Brassicas: Cooking the world’s healthiest vegetables by Laura B. Russell



Romanesco Summer Salad


Laura B. Russell has done it again!  Yup, that’s right, she’s made me drool. Her new book Brassicas is stunning, sumpteous, and best of all, user-friendly.  I will, without a doubt, be cooking my way from cover to cover.

It’s been quite awhile since a cookbook’s jacket copy has inspired my heart to skip a beat. And so it did, when I flipped to read about what awaited me in the pages of Brassicas. I had known that Laura was working on an all-vegetable cookbook, and had filed that somewhere in the back of my mind as interesting (and something to look forward to).  After all, I was a fan of her first cookbook The Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen.  But I had no idea how excited I would be when this cookbook finally graced my table.  If you are a fan of cruciferous and other brassicas veggies, you too will feel like this book was written especially for you.  It’s a veritable candy shop for those who like their greens. It’s a celebration of the world’s healthiest vegetables, of their boundless potential and rich natural flavors.  From the inherent sweetness coaxed out of brussels sprouts (see recipe for Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze below) to the peppery zip of arugula and watercress salads, to the creaminess of Cauliflower Hummus, this book will take you on a journey through the wonders of brassicas, superfoods of the vegetable kingdom.

Featuring 80 recipes, Brassicas is chock-full of simple sides, salads, breakfast dishes, soups, snacks and even smoothies.  Veggies aren’t just for balancing out your plate at supper, they are to be featured, as highlights, all day long.   In addition to one knock-out recipe after another, Brassicas is also structured in my favorite format for cookbooks: chapters are devoted to a single vegetable or class of brassicas.

The majority of the recipes are made with recognizable and easy-to-find brassicas like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts, which is a plus for shoppers. But for those wanting a little exotic variety, there are gorgeous recipes for broccoli rabe, kohlrabi, mizuna, and collards, just to name a few.  I, for one, am always looking for ways to introduce new foods to my family.  And, I’ll venture to say, this is a book full of superfoods that will inspire even professed veggie-haters to gobble up what’s on their plates. Look at the glorious Romanesco Summer Salad picture, featured above. I’m sure I can convince my two boys to eat this simply based upon its other worldly resemblance to dinosaur tails. Fun food! And my husband? With its nod to Italian al fresco dining, that’s one romantic looking plate!

For those with dietary restrictions, please note that all of the recipes are gluten-free. Laura has also included a “Special Diets Table”, for identifying major food allergens. Many recipes are naturally allergy-friendly, and for those containing a major allergen, many can be made allergen-free with a substitution, as identified on this table. The two recipes I feature below are gluten-free and free of all Top 8 Allergens.

Brassicas is available for pre-order now and wherever books are sold on April 8, 2014.


Romanesco Summer Salad

Serves 4


Although vibrant lime green Romanesco (sometimes called broccoli Romanesco or Romanesco cauliflower) looks like the love child of cauliflower and broccoli, it is actually closer to cauliflower in terms of taste and how it is used. Its color is fantastic in this lively salad, though you can definitely use white cauliflower if that’s all you can find. Cook the Romanesco just long enough to take away the raw bite, 2 to 3 minutes tops. Normally I would suggest plunging the florets into ice water to halt the cooking immediately, but introducing extra water here will mute the flavor and dilute the dressing. Instead, cook them fast and then spread them on a baking sheet so they cool quickly.


1 cup water

1 medium Romanesco or regular cauliflower, cored and cut into bite-size florets (about 5 cups)

2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt (divided)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1⁄2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1⁄3 cup chopped fresh dill

3 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped

In a large pot, bring the water to a boil over high heat. (If you have a steamer insert, put it in the pot to hold the Romanesco. If you don’t have one, don’t worry about it.) Add the Romanesco, cover the pot, turn down the heat to medium, and steam for 2 to 3 minutes, until crisp-tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the Romanesco to a rimmed baking sheet or clean kitchen towel, spreading it in a single layer, to cool.

In a small bowl, to make the vinaigrette, whisk together the mustard, lemon zest, lemon juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Slowly add the oil, whisking constantly with a fork to form an emulsified vinaigrette.

Put the Romanesco in a serving bowl. Add the bell pepper, onion, dill, capers, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will keep well for several hours. Just before serving, taste and add more salt if needed.


Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze

Serves 4


Nothing tastes better with Brussels sprouts than cured pork, which is why I unapologetically offer you recipes that flavor sprouts with both pancetta and bacon (page 61). Here, the salty pancetta plays well with the sweetness from the fig jam, and you can finish the dish with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar to add a tangy note (see variations). I found fig jam near the grocery store’s cheese counter (not in the jams and jellies aisle), but you could also try apricot or peach jam instead. You may want to add a touch more jam than I suggest, but strive for a subtle sweetness rather than a cloying, sticky mess.


3 tablespoons olive oil (divided)

3 to 4 ounces pancetta, diced

11⁄2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (or quartered if large) through the stem end (about 6 cups)

1⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons fig jam

1 tablespoon water

1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


In a large (12 inches or wider) frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, until crisp. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a small bowl. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the Brussels sprouts, keeping them in a single layer as much as possible. Having a few extra sprouts is fine, but if they are mounded in a pile, they will not brown or cook evenly. If necessary, use a larger pan, cook them in two batches, or pull out the extra for another use. Stir in the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the Brussels sprouts are tender and well browned—even charred in spots. If the sprouts are browning too quickly, lower the heat to medium.

Add the fig jam and the water and stir until the jam melts and coats the Brussels sprouts. Add the reserved pancetta and the pepper and stir to combine. Taste and add additional salt or pepper if needed. Serve warm.

Variations For a sweet, salty, tangy version, add a drizzle (a teaspoon or less) of balsamic vinegar at the end. Aged balsamic is an especially good choice. Although I prefer pancetta here (I like its unsmoked rich pork
flavor), you can use bacon in its place.

Recipes reprinted with permission from Brassicas by Laura B. Russell (Ten Speed Press, © 2014). Photo credit: Sang An.

Brassicas comp 17.indd

How to make a Porcupine Watermelon


porcupine watermelon

Dear Readers, are you looking for the perfect allergy-frirendly picnic or potluck dish? Look no further than the Porcupine Watermelon. This baby is as fun to make as it is to eat.  Read on for step by step instructions to creating the cutest food art I’ve ever carved up.  Enter, the Porcupine Watermelon!


1. Using an 8″ or 9″ chef’s knife, cut the watermelon into a baby rocker shape. Remove the top, and refrigerate to keep cool. Use the knife to cut around the edges of the watermelon flesh, and use a large spoon to scoop out the insides. Put in a large bowl, pour off extra watermelon juice and refrigerate.


2. Use a small paring knife (I know it looks big in this pic, but it’s just the angle!), to cut the top of the head into a jagged edge by cutting out little wedges.


3. Use toothpicks to adhere two blueberries for eyes, by skewering them through from the inside of the melon. Remove the top half of the melon that you cut off in step one, with rind still in tact, from the fridge. Use the small paring knife to cut out a triangle for a nose. Leave some pink along the bottom, but trim it down. Cut the tip off so it’s flat so you can adhere the blueberry for the tip of the nose. Break a toothpick in half, and skewer the flat tip of the nose. Attach the blueberry. Then attach the nose, by sticking at least three toothpicks through the rind from the inside through the nose. Line it up on the little brown spot in the center of the melon.


4. Nose and eyes attached. Next onto the ears.


5. To attach the ears use three toothpicks, skewering through from the back of the rind. Push the top one out farthest, so the ear is perky at the top.


6. Here’s a profile shot.


7. Fill with cubes of watermelon, and then insert a couple of toothpicks into each cube. I added a lot more after this pic was taken as I realized it didn’t look spiky enough.


8. Add the feet. be sure the bottoms have been trimmed flat so the lay flat.

porcupine watermelon

9. Porcupine Watermelon! Serve with extra toothpicks on the side and keep adding them to the cubes as your guests eat down through the layers. Keep back-up watermelon cubes in the fridge to refill. Be sure to pour off watermelon juices of backup cubes or they’ll get boggy and soggy. Enjoy! And share!

Quinoa Cuisine Cookbook Giveaway and Review


When I got the email asking me to review Quinoa Cuisine, I answered with a resounding “Yes!”. This was one of the few cookbooks I would be truly delighted to receive. I love quinoa. I love it’s nutty flavor, I love the way it pops/crunches slightly in the back of your mouth when you bite it, I love the way it pairs with just about everything, and I particularly love its nutritional profile. High protein, high fiber, and here’s a little neat bit of trivia; did you know that quinoa is actually a “pseudograin” related to beets, spinach and chard? Talk about the superfood posse! Quinoa is unarguably one of the best substitutes for grains, and in addition to the protein and fiber, is also rich in calcium, iron, potassium, B vitamins and Vitamin E. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, in the words of my husband’s Grandma Lily, “WCBB?” (“What could be bad?”)

