02 September 2014

Tasty Tuesday Review: Brassicas by Laura B. Russell

It's hard to think of leafy greens as sexy or romantic and broccoli and cauliflower - forget it! But you'll quickly change your opinion of these vegetables when you begin to read Laura B. Russell's amazing cookbook, Brassicas. Now, I cheated a bit with that statement as how could le petit chou - or Brussels Sprouts not seem a bit sexy when given its French name (also an affectionate appellation). But in truth, this family of vegetables, the Brassicas, has had a bum rap. Jokes are made about Presidents who don't like broccoli, smelly cabbage, and, in truth, when these vegetables are not prepared well, they can be less than appealing.

However the subtitle of Russell's book, "Cooking the world's healthiest vegetables," says it all. Yes. there is nothing sexier or more romantic than preparing foods for your loved ones that help fight cancer. Yes, they're "rich in phytochemicals that act as anticarcinogenics, anti-inflammitories, and promote liver detoxification." (p. vii, from the foreward by Rebecca Katz.)

Russell has carefully selected recipes and ingredients that, for the most part, can be found at your grocery store. However if you have a farmers' market you love to attend, so much the better. But if you don't, there's no worry as these greens are usually uniformly available.

I'll admit like many other Americans I've been seduced by kale over the past few years. This was a vegetable my mother grew forever, but I never enjoyed very much. Well, until I had the kale salad at an Italian eatery in Rhinebeck. I fell in love with this vegetable and soon made weekly trips to this "in spot," braving crowds that included Uma Thurman among other Hudson Valley celebs, in order to have this simple salad with of kale, currants, shaved parmesan, and toasted pignola. Putting Google to work, I was able to find a recipe to recreate this recipe at home (no more crowds and a budget savings, which is always positive). And kale quickly became one of my fave go-to vegetables. I didn't have any idea of the health benefits, but just loved the taste and texture of this formerly undervalued green.

Now, however, I've become much more aware of the health benefits  of including this vegetable family in my diet, so was quite happy to have the chance to review Russell's Brassicas. Of course the first recipes I checked for were the ones for kale and I can't wait to make the Lemony Kale Shreds with Salty Cheese salad - that not only looks delicious by incredibly easy to prepare with lemon juice, salt, pepper, olive oil, mustard, and feta. I'm also planning to make up some of the kale pesto and the roasted kale chips. I've made both before, but these recipes offer slightly different preparation instructions. The Kale and Sweet Potato Sauté sounds like a dish that will be on my fall and winter menu for years to come - and could not be a healthier combination of foods. The soup and stew recipes also are enticing and seem perfect hearty fare for a winters day.

The one vegetable in this family that I personally avoid is cauliflower. My mother could only entice me to eat it when she covered it with bread crumbs and baked it with a touch of butter. (I was a very strange child). Otherwise, I usually avoid eating it. But this cookbook is tempting me to once again try this odd vegetable that Russell notes is under appreciated. I can't wait to prepare the Creamy Cauliflower Gratin (from the photo it looks like a very healthy alternative to mac and cheese). The Indian Potato and Cauliflower Curry offers the only other example of a cauliflower dish I actually have enjoyed and I am super delighted to be able to recreate it at home now with this recipe. I'll also try Russell's Cauliflower Rice, a low-carb simple alternative to rice.

As you could guess, Brussels Sprouts are one of my all time favorite vegetables that I usually prepare with lemon juice, maple syrup, walnut oil, and walnuts. A super simple and usually pretty tasty side dish. My repertoire will increase this fall with the assorted recipes included here. I can't wait to taste the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with the Parmesan Crust and Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze (finally finding a use for the fig jam I was gifted!), among others. The other chou, cabbage, is well represented as well and the photo of the Five-Spice Red Cabbage Salad has put that recipe at the top of the list to try now. Russell asks if you're looking for a ridiculously easy side dish - and who isn't? Her Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette hits the mark and is a way of preparing cabbage I've never tried before.

Unlike the former President, I've always liked broccoli. One of my mother's favorite cookbooks was the Enchanted Broccoli Forest and, in truth, I've always imagined broccoli as little trees. Which makes me wonder if when I was a toddler I was encouraged to eat "trees," but as I don't recall, I'll just smile at the possibility. I always, always feel guilty throwing out the broccoli stalk, that's why the Kohlrabi and Broccoli Stalk Slaw is on now on my recipe list for this week. The Broccoli and Pepper Jack Frittata looks like the perfect addition for a brunch dish.

Well, I could just go on and on as this cookbook features recipe sections for leafy brassicas, Asian brassicas, and root brassicas and kohlrabi. Suffice it to say these are equally compelling to consider and will find their way to my table soon. At the conclusion of the book there is a brief health warning about consuming large quantities of raw brassicas if you have thyroid issues as they may interfere with thyroid hormone levels. However the physician, Samantha Brody, notes that cooked brassicas are not a problem, so if this is a consideration, there is also an easy solution.

I've already thinking of a gift list for this cookbook as I know several friends who'll probably enjoy it - not only for health reasons, but because they love to cook. So it's quite easy to see that I rate it quite highly and do encourage you to add it to your cookbook shelf.

Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More by Laura B. Russell

Ten Speed Press (Random House) ⎜ 9781607745716 ⎜ $23.00 ⎜ Apr 8, 2014
   A cookbook showcasing 80 recipes for the most popular of the world's healthiest vegetables--kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, leafy greens, and more--tailored to accommodate special diets such as gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan.
   The eighty inventive, flavorful recipes presented in Brassicas play to each vegetable’s strengths, favoring techniques that celebrate their intrinsic flavors instead of masking them by blanketing under layers of cheese or boiling. Think of the inherent sweetness that can be coaxed from perfectly roasted Brussels sprouts, or the bright, peppery punch of a watercress and arugula salad.
   Straightforward cooking methods like roasting, sautéing, pickling, and wilting transform brassicas into satisfying dishes, such as Cauliflower Hummus, Spicy Kale Fried Rice, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan Crust, and Broccoli and Pepper Jack Frittata. These recipes also maintain the vegetables’ stellar nutritional properties. High in vitamins and minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, and glucosinolates, brassicas have been shown to act as antioxidants, anticarcinogenics, anti-inflammatories, and liver detoxifiers, and have many other health benefits.
   The beauty of these “superfoods” is on full display in Brassicas; exquisite photographs of brassica varieties in their raw forms—roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and buds—can be found throughout, helping you identify Lacinato kale from curly kale or mustard greens from collard greens at the farmers’ market or grocery store.
   For those who observe certain dietary restrictions, author Laura B. Russell provides alternatives and tips to accommodate gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets. Equipped with complete selection, storage, washing, and prepping instructions, you can enjoy more of these nutritional powerhouses—from the commonplace kale to the more adventurous bok choy or mizuna—in your everyday meals. 


I received this book from Blogging for Books and NetGalley for this review.