Becoming a vegetable-lover has been a long process nearly twenty years in the making. I grew up in southern Kentucky the granddaughter of farmers who worked long hours bringing in the harvest, which us kids would then be employed to hull and shuck and prepare for canning for the winter. Nannie and Papa would spend hours in their kitchen preparing vegetable soups and stews, relishes, preserves, and casseroles. Most of everything they ate we ate when their leftovers were passed down from their kitchen to ours.
My parents didn’t cook often. Most of our food was bought from the grocery store, but only if my father had a coupon for it. Therefore, our pantry was filled with items advertised at fifty cents off a box, regardless of nutritional content. Plentiful were crackers and sugary breakfast cereals, huge canisters of Charles Chips, and Little Debbie snacks. Few were spices and flours, anything that would indicate anyone did even a minor amount of cooking and baking while pacing the sad and worn red-brick imitation laminate flooring that was peeling up at the seams. My father would occasionally superglue it back down to keep us from tripping as we made our way back and forth, retrieving handfuls of Lucky Charms and berries freshly picked from Cap’n Crunch.
One exception to the rule was Sunday nights. Mom was (and still is) a self-made, proud workaholic, but I fondly remember Sundays as the day she would cook something in the kitchen; it was the one night we would sit down as a family—albeit scattered between the island, the coffee table, and the small table behind the couch—to eat a home-cooked meal of spaghetti, meatloaf, or stuffed peppers. We would watch episodes of Three’s Company and The Golden Girls, or 50’s nostalgic sitcoms on Nick at Night, laughing hysterically about how many times they uttered the words “I love you” in Donna Reed. I’m not quiet sure “unconventional” does my upbringing much justice, yet it is mine. Probably by the graces of God, my siblings and I have all turned out pretty okay at this whole life thing, and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Monday through Saturday we would assume the usual flow. Dad would arrive home from the country club bar at 9 pm to prepare a frozen meal for us; this was about the same time Mom returned home from work most days. Other nights, Nannie and Papa would have brought us their leftovers, and we would have eaten way before our parents came home. Any knowledge I had about the mighty vegetable was that they came from Aunt Jean’s and Uncle Wilton’s farm way out in the country, and that they were best cooked in lard, butter, and cracker crumbs and served alongside fried chicken.
I grew up with little knowledge regarding the nutritional quality of food, and next to none when it came to appreciation. In my early twenties all of that started to change. Faced with infertility issues after a miscarriage, a doctor told me that the best way for me to conceive a baby would be to pull my body back to optimal health. I started exercising and reforming our kitchen. I slowly moved away from canned green beans and learned to cook them fresh from the market’s produce section. Things like eggplant and artichokes became commonplace. Broccoli I learned to cook in various ways. I enjoyed making my own pasta sauces. One thanksgiving my brother-in-law taught me the wonders of roasting root vegetables in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Even still, there are certain vegetables I have passed over out of fear and trepidation. One of them has been the mighty Brussels sprout.
No matter how many chances I gave these hard, bright green balls of micro-cabbage heads, I couldn’t make peace with them other than to say that I definitely in no way whatsoever EVER wanted to eat them. I had tried splitting them in two and roasting them, sautéing them, baking them, grilling them. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I came across a recipe for Brussels Sprouts Hash in my Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook by Kate O’Donnell, and I can now admit that I have finally fallen in love with this intimidating, hard-to-love vegetable. Since coming across this recipe, Brussels sprouts, which gain their name from traditionally being grow in Brussels around the thirteenth century, have become one of my favorite side dishes.
Peaking in late October to early spring, Brussels sprouts make a perfect winter vegetable. Look for firm and compact, bright green heads with unwithered outer-leaves. Eating just a half a cup of Brussels sprouts fills 8% of daily fiber needs and makes them excellent for digestive health, which contributes to a decreased risk for heart disease and diabetes. In addition to that goodness, Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, iron, and potassium.
Brussels Sprouts Hash
adapted from The Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook
2 tsp. ghee
2 lbs. of Brussels Sprouts
1 tsp. sea salt
Remove outer leaves and stem from the Brussels sprouts, wash them, and cut the larger ones in half. Place into a food processor and pulse until finely shredded.
Warm the ghee in a large, heavy bottomed skillet over med-high heat. Add shredded Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring frequently for 12-15 minutes, or until the edges start to brown and the vegetable becomes tender. Toss in the sea salt and stir to incorporate.
Note: Do NOT attempt to use anything other than sea salt. I can’t tell you exactly why, just don’t. I mean, look at these gorgeous crystals! Plus, sea salt contains minerals like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, bromide, chloride, iron, copper, and zinc.
I serve Brussels Sprouts Hash as a side dish—careful of frequency because these little guys can make you quite gassy if eaten in excess—alongside scrambled eggs, or fresh cut fruit, pita and hummus. Today I served the hash for lunch alongside leftover baked tofu and roasted portobello mushrooms with a dollop of homemade salsa on top.
Some Cool Stuff About Mushrooms
Technically not a vegetable, mushrooms are a fungus. Gross, right? No!
Actually, mushrooms are a good type of fungus that we should all be consuming on a regular basis. They are a versatile, year-round food packed rich with antioxidants that increase the production of B and T lymphocytes, immune cells that help us fight bad bacteria. Mushrooms are high in Vitamin B, selenium, riboflavin, potassium, and niacin and they are the ONLY “vegetable” that contains vitamin D. This often underestimated super-food is excellent for our gut health. They are anti-inflammatory and anti-viral, helping us to reduce the risk of cancer by boosting our oxygen use to fight free radicals in the body.
My favorite way to throw mushrooms onto my plate and into my diet is to simply wash and pat them dry, place them onto a cookie sheet, drizzle them with olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt, and roast them at 400* for 10-15 minutes.
My children are still reluctant to try things like mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. They are holding firm to the myth that Brussels sprouts bear the mark of Satan. Hopefully, eventually, they will change their minds; the fourteen-year-old has seen them around enough to give them a try and sort of, kind of enjoy them. For now, they prefer their lunches to be grilled-cheese sandwiches served with pears, or an apple. For now, I’m just happy to have them cooking alongside me in the kitchen.