I have a confession to make.
When I added broccoli to last month’s poll as to which vegetable people wanted help learning to love, it was only because one person had mentioned briefly that while she didn’t hate broccoli, she was never particularly excited about eating it. I was certain that she’d be an outlier, and that we’d tackle beets or spinach or asparagus well before we got to broccoli. Who hates broccoli? Surely it’s one of the country’s most popular vegetables? (It’s not. More on that in a bit.)
Apparently, everyone hates broccoli, or at least everyone who reads this blog. It won by a landslide. My suspicion is actually that you don’t hate broccoli, but that like the original person who suggested it that you are bored by broccoli. After all, there are only two preparations for it, right? We tend to consume it steamed and spartan, or thickly enrobed in cheese.
While the cheese preparation is delicious, it perhaps strikes us as a less than virtuous way of consuming a vegetable – if the point is to be more healthy, soaking our vitamins in saturated fat and calories is perhaps not an ideal solution. Simply steamed however, broccoli is at best boring, and at worst can have the most unpleasant characteristics of the Brassica family: sulfurous and tough, nearly fibrous. What’s the health-conscious vegetable eater to do, apart from resign herself to boredom or cholesterol?
As it turns out, quite a bit! There’s no law that says broccoli needs to be steamed, my friends, and as with so many of the vegetables we don’t care for, steaming is not the answer. Immediately two preparations came to mind that I really enjoy, don’t require too many ingredients, and are reasonably healthy. I’m going to post a third but caution that I haven’t yet tried it myself; the principle is sound, however, and I plan to try it soon.
A simple sautee is the first and it couldn’t be easier. If it’s not already, chop your broccoli into florets of a reasonably small size. You want them to cook fairly quickly. Heat a pan and throw in some olive oil. When the oil is shimmering, toss in the broccoli and a good shake of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Stir frequently, until the broccoli is tender.
This will yield surprisingly buttery and soft stems with crisped florets. I toss it with pasta or rice, but you could simply serve it as a side dish or mix it with other vegetables.
The second method is a variation on the first and requires a few more easily obtained ingredients. Called braising and glazing, I grabbed this from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything, and it’s appropriate for just about every vegetable you can imagine (Except possibly cucumber. I don’t really know what one does with cucumber that isn’t raw or soup). Here’s what you do:
You’ll need frying pan with a lid – heat it up over medium heat and add 1/4 cup olive oil. When it’s shimmering, add a tablespoon (or to your taste) of minced garlic. Give that 30 seconds to start to brown and throw in your broccoli (again, cut into bits first, otherwise this is going to take a long time) and a 1/4 cup of chicken stock (of course you’ve made your own). Put the lid on everything and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is tender. Once that happens remove the lid and increase the heat, cooking until nearly all of the liquid is evaporated. The broccoli will be gilded with chicken stock. Salt and pepper those babies and enjoy! Two notes about this preparation: 1. In my version the florets came out a bit mushy. Keep an eye on the veggies and your pieces even – the stems were perfect, and I didn’t mind the mushiness but you might not like it. 2. If you want to make this vegan, use veggie stock, water, or wine. Try them anyway for different tastes! You can also squeeze some lemon over this, if you like.
Finally, you can roast the broccoli. Since I haven’t yet tried this, I found a great-sounding recipe here. You’ll see that some of the flavors are the same as above, but I get the sense that you could solve the mushiness problem. If someone tries this before I report back, please comment!
Regarding America’s favorite vegetables – if you click the link way back at the top of this post it will take you to a report on our most-consumed vegetables. While the report is governmental and a bit dry, just take a look at the graph on page four. Just six vegetables are listed (and confusingly, melon). All of the other wonderful varieties of food plant we can eat are lumped into an “Other” category – and they’re still outranked by potatoes and tomatoes! I hope that these Vegetable Therapist posts encourage you all to buck the trend and try to raise consumption of the forgotten vegetables.
One last note, since I’ve been long-winded already. Remember my beloved sprouts? Mark Bittman posted a recipe in his Minimalist column this week that sounds amazing. I can’t wait to try it – hope you will too!