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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.

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.

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 roux of 1 tablespoon butter, 2 tablespoons flour, whisk over medium-high heat until the roux 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.

WINE MATCH: 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.

If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about this recipe or food and cookery in general, you're welcome to drop by either of our interactive forums, where I've posted this article as a new topic, "Veggies in disguise."

If you have basic how-to questions, you might enjoy the teaching environment of the Food & Drink section in our online WineLovers Community,

If you're a serious "foodie" or interested in peer support as you move into more advanced culinary realms, check out the same topic in our FoodLovers Discussion Group, where you'll find today's article at

Finally, if you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at

Want a copy that's easy to use in the kitchen? You'll find a simple, plain-text version of this recipe, suitable for printing, online at

Last Week's FoodLetter and Archives

Last week's Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Garbanzo pancakes (April 20, 2006)

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Thursday, April 27, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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