Remember all those vegetables you hated as a kid? Brussels sprouts, cabbage, radishes… often fed to the dog or perhaps under a napkin on the side of your plate? Bringing back any memories?
Brassicas (no, it’s not a type of musical instrument) are a group of healthy green plants and root vegetables that if disguised properly, will be gobbled down by both adults and youngsters alike.
Evan Robertson, Market, Calgary
Evan Robertson, executive chef of MARKET Calgary, says their farm-to-table restaurant loves featuring cruciferous vegetables — if that’s a bit wordy, just think of them as disease-fighting superheroes — like bok choy, Brussels sprouts and broccolini.
“Using Brussels sprouts as an appetizer is fun. A lot of people swing past the kitchen and tell me they no longer hate eating them,” Robertson says. “I like to show customers that by using proper handling and cooking techniques, you can create a delicious dish.”
When it comes to cooking brassica, Robertson says the key is making sure produce is fresh, and to keep an eye on them while cooking.
“Smell vegetables at the store. If they have a strong aroma, they’re most likely past their prime,” he explains. “Avoid overcooking your vegetables. Respect for each item you use will benefit the end result — this is especially important to avoid any sulphurous smells.”
Steve Brochu, Chartier, Beaumont, Alberta
The quaint town of Beaumont on the outskirts of Edmonton is home to Chartier, a rustic French Canadian-inspired restaurant headed by chef Steve Brochu. Utilizing the surplus of fresh, local produce in the area, Brochu says brassica is a favourite to work with.
“From appetizers to desserts, this family is so versatile,” he says. “They can end up anywhere. We’ve even played around with roasting and smoking broccoli, which gives (them) almost a meaty flavour.”
Rich in vitamin C, it’s not just because of the health benefits of brassica that Brochu recommends using every single part of the plant — the hard stalks and bitter leaves harbour intense flavours that can be extracted for broths and purees.
“Don’t throw anything out!” he says. “Get the cores and leaves in water, simmer with other aromatics, and then add that back into your dish. Big flavours with zero waste!”