Many of you have heard that old chestnut about Britain and America being two countries separated by a common language. Well, I’m here to tell you how they’re also separated by the common vegetable.
The British see vegetables as an alien life form that could rise up and attack at any moment, so they throw them in boiling water and cook them until they join the choir invisible. The only good vegetable is a thoroughly dead vegetable. No color, no texture, just mush.
I have adopted some of the native ways of cookery, but this abuse of Nature’s bounty makes my Californian soul cringe. I like my veggies crisp and colorful, either in a salad or cooked lightly. Many vegetables don’t need much more than salt to make them taste their best. A pinch of the white stuff brings out the sweetness in the most intransigent vegetable.
My current favourite is purple sprouting broccoli, which looks like the usual supermarket broccoli as rendered by Dali, with stems and florets and leaves sprouting every which way. I break it down, stems and leaves and all, into bite-sized chunks, then chuck it in simmering water for three minutes. Unfortunately, cooking makes its purple tinge disappear, but what’s left behind is a spectacular emerald green.
After draining the vegetables in a colander, I toss them in a bowl with a tablespoon of pumpkin seed oil and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. It’s a great mixture of bitter, sweet, and nutty flavours, and the perfect side dish for rich meat. (I served it with a pot-roasted venison haunch, of which more later this week!)
If you’re scratching your head about pumpkin seed oil, it’s a wonderful ingredient to have in your cupboard. Brilliantly green and intensely nutty, a little of it elevates salads or vegetable soups to a new level of umami deliciousness. It’s largely used in central and eastern European cuisines. I found mine at a Croatian food stand in Borough Market, but I imagine it’s easily found in gourmet supermarkets and shops specialising in central and eastern European imports.