I started writing another post, as I often have done, but relegated it to the unpublished pile because it was too depressing and too contemplative. If on the other hand you feel like a shit parent and want to feel better, and I receive requests to indulge in my self-deprecating open-kimono self-shaming I will gauge interest and may post after all. For now I won’t be a buzz kill at such a festive time of year.
All you need to know in terms of what has been going on since my last post is:
- Baby has had all sorts of A&E visits of late due to a variety of bonks, scrapes and daredevil endeavours.
- I turned 40 and had a shit weekend (mainly due to grief)
- Have no childcare for the last 6 weeks at all so am losing my shit with the kids as they have been off for the best part of a fortnight and are trapped inside an awful lot, thanks to this unfestive, misery-inducing December mild drizzle.
Now that the scene is set, I am going to share with you a recipe which is the culinary equivalent of the mildly irritating saying that goes: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”. This recipe transforms the much maligned, often bitter sprout in to a real delicacy. I get why the sprout has such a bad rap; it is so easily cooked wrong. In stressed and rushed hands, it can be over-cooked and then turn mealy, mushy, metallic and sulphurous, a little ball of poison, all bitterness and obligation. From childhood (in the UK at least) we are encouraged to imbibe something verdant in brownish-sea of animal protein and rich trimmings on Christmas day, and once a year out they have come, the little balls of misery. Since the 80s there have been huge leaps as a nation in our cooking prowess, knowledge and open-mindedness, and even kale has finally gone from awkward wallflower to the nerdy popular superstar at the gastro-party. If we can eat kale, we can eat sprouts, and this recipe is basically a way to combine and transform pretty much any combination/ ratio of the following arse-kicking, cancer-fighting, alkaline forming, green cruciferous vegetables eg:
- Pointu /Savoy Cabbage (even a white cabbage but it would look slightly less green and inviting, although the texture would withstand this kind of preparation and cooking)
- Cavolo Nero / Tuscan Kale
- Spring Greens / Collard Greens
- Curly Kale (any colour)
The key to this recipe’s success is this:
- DO NOT OVERCOOK THE GREENS!! A few minutes stirfrying is all that is necessary – they must be wilted only, not cooked through. This ensures they do not turn bitter and mushy. It is like steering a boat into dock in that you need to turn off the power (heat) before you reach “doneness” as there will be residual heat carrying the greens along that can make them overcook.
- Use greens with intrinsic toughness and bite (as listed above), that are compact and that can withstand fine slicing. The flavours work well with all cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower etc) but not all can be finely sliced and still look good and maintain a firm texture.
- Slice the greens as finely as you can stand. I have lost many an edge of a thumbnail in the deployment of my mandolin (so frequently and painfully so, that I have a high-end version, with finger guard on my Christmas list – like this.). Slicing finely means that you can essentially eat the greens raw and they will still be delicate and tasty enough. This also give them volume and lightness and allows the flavours to reach even the hidden depths of the vegetable pile.
- Make it on the spot, all can be prepped in advance, but they need to be stir-fried 3 minutes before serving. I made this at a friend’s house who was hosting us for Thanksgiving, as one of our dinner contributions and it was quick and painless, as I had all the ingredients pre-sliced and arranged to go. [Incidentally, the other guests asked for the recipe (even the anti-sprout militants) saying it was the tastiest sprout recipe they had ever tasted.]
For years I made sprouts with pancetta and chorizo and chesnuts, but these are much lighter and more appealing when paired with all the other foods normally served at Christmas. In fact I eat this all the time once the sprouts are in season, even if slicing them is quite literally, a chafe. Fresh turmeric root is one of the planet’s most potent super-foods and fights cancer and a battery of other diseases. Amazingly it is now quite widely available. I can get it at my local market and on Ocado. It is responsible for the crazy lime-green colour of the sprouts in the photo and it has a wicked flavour and aroma too. If you cannot find fresh turmeric, or you can’t face an Ottolenghi-length quest for ingredients, you do not need to use ALL the spices I suggest. I often make these with only garlic, ginger and lemon zest.
Here you go:
If we can eat kale, we can eat sprouts, and this recipe is basically a way to combine and transform pretty much any combination/ ratio of arse-kicking, cancer-fighting, alkaline forming, green cruciferous vegetables eg: Sprouts Pointu /Savoy Cabbage (even a white cabbage but it would look slightly less green and inviting, although the texture would withstand this kind of preparation and cooking) Cavolo Nero / Tuscan Kale Spring Greens / Collard Greens Curly Kale (any colour)
If you are serving to children, hold the szechuan pepper and chilli. The quantities of turmeric, garlic, ginger etc. can be adjusted according to your taste.
