Happy New Year! Are you ready to purge your body of the truckloads of refined sugar you’ve consumed in the past few weeks? Me too! If you’re planning your weekly menu and are bored to death with broccoli, allow me to introduce ten humble vegetables. Who knows? There may be a new family favorite just waiting to be discovered.
I grew up on this leafy Asian vegetable, easily found in most grocery stores. It’s especially tasty when thrown into your favorite stir-fry dishes, although it can be prepared as a stand-alone side dish too. Rinse the leaves, then cut the bok choy as you would romaine lettuce, starting from the leafy greens and working your way down to the white stalk. I usually only keep about half the stalk, since it’s less tasty than the greens. My mother would saute garlic, add the bok choy and a little water, and cover the pan so it lightly steamed. It cooks quickly, so in a few minutes she’d add a little oyster sauce and garlic pepper. That’s it! You can also find baby bok choy (which looks exactly as you would imagine) in some grocery stores. If you see it, grab it–the leaves are softer and more tender than the “adult” version.
Brussel sprouts look like baby cabbages and, in my opinion, are best when roasted. Rinse them, then trim off the bottom. You will lose the outer layer of cabbage leaves, but that’s fine since they’re usually less fresh anyway. Next, cut each brussel sprout in half, making sure not to cut down the main vein of the cabbage leaf. (You’ll know if you’ve cut the main vein because the whole thing will start coming apart!) Toss them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread them on a baking tray and cook at 375° for about 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them–when the tops are beginning to brown, they’re ready.
This beautiful veggie is one of my husband’s all-time favorites. Unfortunately, it’s expensive and you’ll probably have to go to Whole Foods, Publix, or Fresh Market to find it. There are several types of chard–swiss, ruby red, rainbow–but all are readily recognizable by the brightly colored stalks and red veins running through the leaves. Here’s how Clint’s mom prepares it: Start with 3 lbs. of chard. Slice stalk in ¾ inch pieces. Strip leaves and slice. Saute 4 garlic cloves in olive oil. Add stalks and cook 5-6 minutes. Add leaves and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Cover and cook until wilted, about 4 minutes. Uncover, cook until liquid evaporates. Stir in red wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
I will admit, of these ten vegetables, collards are probably my least favorite because I think they’re tricky to cook. Unlike turnip greens or chard, the leaves are tough. Nevertheless, when properly prepared, they’re delicious. First strip the leaves and discard the stalks. Wash thoroughly. I like to cook them in chicken stock since it’s lighter than good-old-fashioned “fat-back.” Simmer them in the stock for 30-45 minutes depending on taste. You can add smashed garlic or a slice of bacon, if you like, but neither are necessary.
Now this is my favorite! The one draw-back to Kai Lan, also known as “Chinese broccoli” is that it’s usually only found in Asian grocery stores. But it’s worth the visit! The actual bud that looks similar to broccoli is very small; the majority of the vegetable is leafy. To prepare, rinse and chop just as you did the Bok Choy, only keep all of the stalk. Stir fry with lots of garlic and an Asian sauce of your choice. (I was raised on Oyster sauce and will always be partial to it).
The best way I can describe Kale is to say the leaves are really “crinkly” and can be green or purple. When roasted properly, Kale can be as light and crispy as potato chips, my favorite way to eat it. Here’s what to do: First, rinse the leaves and cut off the stalks. Then cut leaves into chip-sized pieces. Toss lightly with olive oil and salt. Lay leaves on a baking tray with plenty of room so they’re not touching. Pop them in the oven on 375°, and keep an eye on them because they can burn quickly (this I know from experience!) They’re ready when crispy and just beginning to brown. Clint’s mom puts out a plate of them when we’re having burgers, and they disappear as quickly as chips!
Mustard Greens & Turnip Greens
I put these together since that’s the way I like to eat them. I buy two bunches of turnip greens and one bunch of mustard greens. It will look like a ton of vegetables, but like most leafy greens, they cook down considerably. While you’re at the store, pick up a turnip root–it will be white and bright purple. (Some whole food stores sell the turnips still attached to the root). First strip the leaves and discard stalks. Typically the leaves are really sandy, so you may want to fill your sink with water and dump the leaves in as you go. Next peel and dice your turnip root (it will take some of the bitter kick out of the greens). Simmer the greens and root in chicken stock for around 30 minutes. Again, you can toss in garlic or a strip of bacon if you like.
Nappa Cabbage, also known as “Chinese cabbage” can be steamed or stir-fried. Rinse and chop it just like bok choy (again, I don’t keep all of the white stalk). My favorite way to prepare it is with tofu. First I stir-fry tofu and garlic, then add a bunch of vegetables: nappa cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, carrots, and green beans. Add a little water to the pan, cover, and let the veggies steam. When they’re cooked, season with an Asian sauce of your choice and serve over rice.
Not the prettiest vegetable, but one of my baby’s absolute favorites. Rutabagas are cheap, readily available, and easy to prepare. All you have to do is peel off the thick waxy skin, dice the rutabaga (these two steps can be done in the morning to save you time later), and simmer in chicken broth until tender. Add a dollop of butter while it cooks and serve alongside other southern-style veggies.