My favorite bartender once stated, “There’s a gin drink for everyone.” Meaning, you might think you hate gin because you had a lousy hotel gin and tonic at your cousin’s wedding. It tasted like Pine-sol smells, and you therefore declared yourself a gin hater. But if you had something else, something balanced and lovely and less like industrial solvent, you might turn yourself around on the gin thing.
I feel the same way about vegetables. All vegetables, but particularly the much-maligned ones, the Brussels sprouts and kale and beets of the world. I adore these vegetables, and it saddens me to hear how people speak of them. A dear friend once told me that beets taste like dirt! Sure, some of these vegetables are a little more challenging, but come on! Anyone could love a carrot – they’re sweet and crunchy and taste as good raw as they do cooked. The real work, but the real joy, is in loving mini-cabbages that look like tiny green brains.
The reason, I think, that most people hate these vegetables is the same reason they hate the gin – poor preparation. After all, most people cook them all pretty much the same way – some variation on boiled or steamed. While that can be fantastic for a green bean, for the more challenging vegetables this treatment tends to showcase their worst attributes. Take the Brussels sprout. Since it is, essentially, a cabbage in miniature, boiling will make it mushy and smelly, overemphasizing the sulfur notes that plague all members of the cruciferous family.
My favorite preparation for sprouts comes from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian. (As an aside, I’m a big fan of this and the original book, How to Cook Everything. More on that in a future post.) Basically, you cut the sprouts in half and place them cut side down in a pan of olive oil, then toss in some garlic, salt, and pepper. After they start to cook, you throw the whole pan in the oven to roast for 20-30 minutes.
The resultant sprouts are crispy on the outside, with creamy, tender middles. They taste of garlic and their own caramelized sugars, and they are divine. If this preparation cannot convince you of the goodness of sprouts, you are a hard case indeed.
I plan to continue to highlight my favorite recipes for unpopular vegetables. If you’d like more specific instructions, let me know – and tell me what you think! If you have your own favorite recipes, I’d love to hear them as well – just drop a line in the comments.