So I’ve had my ear to the ground, well, and to the laptop as it were, and I’m hearing A LOT of conversations about food – real food, healthier food, making changes, and the thing I’m hearing most is folks saying they need to EAT MORE VEGGIES (cue angel choir singing here). So many wonderful conversations, and it’s so exciting to see/hear that folks are really trying to find some lasting change.
The rest of that conversation, however, is full of questions and frustration. What should I cook? What if they don’t like it? I can’t seem to find a way to prepare these things that anyone enjoys…. This IS where the rubber meets the road, isn’t it. All of our good intentions are for naught if the food doesn’t follow. Today’s post is my attempt to give a little basic training on two of my favorite veggies in an attempt to help you find some ways to enjoy them. Then I’ll show you how I ate them together in the same bowl…. I know, the suspense is killing you.
If you’re trying to introduce a vegetable and you really want to get some nutritional mileage out of that challenge, I say go for it – go all the way and deal with the queen mother of veggies – broccoli. Broccoli is so stinking good for you it’s almost silly. It is also, um, blessed with a rather unpleasant odor and a little bitterness that a lot of folks, most especially little people, find a little difficult to swallow. There’s plenty of advice out there on how to get the broccoli in – cover it with cheese, dunk it in ketchup, batter it and fry it – but all of these methods miss the mark by hiding the problem rather than addressing it up front and allowing us all to learn to enjoy the darned thing on its own merit.
Veggie Basic 1: Choppin’ Broccoli (Dana Carvey fans are smiling, young readers are confused)
I am now going to share the great broccoli secret with you… peel it. Yes, I said peel it. Buy it fresh, and use a peeler on the stalks, going as high up as you can without it becoming awkward or dangerous. Off goes the peel, away goes a WHOLE lot of that bitter, and some unpleasant texture to boot. Cut off the hard end. Slice the stalk into large coins up to the floret and then separate the floret into whatever you think passes for a manageable size for your crew. At this point you could do a variety of things.
We have roasted it, following this procedure and replacing the parm with nutritional yeast flakes (“nootch” for those who find the yeast flakes title unappetizing). We’ve grilled it thanks to our wonderful friend at Emmy Cooks. Most often, we simply steam the little suckers (using a simple steamer basket in a pot) and then flavor them with the rest of the meal. When peeled, steamed broccoli is slightly sweet and delicious. My son prefers his with a little olive oil. Truthfully my son prefers everything with a little olive oil.
Regardless of how you prepare it, a key to broccoli enjoyment is to catch it before it’s overdone. I keep a fork next to the pot with the steamer basket in it and once the broccoli is super green, I just give it a little poke to see how tender it is. You’ll figure out what your preferred done-ness is over time, but if you’ve never had it while it’s a little crunchy, and you’re not a fan, maybe you’ve just always had limp broccoli – and I wouldn’t like that either. ;-)
Veggie Basic #2: Sweet Potato for your Sweeties
Why sweet potatoes, you might be wondering? Well, I hear that folks eat an awful lot of spuds, like an enormous amount of potatoes (and honestly, I can’t blame anyone for this as I am a spud fan myself). Potatoes are better than a lot of choices one could make for eating, but sweet potatoes offer a range of nutrients that aren’t in regular potatoes. They are also versatile, and so very good looking.
If your encounters with sweet potatoes have been limited to baking pans with the delectable spuds acting as a base for marshmallows and brown sugar, I’d like you to know there is a whole sweet potato world out there that is a little less like dessert, and is warm, hearty and delicious. My favorite recent preparation for these tubers was inspired by Alice Waters’ Sweet Potatoes with Lime and Cilantro (in Chez Panisse Vegetables). Because I am lazy I did not follow her directions, but instead roasted my spuds – cutting them (washed but unpeeled) into roughly 1 inch pieces, tossing lightly with olive oil and a little salt, roasting on parchment paper on a baking sheet in an oven at 450 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring once to turn the pieces about halfway through.
When the sweet potato pieces were brown on the outside and tender on the inside, I sprinkled with fresh lime juice and chopped fresh cilantro. Unbelievably yummy.
Putting It All Together
So if you’ve been playing along, you have two beautifully cooked veggies ready, and that’s about it. You could serve these as a side with just about anything – or you could make them more of the main event. When I prepared these beauties, I served them together, varia-bowl style. I warmed leftover rice and put out some raw veggies (snap peas, chopped cucumbers), some soy sauce, with ginger and garlic in it, some cashews and sesame seeds. I tend to pile everything up. My children like to keep separate sections of all of the offerings – and they eat that broccoli, because like the rest of the meal, it is delish.
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