Broccoli may be notoriously unpopular, but Elisha Young (aka @elisha.eats on Instagram) will help you see this spring vegetable in a new light
You can be forgiven for turning your nose up at broccoli. Why bother with the slightly grassy taste and odd texture when there are so many other, more delicious and more exciting vegetables out there? It’s easier to just thaw some frozen peas or steam a packet of green beans.
I’ll admit, I’ve seen my fair share of bad broccoli – especially when it’s overcooked to the point of becoming greyish-green mush, lacking any remnants of flavour or colour – but I’ve never disliked it myself. Instead, I have childhood memories of Ma Ma (my paternal grandmother) serving up delicious platters of noodles, studded with fluffy scrambled eggs and crunchy, bright-green florets. Admittedly, it’s difficult to dislike any vegetable when it’s been stir-fried and tossed in umami-rich soy sauce. But still, my love of broccoli has endured – even when separated from egg noodles.
If you’re not lucky enough to have a Chinese grandmother on standby, don’t worry: there are lots of methods you can employ to jazz up your vegetables. If there’s anything that will convince you to give this brassica a second chance, it’s purple sprouting broccoli – and April is the month when it reigns supreme.
Unlike normal broccoli, with a thick, woody stem and single head of florets, sprouting broccoli has smaller shoots, tender stems and a sweeter, more intense flavour. If you can’t get your hands on purple sprouting broccoli, tenderstem (a cross-breed between kale and broccoli) is a good alternative. Don’t give in to the temptation to boil or steam your florets – that way, disaster lies. Instead, try pan-frying with garlic or – even better – roasting, which brings out the sweetness and guarantees a crunchy, vivid-green stalk.
Still don’t trust me? For restaurant recommendations in Cambridge, I have two specific dishes in mind. The first is the burrata and sprouting broccoli dish from Provenance Kitchen (incidentally, the last restaurant meal I ate before the world was plunged into lockdown), which is served with crunchy almonds, spicy chilli and aromatic parsley. It sounds simple, but I promise it’s delicious. The second is the grilled broccoli and goma (Japanese sesame sauce) from Sticks ‘n’ Sushi. I once ordered this side dish at a birthday party, despite heavy scepticism from other attendees. But even they had to admit it was amazing once they sampled some. The deep, nutty flavour of the sauce perfectly complements the freshness of the broccoli, while the crispy edges are deeply satisfying to munch on.
If you prefer to experiment from the comfort of your own home, here is a quick recipe to try that was inspired by the dish from Provenance Kitchen. Take some sprouting broccoli and a handful of peeled garlic cloves, toss them in a little olive oil and season well with salt. Then, roast in a 200°C oven for about 15 minutes, turning halfway through to cook evenly. Take the roasted garlic cloves and mash them to a paste, then stir into a generous helping of Greek-style yoghurt, along with the juice of half a lemon and a pinch more salt. Serve over the roasted broccoli, then top with freshly cracked black pepper, a little lemon zest and cubes of feta – plus chilli flakes and chilli oil if you’re feeling spicy.
With these tips and tricks, perhaps you can level up the vegetable components of your Easter meal? At the very least, I hope you’ll consider throwing in some florets next time you make a stir-fry – they can be delicious when given a chance.