Vegetable Virginity

November 19, 2010 at 7:05 am (Cooking)

Growing up, a select few vegetables entered our house. Every night my Grandma Betty peeled and served raw carrots to my dad as an appetizer, while he watched the news and read the paper. (“Don’t mess up the paper before your dad comes home”, she told me once. “A man likes to read the paper when he’s done with work.” But that’s a whole ‘nother subject.) Sometimes the carrots were accompanied by celery and radishes.

Another regular vegetable was canned green beans. Ugh. The smell still gets to me. Then there was corn on the cob in the summer, occasionally potatoes, and sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In my teenage years there was green salad, with aforementioned same raw veggies on it. And that was… it.

It wasn’t my mom’s fault. We wouldn’t have eaten anything else. I’m feeling her pain more and more other my motherly years. One night of cooking and having it rejected is an annoyance. Thousands of such nights… who wouldn’t give up?

As an adult, I’ve learned to enjoy, and cook, quite a few more vegetables. Broccoli is a staple for us, as are fresh green beans, and we pull in frozen peas or corn in a pinch. We do asparagus in season, experiment with squashes, cook with all kinds of dried beans, and I remain a devout fan of the raw carrot.

I was thinking we did okay. Vegetables were served, even if most of the time much cajoling was used to get a child to take a bite.

Then I started getting a CSA box. Even getting a “regular size” box every two weeks, as opposed to a “family size” box once a week, I had trouble using them up.

And then. Then I forgot one week to pre-substitute out some of the unfamiliar vegetables for vegetables we’re used to eating. And we got (besides some usual ones):

  • Brussel sprouts. Still on the stem, no less. I’d never even taken a BITE of one before. Cooking them… uh, hmmm.


  • Turnips. I recall my Norwegian-Canadian Grandpa Alf eating them raw with salt in front of the TV watching hockey. I think anyway. But the likelihood my own children would follow suit is slim to none. Never tried to my knowledge.
  • Collard greens. Otherwise known as giant green fans. Mark, the boys, and I took turns fanning each other with them. Willa thought it was great fun. For a while I thought this was the only use we were going to get out of them. Again, never tried.


  • Romanesco. The only reason I knew what this was when I took it out of the box was process of elimination. So, yes, I was a Romanesco virgin.


  • Bok choy. My favorite pho place uses it in the vegetable pho. I always eat it first to get it over with. It’s not horrible, just a little slimy. And at least in the soup, hard to eat when it’s not cut up.

Not one to waste food, especially special organic local food I’ve paid a premium for, I set out to figure out what in the world to do with these strange foodstuffs.

The results? Positive on the whole. I learned at least one way to cook each. Except the bok choy. That’s still in the fridge. And most importantly, they were actually good. Really. Who knew? Brussel sprouts have made it onto the Thanksgiving menu even.

Beginner’s advice for the easiest most palatable ways to cook these:

  • Saute the Brussels sprouts in olive oil with salt and pepper. Parker asked if he could try one. Do you think I said “No honey, these are just for adults”? Hell no!
  • Scalloped turnips. I would never have known they weren’t potatoes. For reals and for trues.  Cheese and cream never hurt a food.
  • Collard greens. Chop up just the leafy parts, stir fry, then add chicken stock and cook until it boils off.  Tasty!  And I felt so vegetably-pious, eating my greens.
  • Romanesco.  Cook like broccoli.  By which I mean, pleeease don’t overcook.  Less is more.  It was fine, but we’ll probably stick to broccoli.
  • Bok choy.  If you have any ideas, let me know.

If you are interested in trying some of these “exotic” veggies, NPR happened to have a great show on cooking some of them this morning.

These accidental veggies were just what I needed to get out of a food rut. I may not incorporate them all into our repertoire, but I’m excited to try more new veggies. And someday, maybe, in one month or one year or ten, Greta will surprise us and try some. Until then, I’ll keep putting an infinitesimal bite on her plate for her to scoff at.


1 Comment

  1. Kelly said,

    I love adding chopped up Boy Choy to my stir fry. You could probably do a stir fry of just bok choy with sauce and spices.

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