such a humble vegetable, the broccoli is. not much fuss about it, not especially associated with any dish nor cuisine, don’t know many people who would point to broccoli as their favourite vegetable. and yet, the survey results introduced by The Telegraph indicates that broccoli is UK’s favourite vegetable, winning the race with sweetcorn (2nd place), tomato (3rd place) and mushroom (4th place). although the survey reached only 2000 people, hardly enough to stretch its results as applicable to the whole UK’s population, it does show a trend in the raising popularity of fresh produce.
why is it so important? Marion Nestle in her brilliant and important book Food Politics dismantles and deconstructs certain taken for granted ‘facts’, the majority of population assumes are true. one of the facts is, for example, the supposed healthiness of milk.
i don’t know about you guys, but when i was growing up, i was constantly told to drink
a lot of milk, as it helps build bones. it is only recently, when i found out that milk is not as great for an adult human, as the dairy industry would want us to think. to use Nestle’s words: ‘how dairy foods came to be considered essential despite their high content of fat, saturated fat, and lactose is a topic of considerable historical interest’ (Nestle 2002:79). when we start thinking what milks is – a cocktail of hormones, growth factors and proteins required for a newborn mammal to grow – it suddenly sounds less appealing, doesn’t it?
the food industry seems to meddling in the vegetable consumption, too. Nestle asks a question: why are the governments not encouraging people to simply eat less of dairy, meat and processed foods, and eat more of fresh produce, especially vegetables and fruits. in doing so, the governments could in the future cut the costs required for funding the NHS, as most of the life-threatening diseases are caused by overconsumption or malnutrition (and yes, malnutrition can mean eating too much of the stuff which is not so good for you). but, as the governments are under constant pressure from the food industry, they compromise. instead of encouraging the public to eat less meat or drink less milk, they use euphemisms, like: eat more lean meats, creating a presumed win-win situation, with the ‘small’ but highly significant side effect: confusion. and even though everyone knows that to be healthy, one has to eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, some proteins and not much fat and sugars, not everyone knows how to translate it into actual meals.
the governments and policy makers are not always helpful on this matter, either. for instance, once ketchup and French fries were suggested by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to be registered as vegetables, in order to provide more flexibility in school lunch planning for administrators coping with National School Lunch Plan subsidy cuts, which were the consequence of the Omnibus Regulation Acts of 1980 and 1981 (1)… outrageous? controversial? it surely was, but being used to aggressive advertisement campaigns, controversies like this are becoming much less surprising than they ought to be. we got used to the knowledge confusion and knowledge manipulation.
many times, i was under the impression that people simply don’t know how to process fresh produce, what goes with what or what are the best seasonal choices. supermarkets created the utopia, deceiving its customers that all vegetables should be available all year round, making it seem as if they can be grown all year round. what if all the tomatoes suddenly disappeared from the supermarkets for almost half a year (as they can only be grown in warm temperatures, mostly in the summer)? i can imagine the outrage of the consumers, used to having their favourite veg always available.
in such circumstances, how to encourage the consumer to consume more vegetables, to meet the WHO recommendations of eating ≥400 g per day of fruits and vegetables, not counting potatoes and other starchy tubers such as cassava? According to the data collected by The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) the vegetable supply in Europe has increased over the past four decades. It also shows that the vegetable supply numbers are much higher in Southern Europe, compared to the North. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has also collected data on this matter, which revealed that the average vegetable uptake in Europe is 220g (half of the recommended!). The data also indicates that consumption of vegetables and fruits is higher in the Southern countries, than in the Northern ones. The regions with the highest consumption of fruit and vegetables are those of Eastern and Central Europe: only Poland, Germany, Italy and Austria have met the recommended guidelines of consumption of≥400 g of fruit and vegetables per day (EUFIC).
