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The florets are the most widely used part of broccoli and cauliflower, with few recipes calling for the stems and leaves. But while they are often thought of as the most flavoursome element of these vegetables, the other parts can taste just as good. Chef Fergus Smithers has shared exactly how to get the most out of your seasonal greens.
Cruciferous vegetables are part of the Brassica genus of plants because their four-petaled flowers look like a crucifer or cross.
Broccoli and cauliflower are just two examples of this that are in season right now in the UK, and with so much goodness packed into these cheap greens, it’s important to use every part of them when cooking.
Fergus Smithers, chef and head of recipe development at plant-based recipe box subscription service Grubby, said: “Purple sprouting broccoli is at its best in March, adding a brilliant vibrancy and crunch to your spring dishes.
“Their stalks, although not as tender as the florets, are packed full of nutrients and nutty flavour. The same goes for calabrese broccoli.”
One of the chef’s favourite ways to use broccoli stems is to coat them in your favourite seasonings and cook them to a crisp.
Fergus said: “Peel the stalk and slice them into coins or use a vegetable peeler to shave long thin ribbons.
“Toss them in oil with salt and your favourite seasonings, and roast them in the oven until crispy. They make a satisfying crunchy snack, similar to kale chips, and a healthier alternative to crisps!”
Alternatively, you can grate the thick stems with a cheese grater as a healthy addition to almost any homemade slaw.
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According to the chef, they make for a “slightly bitter” addition with a “slightly peppery flavour”.
Grated stems also work well as a salad topper, especially when paired with sweet and tangy dressings.
Broccoli stalks aren’t just for eating raw. They are also ideal for packing extra greens into sauce-based recipes. Fergus recommended using them in smoothies or as purees for dips and spreads. He said: “Just be aware that they’ll add a slightly peppery flavour, so I recommend balancing it with sweeter ingredients like fruit or honey.”
Similar to broccoli, cauliflower is a versatile vegetable with a mild, delicate flavour and a slightly waxy texture.
The chef warned that still, it’s very easy to get the cooking wrong, so it requires a bit of delicacy when using it in your recipes.
He said: “While the head and stem produce a beautiful flavour, you’ll often find cauliflower cupped in green leaves. Don’t throw them away!
“The leaves are one of the most delicious parts. Instead, blend them into a sauce. Cauliflower leaves can be blended and added to sauces for an extra boost of nutrients.”
Alternatively, you can blend the leaves into a pesto by removing the thick white stalks before putting them in a blender.
Combine with two or three garlic cloves, a good pinch of salt and pepper, a handful of fresh basil, and four to five tablespoons of olive oil.
Fergus said: “Blend to your desired texture. Add nutritional yeast for that ‘cheesy’ hit or nuts for added crunch.”
For a meatier dish, you can roast the leaves instead. The chef noted that this is “Super easy and super tasty”, all you need to do is toss the cauliflower leaves with olive oil, good quality salt flakes, and pepper (and your favourite spice if you like a bit of heat), then roast them in the oven at 200C until crispy (15-20 mins does the trick).
According to the chef, they make a “delicious and crunchy snack”, especially with a side dish of sumac and coconut yoghurt or as a unique salad topping. Another way to use cauliflower leaves is to fry them with oil, garlic, chilli, ginger and soy for Asian-inspired flavours.
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