More good news: I’m giving away a copy of this book.  To enter, go like me on my facebook page (if you haven’t already) and leave me a comment on the wall, letting me know how you like to eat quinoa, or how you would like to in the future. Again, you need to like my facebook page, if you haven’t already, here). I will enter you into the drawing to win a copy of this lovely book.  I will also share everyone’s comments once the drawing has closed, next Thursday, May 17th. So that’s how it works. If you like me, I might be able to give you something, if the fates are in your corner. Seems a little crass! Apologies, apologies….

But I think you’ll want to take a chance on this.  This book is the first of its kind.  “Quinoa Cuisine” is packed with 150 creative, mouthwatering recipes for breakfast to dessert and all the potlucks and picnics in-between.  I was particularly excited to see that authors, Jessica Harlan and Kelley Sparwasser use quinoa in all its various forms, from quinoa flour, to the many different colors of quinoa, to quinoa flakes.   And it’s really nice to have the healthy addition of quinoa many places you’d never expect it.  For example, in hummus (see recipe below), Thai Summer Rolls, White Bean Dip, Quinoa Frying Batter, Creamed Spinach, and Quinoa Pizza Dough.

These recipes are expertly written.  When I said “yes” to reviewing the book, I didn’t realize it was co-authored by Jessica Harlan, whom I used to work with at (now Gaiam).  I have long admired her healthy and delicious recipes. She’s always been a proponent of healthy eating without sacrificing a bit of taste.

While this cookbook is not top-8-free, nor is it exclusively a gluten-free cookbook, if you have flexibility in your diet, and want to bump up your choices and pack in some extra nutrition, this is a great addition to your cookbook library.  I pulled a couple of the top-8-free recipes from the book to share with you below, and there are many others that I will certainly be adapting. In particular, the Quinoa Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting, p.168.  Definitely next on my list.  Bravo to the chefs for taking quinoa to the next level.   Read on for two of my favorite picks from the book.



This back-to-basics Mediterranean spread can be used as a dip or on sandwiches. Vary the recipe by adding roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, feta cheese, or almost anything you please. The quinoa flakes add a pleasing nuttiness and enhance the silky-smooth texture of the hummus.

Makes 2½ Cups

30 Mins or Less, Gluten-Free, Good for Company, Healthy Choice, Kid Friendly, Vegan


½ cup quinoa flakes

½ cup vegetable stock or broth

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup tahini

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

¼ teaspoon paprika


1. In a small bowl, cover the quinoa flakes with the vegetable stock or broth. Let sit for 2 minutes until the flakes are softened.


2. Place the soaked quinoa flakes, the chickpeas, and the garlic in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the tahini, lemon juice, cumin, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Process until combined, about 45 seconds. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and the paprika.


Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Avocado, and Black Quinoa Salad

The vibrant colors of this salad really pop against the black quinoa, making for a gorgeous presentation.

Serves 6 to 8

Gluten-Free, Good for Company, Healthy Choice, Vegetarian


⅔ cup black quinoa, rinsed

1⅓ cups water

1 large grapefruit, segmented, juice reserved (see sidebar)

1 teaspoon honey

1 teaspoon Campari

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1¼ cups pomegranate seeds

1 tablespoon minced fresh mint

1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and diced

kosher salt and black pepper


1. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring the quinoa and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the water has been absorbed and the quinoa is tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.


2. Place the grapefruit segments in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the grapefruit juice, honey, and Campari. Slowly add the olive oil while continually whisking to emulsify the dressing. Season with a pinch of kosher salt.


3. Add the cooked quinoa, pomegranate seeds, and dressing to the grapefruit slices, and stir to combine. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the mint and avocado. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, as needed. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


To segment citrus fruit

Use a serrated knife to cut the top and bottom off the fruit, just exposing the flesh. Place the fruit with one of the flat sides resting on your work surface and follow the curve of the side from top to bottom to slice off the peel where the pith and the flesh meet. Working over a bowl to catch the juice, use a sharp paring knife to carefully cut along the membrane to free the segments. After all the segments have been removed, squeeze the remaining juice from the peel and membranes.