Raw Brussels Sprouts - © bonnieplants.com

Cruciferous Vegetables: Underrated and Overhated?

I’m really getting tired of defending the lowly, lonesome family of Cruciferous veggies. Can we not agree, at least, that they’re good for us and move forward from there? The main argument against them is that a fair number of people complain about their flavour. But they are superfoods, based on their nutrition content…

Whole Roasted Cauliflower with Sprouts - © vegetarianperspective.wordpress.comWhole Roasted Cauliflower accompanied by Roasted Sprouts:
A great side combo for a vast array of protein mains…

The best example of the ‘worst’ Cruciferous veggie?

It’s a three-way race between Broccoli, Brussles Sprouts and Cauliflower. (In fact, all members if the Cabbage Family are cruciferius!) But Broccoli usually edges out Sprouts in official surveys of the ‘most-hated’ produce varieties. So let’s look at that one first, just to set the scene…

Why do folks hate them so?

Some folks are simply hyper-sensitive to a component in their flavour profiles that makes them taste repulsive – just by themselves. But non-Eastern cultures consider cauliflower, especially, a staple; even a treat. How, you ask, can this be?

One reason this unloved flavour component is more prominent in the West is that we tend to steam or simmer all cruciferous veggies in plain water, whereas other cultures tend to take a fancier, fussier approach to its preparation. More on this a little later.

Another is that other cultures have hundreds if not thousands of years longer than we have to experiment with them and perfect them.

Anyway…

What are we missing?

I would now like to consider a few examples of ways to take old Eastern flavours and techniques and bring our own protocols for cauliflower up-to-date.

How to cook it: I propose that steaming or simmering be employed only to scald or par-cook cauliflower (and other cruciferous veggies) to a point where they can be enhanced by the addition of complementary flavours and/or textures, before roasting or sautéeing to finish them.

Indian and other Southeast Asian cooks routinely stew cauliflower florets in rich, spicy sauces. Few typical Indian dinner menus are considered complete without one such stew. Any so-called ‘Curry’ sauce makes a great match for cauliflower. I’ve always used Satay Sauce to great advantage on cauliflower.

Cauliflower can also be served roasted, having been drizzled with Ghi and sprinkled with regionally traditional spice blends, or Masalas. This one of my favourite presentations.

And don’t forget frying cauliflower lightly to infuse it with added flavours. ‘Toasted’ Spices always taste better than plain (raw) ones. Just be sure to steam or simmer the cauliflower almost until just fork-tender (al denté) before frying. And be sure to let any excess water on the veggies evaporate away before trying to fry. Otherwise, you’ll get a mushy, musty-tasting mess!

Those are just a couple of the easiest, most common ways cauliflower is served across SEA and the Sub-Continent.

Footnote: Any flavouring or cooking techniques useful for cauliflower seem to also work well for potatoes. Look up ‘Aloo’ dishes in the Internet Indian ‘cookbook’.  See, particularly, Aloo Gobi – Potatoes and Cauliflower. (‘Aloo’ simply means ‘potato’ in Hindi, and ‘Gobi’ means ‘cauliflower’.)

What about the cabbage family?

Cabbages can be treated in a manner similar to cauliflower, except that they much prefer braising or roasting to frying. And they will also appreciate you using different cooking sauces and spices on them. Again, Google recipes to get a good idea where cabbages and cauliflower part ways, flavour-wise. For example, I like a slightly sweet sauce or rub on green cruciferous veggies, like Sweet and Spicy Thai Chicken Sauce. You’ll figure out what you like best through experimentation.

Folks often joke about Brussel’s Sprouts being ‘Baby Cabbages’. In fact, that’s basically what they are, but they never get any bigger than about 2 in. / 5 cm long, and grow on stalks, rather than in heads or bunches. Any solution that works with cabbages will work well with sprouts. And remember that par-cooked Sprouts can take great advantage of being sautéed in Butter (or Ghee) and then tossed in any sauce that works for cabbage.

Now: We come to the vexed question of Kimchi. That’s the iconic fermented (or quick-pickled) preserve of Napa Cabbage from Korea, which no Korea meal is complete without. And I mean none, from breakfast to late-night snacks. Either you and yours will love it or hate it, but do at least try it in a small batch before abandoning it in shock and awe. Take it easy, taste-testing: Some folks have trouble getting past he aroma, alone. Always use a fair amount of Sugar (to taste) with the spices and salt called for in any basic recipe for any Kimchi. You’ll find a balance that suits you in there somewhere.

Any loose ends?

Ah, yes! Remember that big Restaurant fad for what they called Bloomin’ Onions a few years back? Some joints still serve them as bar food, and folks always love to tear off wedges and dip ’em in almost any kind of sauce. Use only nice, big, sweet Spanish, Bermuda or Vidalia Onions. Check the Internet for the vast array of spices that can be used to dust them before roasting. And don’t be afraid to add a little sugar if you find the onions you are using are a little bitter compared to what you’d like to serve. You can go either spicy or sweet (i.e.- spice blends based on sugar, cinnamon and/or ginger) to complement the way you’re serving them (as part of a meal, or as a finger food).

And remember:

Try to involve the whole family in blending the spices, supervising any sautéeing or steaming required, and suggesting what sort of proteins these dishes might be served with. Chicken and Seafood are the usual go-withs…

~ Maggie J.

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