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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Veggies You Didn't Know You Loved


Some veggies 
don't get no respect.
Many of my favorite vegetables are those that don't exactly get a warm reception from the average eater.  

Turnips, Kale, Brussels Sprouts and Fennel aren't the biggest crowd pleasers, but because they happen to make great winter sides, I decided I'd feature them, and some easy ways to prepare them, in an ode to the lovable losers of the plant world; I dedicate this post to all the Rodney Dangerfield-esque veggies out there waiting for their moment in the sun. Thankfully, the farm-to-table movement has done much to increase the good press on overlooked vegetables. 
  
NK's Weeknight Brussels Sprouts - easy & tasty, Photo: NK
 Here are some fast, easy and tasty ways to prepare a few of my favorites:  

TURNIPS AND KALE
Turnips and Kale are enjoying a real uptick in popularity that is well deserved. They are both super healthy members of the Crucifer family of veggies, a group so named for the cross shaped formation their leaves create when in bloom. Some other notable crucifers include Brussels Sprouts  and Broccoli. Cruciferous veggies are especially packed with vitamins and fiber, and they boast quite a few disease figting qualities. Kale, in particular, has the most Vitamin A of them all.  

Turnip Matchsticks, Photo: NK

Now I enjoy turnips cooked, but I also absolutely love them raw. Same goes for kale. Raw turnips have a snappy, sweet, yet slightly spicy flavor and a perfect crunch. They absorb flavor well and make a great taste and textural addition to salads. Check out this piece on the unexpected joys of raw vegetable salads HERE

And here's a salad I created a few years ago that combines raw turnips and kale:

Kale and Turnip Salad With Honey Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 4 

Ingredients:
A bunch of baby Kale chopped, or head of kale, ribs removed, cut into two inch pieces
1 small turnip, washed, peeled and julienned into matchsticks
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 Teaspoon Honey or Agave Nectar
1.5 Tablespoons Lemon
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Method:
Prepare Dressing in a small bowl by mixing Olive Oil, Honey, Lemon Juice, Salt and Pepper. 
Next, toss Kale, Turnips, and Dressing in a bowl and let sit at room temperature at least ten minutes. This will help the kale break down a bit, tenderizing while absorbing the flavors. 
Optional variation for even more tender Kale 
Put Salad and Dressing in a Gallon Ziploc bag, leaving partially open for air to escape. 
Press the bag down on a flat surface and move the contents around with fingers and palms. This will both distribute the dressing and massage the kale with the acidic dressing to help make it tender. Let sit for at least ten minutes. Enjoy!
Kale and Turnip Salad served with Kebabs, Photo: NK
What else can you do with Kale? 
Why not buy extra and whip up this super easy, fast and healthy soup that will feed you for days? Any sturdy soup green works well, especially escarole. Alongside a sandwich or salad or served with crusty bread, it makes an easy and nutritious weeknight meal. 

Best Ever Kale and Cannellini Bean Soup
Adapted from Real Simple
6-8 Servings


Kale and Cannellini Soup, Photo: NK 
  • Ingredients:
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • large onion, chopped
  • 7 cups water
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • coarse salt and black pepper
  • 15.5-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup small soup pasta, particularly ditalini (a thimble shaped pasta) 
  • 1 bunch kale, thick stems and ribs discarded and leaves torn into 2 inch pieces
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary (optional but recommended)
  • Shaved Parmesan for serving, plus 1 piece parmesan rind (optional but recommended)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • Method:
  • Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, celery, onion, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring once in a while, until veggies get tender, 4 to 6 minutes.
  • Add the beans, pasta, kale, rosemary, 7 cups water and 1 cup vegetable broth, and Parmesan rind. 
  • Cover and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and add crushed red pepper simmer until the pasta and kale are tender, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle with the shaved Parmesan before serving.
  • Optionally serve with crusty bread.
  • (this soup is amazing with a few sprinkles of Tabasco sauce)

