It’s Brassica time, people. This week we got: cabbage, romaine, sugar snap peas, scallions, garlic scapes, cauliflower, kale, and kohlrabi. I bought asparagus and strawberries from the farmstand while they are still available.
I love kohlrabi because it reminds me of family dinners in Pittsburgh, visiting my mom’s family there. Like many of the foods we eat there–pierogies, sauerkraut, polish sausage–kohlrabi is part of an eastern European foodscape. I understand that it can be cooked and treated like a turnip, but I’ve only ever eaten it raw with salt, often on a salad, like a radish.
Ours came with all but a few of the stems stripped off. Too bad–with their stems on and growing out at all different directions, they look hilariously like vegetable aliens.
On Wednesday we had to grab the bag and run, as we were going to a friend’s house immediately afterward. (We did bring treats–cherries and oatmeal cookies–from the farmstand, though). On Thursday I was in NYC for a lunchtime seminar related to my job, so although I was well-fed, I was dead tired from riding and walking all day. Thus, I was grateful to have a little help in the kitchen to slap together a lazy but filling supper: farmstand asparagus and veggie sausages on the Foreman grill, and bowls of CSA salads (featuring the candy-like sugar snap peas).
On Saturday, I had lunch with a friend after a morning of writing–the remainder of the veggie sausages sauteed with white beans and CSA kale. Later that day, my neighbor came over to confront the issue of the cabbage.
Don’t get me wrong; we like cabbage. It is nutritious and can be extremely delicious: in a crunchy raw slaw soaked in vinegary mayo or peanut sauce as a slaw; sauteed with other stir fry veggies; sauteed in butter or bacon fat; simmered for hours in a soup or slow cooker. But a single head of cabbage is a LOT of cabbage, tightly wound as they are. Sometimes we plan two cabbage meals to get through a single head.
This time, though, we were both tired and achy after a week that for each of us involved traveling and some physical duress. So, inspired by this Table Matters suggestion, we just sliced the whole thing into rounds and roasted it in the oven alongside some potato wedges.
I was surprised at how delicious these turned out, actually. I always assumed that the rich savory-sweetness of sauteed cabbage came from the animal fats I cooked it in; however, these rounds were simply brushed with olive oil and seasoned with some ground spices, and they developed a lovely full earthy flavor all on their own. There was a lot, yes–we had a second cookie sheet not pictured here–but I enjoyed the leftovers. It’s been a cool, rainy week and this kind of rib-sticking food didn’t go amiss.
While the cabbage and potatoes roasted and two thick pork chops sizzled, we whipped up some pasta to use up some of my neighbor’s greens that had gone unfinished while she visited family. Just the basic parmesan, tomato, and wine sauce we’ve been using for casseroles and pastas; for now, we are using canned diced tomatoes and paste. With the rather April-like June we’re having, it’s hard to imagine that in a few weeks there will be a rainbow of tomatoes to choose at the market and eat fresh.
On Monday, we opted to use up a bunch of our Brassica plants at once, filling our plates with giant salads sprinkled with sliced kohlrabi and chopped cauliflower (and sugar snaps and avocado and one of the early farmstand tomatoes), and roasting the rest of the cauliflower with parmesan to eat later. I can’t remember when parmesan roasted cauliflower became one of our mainstays, but we often make it for parties when we need to fill out a meal–just dust small-chopped cauliflower with salt, pepper, paprika, and the cheese, oil it up, and roast for about 30 minutes at a high temp like 425. On this occasion, we cut the pieces quite small and accidentally used more oil than usual, so the cauliflower bits frizzled into a crunchy, salty popcorn-like snack. Maybe we’ll try doing that on purpose next time!
Brassicas are some of the most nutritious plants out there, but they sometimes get a bad rep–they all secrete a sulphurous defense chemical, which is the source of the sometimes unpleasant odor associated with cooking them. I find that boiling these plants is likely to produce such a smell, but roasting or sauteeing them gives you the usual delicious aromas of plants carmelizing in hot fat. (Whether the plants cause your body to produce sulphurous smells is mostly a matter of individual biochemistry.)
This year, I also heard for the first time that Brassica plants can negatively affect the thyroid gland. That was surprising–nearly every female relative on my maternal side has hypothyroidism, and neither they nor my doctors ever mentioned that cabbage and kale might be a problem. As it turns out, no one mentioned this because it isn’t a probable problem. One of my privileges as a university staffperson is access to peer-reviewed journal databases, so I did some research. Raw brassica plants contain a substance (partly mitigated by cooking) that inhibits the thyroid’s uptake of iodine. Studies have recorded that people and animals who ingest low levels of iodine and high volumes of raw Brassica vegetables have a higher incidence of goiters (enlarged thyroid glands) and, relatedly, thyroid cancer. But you really have to eat a LOT of Brassica to create that issue–like, you’re a person who eats raw kale and cauliflower and kohlrabi every day for an extended period of time, or you’re a domesticated animal whose feed consists mainly of raw cabbage, and you’re also not getting enough iodine on top of that. Brassica as part of a varied and healthy diet has no noticeable effects on thyroid function; in fact, eating a lot of of cruciferous vegetables has frequently been linked to marginally reduced rates of cancer, thyroid and otherwise.
So, kale yeah! Broc on.