Today I want to talk about something a bit different: vegetables. I am lucky to have a family that loves vegetables. Further, we happen to adore the ones that are often the ones that other people haven’t figured out how to love yet, brassicas. So today I want to talk about the wonderful cookbook that highlights these veggies: Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More, by Laura B. Russell.
Laura and I know each other from the gluten-free world (see my review of her first cookbook, The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen). This time around, Laura turns her recipe creativity towards the often misunderstood brassica family (which, of course, is naturally gluten-free). Brassicas include: kale, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel’s sprouts, cabbage, radish, turnips, and rutabaga.
Luckily, D’Ahub, Girlfriend and I love just about all of these. And they have the added bonus of being extraordinarily healthy for you. Now, I’m not going to lie: I haven’t always loved this family of veggies. I grew up with a mom who cooked all vegetables (especially Brussels sprouts) until they were dead, dead, dead. I couldn’t stand them. My opinion of them until I was an adult was simple: Yuck. As you can imagine, they were on my “never, ever eating those disgusting yucky things ever again” list. Then, at some point, I became an adult and was introduced to Brussel’s sprouts, kale, cauliflower, and other brassicas that were cooked in ways that highlighted their deliciousness and I gradually became an ardent fan.
Much as I like them, I will admit that my repertoire for cooking them has been a bit limited. I usually roast or sautee them. But this gets boring. This is why I was so happy when Laura’s book came out. Finally I had a resource with a variety of recipes for each brassica category. I loved the book the second I got it. I attended a book talk where Laura made and shared some samples from the book. The recipe that sealed the deal for me was her Roasted Cauliflower with Pickled Peppers and Mint. In fact, I loved it so much that I bought the ingredients to make it on the way home.
One thing I really like about Laura’s books is that she has done her homework on her topic. In the beginning of the book, she has an invaluable chart that lists the “flavor profiles” for each brassica, ranging from “Mild” (including bok choy and cauliflower) “Stronger (including broccoli, cabbage, kale), “Peppery (including arugula, radishes); to “Pungent” (horseradish and wasabi). I find this categorization quite helpful when I’m planning meals. In addition, she has a “Taming the Beast” section that talks about how to approach the flavors of these strongly flavored vegetables and how to use them in balance with the other flavors in a meal, how to compliment and accentuate the bold flavors, and how to use heat to tame and mellow the flavors. There’s a “Universal Pairings: Brassicas’ Best Friends” section that lists more than 30 ingredients that mate well with brassicas. Of course, there’s a section on how to select and store them, as well as how to wash and cut them.
Then each chapter contains a wonderful collection of recipes for each brassica (or family of brassicas). Each chapter contains appetizers, salads, soups, sides, and main dishes. Thus, you are given a host of ways to prepare the vegetables. Most of them use fairly simple and straightforward preparation techniques—so you don’t have to run around looking for weird ingredients or trying to figure out advanced cooking techniques.
Truly, I’ve loved everything I’ve made from this book. In addition to the cauliflower and peppers recipe above, a few more of my favorite recipes are: Kale and Sweet Potato Saute—which is quite simple to make and then you can use as a topping for corn tortillas; Kimchi Pancakes, for which she has a recipe for making your own kimchi if you don’t want to use store-bought; Wilted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Tomato; Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette; and the Spicy Noodles with Wilted Watercress.
In a nod to her gluten intolerance, in each recipe Laura offers tips on how to make it gluten and wheat-free if it already isn’t. Then, in the back of the book, she includes an incredibly handy “Special Diets Table” that lists each recipe and whether or not it is vegetarian, vegan, as well as whether or not it contains meat, fish, dairy, eggs, soy, peanuts, coconut, or sesame. This is so useful when you or folks for whom you’re cooking need to avoid any of these ingredients.
This is a terrific cookbook and resource book for an under-appreciated family of veggies–it will change the way you think about them!
Note: if you buy the book via the above link to Amazon, I receive a tiny percentage of the sale.