After years of laboriously using a knife to slice my sprouts, I have moved on to a mandolin for really fast and fine slicing. Take care of your fingers though! I imagine you could use a slicing attachment in your food processor for similar results, but the slices should really be not more than 2-3mm thick.
THIS IS KEY: DO NOT OVERCOOK THE GREENS!! A few minutes stirfrying is all that is necessary - they must be wilted only, not cooked through. This ensures they do not turn bitter and mushy. It is like steering a boat into dock in that you need to turn off the power (heat) before you reach "doneness" as there will be residual heat carrying the greens along that can make them overcook. Use greens with intrinsic toughness and bite (as listed above), that are compact and that can withstand fine slicing. The flavours work well with all cruciferous veg (broccoli, cauliflower etc) but not all can be finely sliced and still look good and maintain a firm texture. Slice the greens as finely as you can stand. Slicing finely means that you can essentially eat the greens raw and they will still be delicate and tasty enough. This also give them volume and lightness and allows the flavours to reach even the hidden depths of the vegetable pile. Make it on the spot, all can be prepped in advance, but they need to be stir-fried 3 minutes before serving.
- 1 kg total, green cruciferous vegetables (Brussels Sprouts, Pointu /Savoy Cabbage, Cavolo Nero / Tuscan Kale, Spring Greens / Collard Greens, Curly Kale). In the photo I have used 2/3 sprouts to 1/3 curly kale.
- For Christmas I like to use 750g Brussels sprouts and 250g curly kale for contrast
- 2-3 heaped tbsp Coconut Oil
- 1/2 head (preferably "wet" / fresh) garlic (c. 7 cloves/ 60g) as this can be shaved on a mandolin and is gentler in flavour
- 1 or 2 3-inch pieces (c.35g) of fresh turmeric root (available on Ocado, yay!), grated finely (eg on a Microplane)
- 1 or 2 2-inch pieces of fresh ginger root (c.70g), finely grated on a Microplane
- salt (c. 1 tsp) and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds, crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 1 tsp szechuan pepper corns, crushed in a pestle and mortar
- 1 25g bunch fresh coriander, leaves only, chopped
- rind of 2 whole unwaxed lemons (you could add some clementine or orange zest for festive spirit too)
- 2 birdseye red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
- Your compact greens, eg. Brussels Sprouts, savoy and white cabbages should be sliced finely on a mandolin or by hand, no thicker than 3mm thick ideally. Start with washing any mud off, and stripping away any grubby or tattered outer leaves. Do not slice the stalkiest parts, simply discard these. Place these shavings aside in a large bowl and break up the layers with your hands so that they resemble fine green ribbons.
- Then wash and de-stalk the greens that require it (eg. kale, spring greens, cavolo nero). Shake off excess water or spin in a salad spinner. Roughly pile up the leaves one on top of the other, and slice in to ribbons as fine as you can manage. Add these to the shaved sprouts.
- Now put a heavy bottomed sauté pan on the stove and place your coconut oil inside, without turning on the heat.
- Next prepare all your spices and herbs as you will have to move quickly once stir-frying commences.
- Take your "wet" / fresh garlic (equivalent to c. 7 cloves/ 60g) and strip off any papery outer layers. When you get to the waxy inner layer and if the cloves are still held in the bulb, hold the whole head of garlic by the stem and avoiding the straw-like root underneath, briskly shave the bulb side-on, turning every now and then, until about half the bulb is sliced away. Put to one side.
- Peel the soft skin off the turmeric root (if you can be bothered - I don't) with the tip of a spoon, do the same with the ginger, and grate both in to a pile and set to one side.
- Crush the cumin seeds in a pestle and mortar, then add the szechuan pepper corns to these and crush them too.
- Slice the fresh coriander, leaves only and put aside.
- Zest the lemons and put to one side.
- De-seed and finely slice 2 red birdseye chillies, and chop finely.
- Turn on the heat under your pan to high, immediately add the garlic and fresh turmeric and ginger, stirring fast to prevent sticking. The turmeric will release a lot of colour, don't be shocked!
- Throw in the sprouts and kale (greens of your choice) and stir vigorously to prevent sticking. They will be bulky to fit in the pan at first, so stir carefully to avoid tipping much on to the hob (alternatively you could split everything in half and do in two batches).
- Once the oil has coated all the greens and they have literally only just begun to wilt (about 2-3 minutes) remove from the heat and throw in all (EXCEPT THE CORIANDER & LEMON ZEST) the other seasoning and spices and herbs and stir.
- Once the greens have cooled down slightly, add the lemon and coriander as these are better not cooked, and are best eaten raw to maximize their aroma.
- Serve immediately.