Friday recipe: a real vegetable (and not pizza)

My teenage kids came home from school recently full of joy over something that made my blood boil: On Nov. 14, Congress released the final version of a spending bill that effectively allows pizza to be considered a vegetable in school lunches. The bill would block a rule proposed by the Obama administration that would mean only a half-cup of tomato paste or more could be counted as a vegetable. The rule change would reduce the amount of pizza allowed as part of government-subsidized school meals, because a serving of pizza has less than that. (School meals are required to include a certain minimum of vegetables.)

The spending bill also would eliminate other changes the U.S. Department of Agriculture had proposed, such as increasing whole grains in school meals, putting new restrictions on sodium, and limiting the use of starchy vegetables – e.g., French fries – to two servings per week.

“Pizza is a vegetable!” my daughter exclaimed in a way that reflected her happiness and her new knowledge of Congress’ ridiculousness.

Someone tell Congress THIS is what a vegetable looks like.

I’m not happy, and not just because the situation is reminiscent of the Reagan administration’s much-ridiculed attempt 30 years ago to classify ketchup as a vegetable to cut costs. According to the Associated Press, this time around, Congress was lobbied and swayed by the food companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers.

Now, I don’t condemn anyone who craves a slice of pizza or the occasional bag of salty fries. In fact, as a child of the 1960s and ’70s, I should praise Congress, having vibrant school-lunch memories of gloppy chipped beef on cold, coagulated mashed potatoes and stinky spinach cooked into what appeared to have spewed from Shrek’s nose. But these days, with obesity and diabetes rising at alarming rates among our kids, Congress simply did the wrong thing by kowtowing to the corporate food industry.

And just to show how honked off I am, today’s recipe features a real vegetable that used to really scare me during school lunch: Brussels sprouts. While the lunch ladies of my youth (God bless every one of them, I truly mean that) boiled them into frighteningly fragrant, sodden blobs, I’ve learned that these emerald jewels can be roasted and stir-fried into tasty, healthy perfection.

If you haven’t worked with these little nuggets of goodness, blogger and self-titled “veggie evangelist” Alanna Kellogg offers a very helpful post on how to cut Brussels sprouts, along with several recipes. Below I offer two other suggestions from Simply Recipes.

Roasted Brussels sprouts

  • 1 pound Brussels spouts, rinsed, ends trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic – about three cloves
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons (or less) olive oil
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Optional: 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place Brussels sprouts in a cast iron frying pan or roasting pan. Toss in the garlic. Sprinkle sprouts with lemon juice and cider vinegar. Toss with the olive oil to coat well. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Place pan on top oven rack, cook for 20 minutes, then stir. Cook for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, if using, and cook for another five minutes.

Brussels sprouts with black bean garlic sauce

  • 2 tablespoons olive, grapeseed or safflower oil
  • Dash chili pepper flakes
  • 25 Brussels sprouts
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons black bean garlic sauce (found in Asian markets or the Asian aisle of most grocery stores; Simply Recipes recommends the Lee Kum Kee brand)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Wash the Brussels sprouts well. Trim the stems and discard any of the loose leaves. Quarter them lengthwise.

Place the oil and chili flakes into a large skillet and place over medium-high heat. Add the sprouts and cook for 3-5 minutes or until the sprouts begin to brown a bit. They may absorb all the oil; if they do, just add another 1/2 tablespoon of oil.

Add the black bean garlic sauce and stir until all the Brussels sprouts are well coated. Add ground black pepper to taste. Cook for about 30 more seconds. Take off the heat and serve immediately.

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