  • Flavor Pairings with Kale, raw or cooked: Golden raisins, pine nuts, or salty additions like anchovies, olives, or parmesan shavings. Yum. 
  •  
  • BRUSSELS SPROUTS
  • Packed with vitamin E, these little guys have a love 'em or hate 'em following, but you'll find that those who are pro-sprout seem to speak of them with great passion. I love brussels sprouts. Although, I admit, they're a slightly acquired taste, I feel that the strong negative sentiment around brussels sprouts is more a result of bad preparation. Boiling brussels sprouts until fully cooked is probably the worst possible way to serve them. It increases their smell, not in a good way, also making them mushy. Perhaps you have a hair-raising childhood memory of this? I think we all do. When prepared well, brussels sprouts can be absolutely delicious, even without the (heavenly) addition of temptations like bits of bacon so popular in sprouts these days.  Below is one of my favorite every day sprout recipes that uses braising to maximize taste and texture.
NK's Weeknight Brussels Sprouts
Serves 3-4
Cooks in 15 minutes, 5 minutes active time

Ingredients:
One small basket of Brussels Sprouts, washed and cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cup of chicken broth or vegetable broth (for vegetarian preparation)
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil 
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Add oil and butter to a medium sauté pan. Melt butter over medium heat.
When butter is melted, shake the pan to cover the bottom with oil and butter totally.
Place Brussels Sprout halves, cut side down, in the pan - as many as you can fit.
Cook 4 to 5 minutes or until slightly browned and golden (see photo above).
Add broth to the pan, pouring until liquid reaches about halfway up the height of the sprout.
Allow liquid to reach a gentle boil.
Lower the heat to a simmer and cover. 
Cook another 7 minutes for al dente or 9 minutes for slightly more tender.
Drain off the liquid and season liberally with salt and pepper to taste. Serve! 


NK's Weeknight Brussels Sprouts with Pork Chops & Pimiento Rice, Photo: NK

FENNEL 
Unlike the rest of today's featured veggies, Fennel is not a member of crucifer family. Instead, it is a cousin of carrots and celery. Fennel gets a bad rap chiefly because of its ever so slight licorice flavor. Though the licorice quality is more intense in the leafy green fronds, the actual bulb has only a mild anise taste.
Here's a great article on the virtues of fennel HERE 

When prepared raw, adding boldly flavored accompaniments such as citrus and olives can balance the licorice taste nicely and minimize it for those that don't care for it. I highly recommend giving it a try! If you are still not sold, try out fennel cooked. When roasted, it sweetens and caramelizes beautifully, losing nearly all of its licorice taste in favor of a more mellow yet still pleasing flavor. Here's an irresistible and easy roasted fennel with parmesan recipe from Ina Garten. Serve it alongside any protein, particularly pork roasts: Click HERE for the Recipe.

Now, here's one of my favorite ways to prepare raw fennel:

NK's Blood Orange, Fennel, Radish and Watercress Salad
Serves 2 - 3 

Ingredients:
One bunch watercress
Fennel and Blood Orange Salad Prep, Photo: NK 
One ripe blood orange, or regular orange, peeled and segmented.
5 or 6 small radishes thinly sliced.
1 small fennel bulb, outermost layer discarded, thinly sliced on a mandoline* then lightly 
chopped.
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive oil or other light tasting oil such as grapeseed oil.

Method:
Take 3-4 orange segments and juice them into a small bowl. Add rice vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Next, chop the remaining orange segments into fourths and add to a separate bowl along with the watercress, radishes, and fennel.
Before serving, dress the salad and toss. Taste for seasoning and enjoy!


Food Pairings: This salad makes a wonderful accompaniment to any firm, white fish, or even salmon or arctic char. The salad works with a variety of citrus fruits, but if you can find blood oranges, they have a stunning color and an intense citrus flavor.   

* A high end mandoline is a great tool to have, but the $20 OXO Brand Hand held Mandoline works just fine for thin slicing. It's a must have because it makes slicing fast and uniform, and oh so pretty. Check it out HERE .
Enjoy!







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