To really embrace a predominantly plant-based cuisine requires a certain amount of research.
Most of us eat from a relatively small subset of the vegetable kingdom. Once we get beyond carrots, green beans, potatoes and corn and venture into the realm of kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts and collard greens, we need a guide.
There are a lot of books out there – vegetable encyclopedias, compendiums of vegetables, spiritual guides to vegetables – but I think it's wise to narrow your focus. Rather than wander off into the forest, why not choose one small area to explore? I recommend starting with greens.
Greens are delicious, leafy, crispy, tasty powerhouses of nutrition. They're loaded with vitamins and minerals and all kinds of good-for-you things that are hard to find in other foods.
When it comes to taste, greens can be quite plain, but they easily take on other favorite flavors and they bring a great texture to the plate. They're also very filling. Eat a plate of greens and you'll feel full for a while, without having taken on many calories.
As with any relationship, forming a bond with greens begins with knowledge. Without knowledge, there can be no understanding, no acceptance, no – dare I say it? – love. To take that first step, I recommend checking out a book called "Greens Glorious Greens!" by Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers.
From arugula to watercress, these authors go green-by-green, exploring each one's individual characteristics, what they look like, how they taste, and how to prepare them for cooking. The authors offer some recipes, several of which I make over and over again, but I recommend the book more as a greens reference. With a few tips and secret techniques, these authors really demystified greens for me.
They helped make it easy eating greens.
Here's a recipe from the book that I make all the time. I especially love it with some small chewy pasta dish, like an Israeli couscous pilaf, or an orzo or fregola salad. Yum!
Broccoli Rabe with Toasted Pecans and Currants
1/3 cup lightly toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 pound broccoli rabe (about 6 cups, chopped)
2 cups water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (I'm sure I use more)
2 large garlic cloves, minced (I coarsely chop)
1/3 cup currants
Salt to taste
1. To roast pecans, place them on a pie tin or cookie sheet and bake at 325 degrees for 5 minutes or until lightly toasted. (I chop them first, then toast them in a dry skillet. But watch them like a hawk. They burn quickly and then they're no good.)
2. Chop off about 1 inch from the base of the stalks of the broccoli rabe and discard. Slice the stalks into 1- to 1½- inch pieces and coarsely chop the leaves and florets. (Broccoli rabe usually comes wrapped in a giant twist-tie. I hold the rabe stalks together as I remove the tie. That way I can just lop off the ends, push them aside, then chop right up the stalk, hitting the leaves and florets at the end, ending up with about 2-inch pieces, which works just fine for me.)
Wash well (I use my salad spinner). Place 2 cups of water in a 10- to 12-inch skillet with a tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil and add the cleaned and chopped rabe. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove to a colander to drain. (I swear, you can smell the bitterness falling away with the water. Works like a charm.)
3. Rinse and dry the skillet. Heat the oil over medium-low heat, lifting and tilting the pan to coat. Add the garlic and currants and sauté for 30 to 60 seconds. Stir constantly to prevent the garlic from burning. The currants should be glossy and slightly puffed.
4. Add precooked rabe and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper and cover for a minute until greens are heated through. Serve hot, garnished with toasted pecans.
Original recipe from "Greens Glorious Greens!" by Johnna Albi and Catherine Walthers.