. These can be cooked up very quickly - a quick blanching in boiling salted water or a fast sauté - either way, less than a minute's cooking time is all you need.

You can serve the result as a standard green vegetable, topped with a pat of butter; but once you've come this far, I suggest saucing them with something a little more interesting to turn that once-boring veggie course into something more like a reward. I fashioned a quick bechamel sauce - a quick <i>roux</i> of 1 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons flour, whisk over medium-high heat until the <i>roux</i> turns reddish-brown, then add 1 cup hot milk and whisk over medium heat until thickened - then flavored it with 1/2 teaspoon (3g) ground coriander seed, 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger and 2 tablespoons (30g) fresh-squeezed orange juice. Simmer for a few moments to let the flavors blend, then stir the just-blanched "slaw" into the sauce.

<B>WINE MATCH:</B> Assuming these preps are served as a side dish to a main course, you'll choose wine to match the meat or protein centerpiece, not the veggie. If you like to experiment, though, try a "match-likes-with-likes" approach with a herbaceous-style white, perhaps a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Sancerre or a White Bordeaux. For a different kind of match, look for a white with floral character - a Spanish Albariño, Portuguese Vinho Verde or French or New World Viognier.
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Re: RCP / FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby Peter May » Thu Apr 27, 2006 12:10 pm

Robin Garr wrote:
Here are a few words rarely heard in the annals of culinary lore: "If you're not going to finish those Brussels sprouts, can I have them?".


Jo loves sprouts and always has, and I have had the words above directed to me many times in the past. And now I love them too. And I love them for what they are, I don't want to diguise them or worse still -- shred those lovely lovely globes into shreds.

I have noticed the past two years that sprouts are tasting sweeter and assume new varieties are coming on stream.

I will post separately a defence of sprouts.

But I'm a bit puzzled by the timing of this -- we were having sprouts every week over winter, but the season finished a few weeks ago and they're no longer in my supermarket. They're at their best after a frost.
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Re: RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby Paul Winalski » Thu Apr 27, 2006 2:04 pm

As a kid, I hated brussels sprouts. To me, they had all of the obnoxious character of a full head of cabbage, concentrated into a small package that was still large enough that you had to bite into it at least once before swallowing it.

Then I discovered that the problem was not with sprouts themselves, but with how they were cooked. My mother prepared them using a "boil 'em until they're grey and mushy" philosophy, which of course brings out the worst in all brassicas, especially sprouts. I've since found that if they're not overcooked, they're quite tasty.

-Paul W.
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Re: RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby Jenise » Thu Apr 27, 2006 3:31 pm

Similar story here, Paul. Not exactly gray, but certainly overcooked/mushy frozen brussels sprouts were the norm at our house. Didn't hate them, didn't love them. The first fresh, minimally cooked brussels sprout I ever had was a real eye opener.

They adapt beautifully to all kinds of seasonings, too. Butter and crushed cardamom seed is probably my favorite .
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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Re: RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby RG/Mobile » Thu Apr 27, 2006 4:07 pm

Jenise wrote:The first fresh, minimally cooked brussels sprout I ever had was a real eye opener.


I guess I must be finicky. I don't like them over OR undercooked.

Try the slaw method sometime, though. Even if you like them the regular way, it's a fun change of pace.
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Re: RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby RG/Mobile » Thu Apr 27, 2006 4:08 pm

Jenise wrote:The first fresh, minimally cooked brussels sprout I ever had was a real eye opener.


I guess I must be finicky. I don't like them over OR undercooked.

Try the slaw method sometime, though. Even if you like them the regular way, it's a fun change of pace.
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Re: RCP FoodLetter: Veggies in disguise

Postby Jenise » Thu Apr 27, 2006 5:01 pm

Oh, I've long been a fan of that method, which I've always called 'hashing' though I'm not sure why. Love to mix a hash of sprouts with spinach fettucine to create a single vegetable/pasta side dish for broiled lamb shoulder chops.

But that said, unlike you, I flat out love vegetables and absolutely no disguise is required to get me to eat my share. Sure I like meat, but it's not a necessity. In fact, you cause me to realize--it's what, Thursday? I haven't eaten any meat since Monday, which wasn't deliberate, nor have I missed it. But if it were the other way around, and I hadn't had any vegetables? I'd be clawing on the doors like a cat, trying to get out.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
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