A new year means new goals. And for many people that includes changing food habits, cutting down on junk, and eating better. Sounds good. In theory. But resolutions around diets tend to be tedious and limiting, and are about as exciting as a bowl of wilted Brussels sprouts. And who really wants to kick off 2014 with a list of should nots and cannots?
What if this year, instead of making a resolution to eat more healthfully, we make a promise to cook more playfully? And instead of focusing on items to cut out (chips, butter, cheese) we focus on ingredients to use in their place (kale, avocado, and butternut squash). See what I did there? I’m talking about replacements instead of restrictions. And that sounds a lot more exciting. Let's start with broccoli.
Thanks to my one-year-old daughter, I’ve come to learn a lot about broccoli’s culinary potential. Before her, I experimented with velvety broccoli soups, shredded broccoli slaws, and pureed broccoli pestos. But when it came to broccoli’s ability to easily overcook, I never saw it as an opportunity to make something delicious. It was an opportunity to fill up the compost bin.
As I said, though, I learned a lot from my daughter. And after making a constant stream of broccoli mush for her, I began to see broccoli’s softer side in a new light. Spending too much time in the steamer suddenly meant recipe makeover potential. And when mixed with a little yogurt, broccoli made a legitimate stand in for savory dips (in place of store bought versions), easy pizza sauces (in place of pre-made pestos or white sauces), and creamy fillers for quesadillas or burritos (in place of cheese).
I learned to never fear overcooked broccoli again, but simply make the most of it. Even overtime in the oven is now a good thing, as broccoli florets transform into snackable chips (watch your back, kale).
So here’s a new trick to add to the repertoire: broccoli breadcrumbs.
When you find yourself with a bunch of florets, don’t stuff them inside the casserole or the gratin. Layer them on top for unexpected crunch.
Finely dice the tops of the broccoli (saving the stems for slaw) until you have a quarter cup of "crumbs."
Then, mix with a few tablespoons of olive oil — you can add chopped nuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, or a little Parmesan to the mixture as well.
About 10 minutes before your casserole is finished cooking, increase the heat to 400°F and sprinkle the broccoli breadcrumbs on top. Cook until they become darker in color and crisp.
Old Ingredients, New Tricks
As someone who constantly makes over dishes for dietary and health needs, I'm used to using total creative license when it comes to food. And the good news is we already live in a culinary world where zucchinis can be noodles, beets can be chips, and cucumbers can act like baguettes.
So over these five days, let me be your guide as we dust off some standard items from the produce aisle and give them a chance to show off a little. It’s an exercise in recipe liberation (not limitations) that will not only lighten up those eating habits but also give new life to old favorites.
So whether you’re trying to ditch the gluten, sugar, or just a pant size this new year, let’s forget about pledging to take on a new diet. And let’s pledge instead to break some rules and teach a handful of old ingredients some new tricks.
(Image credits: Jessica Goldman Foung; Emma Christensen)