Updated: Jun 16, 2020
I seem to have brassicas on the brain at the moment. Every time I go to the shop, I find myself drawn again and again to the allure of cabbage, sprouts, broccoli and kale. Perhaps it's because there's precious little else in season at the moment; the days of courgettes, green beans and fresh salad still feel like they're a speck in the distance. Or perhaps because I've been listening to The Way We Eat Now by Bee Wilson which has made me truly rethink the food that we consume and made me more conscious about the nutritional value of what I'm putting on the plate, rather than just the flavour.
"I wonder what it says about us," my partner sighed, wistfully, as I delved through the savoy cabbages, again, searching for the perfect specimen, "that we're the kind of people who actually choose to buy cabbage now."
But we like it! I protested, to which he reluctantly agreed. So this month, I'm thinking about six more ways to use brassicas.
1) and 2) Roasted Sprout Salads
I have already eaten this salad in various guises throughout January and have no intention of stopping as we plough on into February. All the sprout hype from December has died down, but they are still in season and a really delicious addition to winter salads. Also, they're super good for you. Here's two ways to serve them:
100g kalettes/ kale/ broccoli
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and pre-heat the oven to 200c. Whilst you wait, trim and halve the sprouts and trim the rest of your greens.
Blanch the sprouts for 2 minutes until they're just cooked, remove and drain. Blanch the rest of the greens in the same way.
Place the spouts and kalettes/broccoli (if using) in a large baking tray so that they're not crowded. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. You can also add fennel seeds, chilli flakes, cumin seeds, or black pepper you fancy. Or whatever combination of spices takes your fancy!
Roast for 15 minutes until a nice crisp crust is starting to form on the cut sides of the sprouts, and the florets of broccoli are starting to char. Add the leafier greens to the baking tray and finish off the roasting for a further 5 minutes until everything is golden and the leafy greens have taken on a slight crispness in places.
Roasted greens -as above
2 x 7 minute boiled eggs
2tsp dijon mustard
handful toasted hazelnuts
2 handfuls rocket
5-6 precooked potatoes, chopped (perfect if you have leftovers from a Sunday lunch) could be substituted for lentils or pearl barley)
Selection of fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander or dill - if you have any
Combine the mayonnaise and the mustard to create a real tangy dressing. Pick the herbs (if using) and roughly chop. Add a little olive oil, salt and a splash of white wine vinegar to create a light herb dressing - sort of with a rough pesto consistency.
Mix the rocket with the roasted greens and potatoes. Top with the eggs, large dollops of mayonnaise, splashes of herby dressing and a scattering of nuts.
Roasted greens- as above
100g couscous, cooked in salted water until tender and drained
80g feta cheese
20g coriander and mint
1/2 glove garlic
handful toasted walnuts
1/2 red onion
8tbsp natural yogurt
Pick the herbs and use a pestle and mortar to pound the herbs with the garlic, lemon juice and a pinch of salt, until it resembles a herby puree. Combine with the yogurt to make a creamy green dressing. Check the seasoning, adding a little more salt or lemon juice if needed (remembering that the feta cheese will bring a really salty element).
Slice the red onion as finely as you can into long, thin slivers. Mix the onion, roasted greens and couscous together in a large bowl, using a little olive oil to loosen the grains if necessary. Distribute between two plates then top with crumbled chunks of feta cheese, dollops of herby yogurt and the toasted walnuts.
3) Kale and Sausage Ragu
I've been really interested in Italian cookery recently, having spent many an evening pouring over my current favourite cook book -Anna Del Conte's Gastronomy of Italy. I've also recently purchased Tuscany by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi which has a great looking recipe for Kale and Sausage pasta sauce, flavoured with garlic, fennel seeds and chilli. At the end of last year, I made Del Conte's version of a bolognese which - to my great surprise- didn't use tinned tomatoes but used a combination of tomato puree and milk to create the sauce. Sceptical as I was, the resulting ragu was packed with richness and flavour. So when I came across this recipe, I noted that this too had a scant use of tomato, preferring cream and white wine to create the sauce. It seems quite against my culinary intuition to use dairy based sauces with red meats such as pork and beef, however given how much we enjoyed the bolognese I'm tempted to give this a go.
4) Thai inspired Slaw
Since we got back from our trip I've been thinking about ways to recreate the lovely salads we had: zippy with lime, fresh with herbs and a pinch of spice from fresh chilli too. But I don't have ready access to green papaya and pomelo so I'm afraid I'll have to make do with cabbage.
I'm planning a coleslaw style salad with celeriac (or possibly kohlrabi if I can get it), shredded white cabbage, peanuts and a chilli - lime dressing. Perhaps served with some garlic and ginger roasted chicken like we had in Chiang Mai. More as I have it...
5) Umami Greens
I can't get enough of greens cooked this way. It works best with the darker brassicas - kale, cavil nero or sprouting broccoli rather than savoy or sprouts. I like it with eggs for brunch, or as a side dish to a roast or some grilled fish.
100g Greens of your choice, prepped
3 tinned anchovies, roughly chopped
1 large clove garlic, sliced into thin discs
1 tsp chili flakes
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil. Once the water is boiling, add your greens and cook them until they are tender - they need to be fully cooked and often kale and cavil nero can take longer to cook than you think. I cook it for about four minutes. Drain the veg and remove as much of the water as you can by pressing with the back of a spoon.
In another large pan, warm a generous glug of olive oil (not too hot as you don't want the garlic to brown too quickly) and add the anchovy and garlic. The anchovy should start to melt into the oil and the garlic should soften as it releases its flavour into the oil. Just as the garlic is starting to brown, add the chilli flakes and the greens, mixing thoroughly so that the garlicky-anchovy-umami oil gets all over the greens. You shouldn't need to add any extra salt as the anchovies should provide enough, but check the seasoning is to your liking.
6) Red Cabbage Kraut
I'm a home fermenting novice. I've fermented things at work - en masse and following someone else's recipe - but I have never attempted to preserve things in this way in my own kitchen. A couple of weeks ago, I plunged in, using - you guessed it- cabbage. Cabbage seemed like a safe place to start, I thought. Sauerkraut has been well known to be since before fermentation became a trendy pastime. What could go wrong.
I sliced and salted my cabbage, seasoned it and pressed it into my sterilised jar as instructed. So far, so good. I'd read somewhere that a good way to press the cabbage down to ensure that it remained submerged beneath the liquid was to use a plastic bag filled with water. This seemed logical to me; the water-weight could mould itself to the shape of the cabbage. As I plunked the bag in all seemed to be going to plan. Alas, when I checked on it the next morning, somehow the bag had split, resulting in a deluge pouring over my fermented goods. And that was the end of my first attempt to ferment.
But, I'm not deterred. I'll be diving in for round two later this month.