i have a feeling sometimes, that everyone seems to know that vegetables are good for you but deliberately ignore it, as if it wasn’t a scientific fact, but some sort of fairy tale-like story. i don’t quite understand why people still need to be convinced that eating whole foods, fresh produce and less (or not at all) processed foods will do us good. is it because of the ubiquitous ads, convincing us that this chocolate bar is healthy, as it has extra proteins? the funny fact is, that a human body only needs a mere 0,75g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight for adults (British Nutrition Foundation). i am in a state of constant wonder: how is it even possible to advertise some processed (unhealthy) foods as healthy?
i have been thinking to myself, for a while now, where am i going with this? what am i trying to achieve through this blog? i am not a nutritionist, i am (almost) food anthropologist. i grew up having an abundance of fresh, organic produce from my parents’ and grandparents’ gardens. it wasn’t until i moved out from there, when i realised that what i have always had and taken for granted, is not necessarily a commonplace practice and knowledge elsewhere.
i don’t believe in miraculous diets. i don’t believe in diet supplements. in bulking up on protein to gain desired bodyweight. i don’t believe in taking extra Omega-3 fats, because they are ‘healthy’. i believe in simple solutions: healthy diet is more than enough. it is (and always have been) about balance. nobody said you cannot have some cake from time to time. or something fried. but largely, and for some people that might be difficult to swallow, an optimal diet should be plant-based and light. eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, and supplementing it with meat, fish, dairy and carbohydrates like bread or rice, should keep you healthy and in good shape.
and on that note, let’s go back to the humble broccoli. widely available, cheap and easy to process, broccoli is a great vegetable to work with. high in vitamin A, significant amounts of vitamin C, folic acid and iron, it’s a mine of nutrients and minerals. broccoli comes in quite a few varieties, ranging from a sprouting broccoli, characterised by a mass of delicate flower heads loosely arranged at the top of stalks, Chinese broccoli (also called Chinese kale), with a thiner stalk and looser yellow or white flowers, to Calabrese, an Italian creation of the Middle Ages, with a large heavy head of blue-green flowers on a chunky stalks – probably what most of us would call a broccoli today.
i am sharing a recipe for one of my favourite soups, cream of broccoli and green peas, served with something i remember from my preschool dinners: choux pastry croutons (groszek ptysiowy). i honestly never though about making them at home before, as in Poland they always used to be bought from a grocery shop. they add a nice crunch to the soup.
BROCCOLI AND GREEN PEA SOUP WITH CHOUX PASTRY CROUTONS
for the soup
1tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves
450g frozen green peas
1l of vegetable stock
for the croutons
generous pinch of salt
How to make?
1. Start with making croutons. Add water and butter into a small saucepan. When the butter is melted, add salt and all the flour. Mix the batter vigorously with a spoon, until you will get a smooth batter.
2. Take the saucepan off the heat and let it cool down a little. When it’s lukewarm, add an egg and mix it in with an electric mixer or hand whisk, to add some air into the batter. Add the next egg and repeat. Make sure the batter is not hot before you add the eggs; adding eggs into the hot batter will result in scrambled eggs, and that’s not what we’re after.
3. Transfer the ready batter into a piping bag. Prepare a baking tin, line it with baking parchment and squeeze out small balls of choux pastry onto the baking tin. They shouldn’t be bigger than 1-1,5cm in diameter, as they will be bigger when baked.
4. Put the ‘croutons’ in the preheated to 220 degrees Celsius oven and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until golden. when chilled, they can be stored in airtight container for up to 3-4 weeks.
5. With the croutons ready, time to start the soup. Add butter and olive oil into a saucepan. When the butter is melted, add chopped onion and sliced garlic. After a minute, add broccoli pieces and cook together for a few minutes.
6. Add hot vegetable stock and one or two thyme sprigs. Simmer on medium heat for about 5minutes, until the broccoli softens. Add the frozen green peas into a small sieve, and wash it with hot water (tap water is okay). Add to the pot with soup and bring to a boil. Let the soup cook for another 5 minutes.
7. Soup should be blended straight away. When blended, return to the hob, add seasonings (salt, pepper, more thyme) and bring to a boil again. Serve hot with croutons. Enjoy!