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thing of the past | thing to come

What: Kai-lan, known as Chinese broccoli, a staple of dim sum restaurants and Chinese New Year celebrations.

Why: Kai-lan makes your heart feel super-happy. Like other Brassica family members, Chinese broccoli megadoses you with vitamin C, fiber, and beta-carotene, and can knock cancer to the curb. But unlike the Calabrese broccoli that you might see in the supermarket, it won't terrify your children. That's because it doesn't have Calabrese broccoli's fractal-headed alien appearance. If regular broccoli had a friendly Nickelodeon character grinning back at four-year-old me, with a tiger and a koala and a whatever that thing on the balloon is, and my mom told me that she wanted me to eat the yummy green snack that shared that character's name, I would be demanding it in my Dora the Explorer lunchbox. You would too.

Impact: Well, China named a cartoon after it, which means that Chinese children must eat it. Quite a lot of it, in fact. The People's Republic of China is the largest consumer of broccoli in the world, and—well, okay, they're the largest consumer of every edible thing in the world, but trust me, they love their kai-lan. And they should. Chinese broccoli is more succulent, more meaty, and more uplifting in taste than traditional broccoli, and it goes perfectly with plum sauce.

Personal Connection: I ate an entire plate of it today during our celebration of the Year of the Rabbit. (Hoppy New Year!) This likely flabbergasts my mother, because for most of my childhood, I could not stand broccoli. Or at least I kept telling myself I couldn't stand broccoli, even though I probably went a decade refusing to eat it. But what I really couldn't stand was my mental picture of the broccoli I ate as a very young child. Eating kai-lan in the Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants of Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood made me understand why my mom wanted me to eat it. Well, that and the whole beta-carotene thing, but that still doesn't work on me.

Other Contenders: corn on the cob, eaten close to harvest so the sugar hasn't yet turned to starch; its counterpart baby corn, which dispenses with the whole humans-can't-eat-corncobs nonsense; the black Spanish radish, so hot it's like eating an entire canister of black pepper; the globe artichoke, which may have the lowest edible content-to-weight ratio of any vegetable, but makes up for it in its frequent proximity to melted butter; the humble chickpea, the basis of everything that's right with the Middle East; the pearl onion, which makes all that peeling and crying seem worthwhile; the flower of the Humulus plant, which makes this activity possible.



( 18 comments — Agree or disagree? )
Feb. 4th, 2011 02:44 am (UTC)
This entry was hard to write because the definition of "vegetable" is hard to pin down. I eventually excluded the vegetables that were clearly fruits, such as the pepper and the tomato, and included the grains and beans eaten as vegetables, such as corn. So in your choices, try to keep that in mind, and be aware that the tomato will get its day in the sun eventually.

Also, no fungus. There will be a column on that someday too.

Edited at 2011-02-04 04:27 pm (UTC)
Feb. 4th, 2011 02:53 am (UTC)
Sugar snap peas. The aforementioned artichoke. Beets, in all their glory. Onions (which make so very many different things taste better).

Tough call, man.
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:19 am (UTC)
Those are all good. And I clearly left out one, as your last comment notes.
Feb. 4th, 2011 02:55 am (UTC)
Yes! I LOVE chinese broccoli, but the main restaurant I used to eat it at stopped making it. It was a sad day.
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:19 am (UTC)
New restaurant time!
Feb. 4th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
I'd vote for garlic mashed potatoes, except that they're less of a vegetable and more of a...garlic. And baked potatoes are firmly in the "dairy" category, at least as I prefer them.
Feb. 4th, 2011 05:25 am (UTC)
That comment hardened my arteries.

Garlic, of course, was already covered in this entry.
Feb. 4th, 2011 10:01 am (UTC)
Oh, so *that's* what that Quarterflash song is about... :-P
Feb. 4th, 2011 02:26 pm (UTC)
Also, that comment made me swallow my tears.
Feb. 4th, 2011 05:48 am (UTC)
Baby bok choy, lightly steamed with a little oyster sauce. Mmmmmmm.
Feb. 4th, 2011 05:51 am (UTC)
We just made something like that last week. It was the second time we made the boy choy recipe, because the first time, I "mistook" the garlic chili sauce for sweet chili sauce, meaning I ate all of it myself.
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:12 pm (UTC)
Hey - LJ ate my comment! As I had said, my niece absolutlely loves Calabrese broccoli, which surprises everyone. When she was five I asked her if she could only eat one type of food the rest of her life, what would it be? She said, "Broccoli, and broccoli-cheese soup." I won't argue the math there, but she's clearly devoted. I wonder if kai-lan could sway her. She does seem to enjoy "eating trees" as she puts it.

I'd try this veggie, but I have always been more adventurous in that regard. For some reason, though, now I really want some asparagus - and pickled beets! Who up there said beets?!
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
Evon makes the most delicious (and prize-winning) pickled asparagus. However, since the title of this entry isn't "the most beautiful vegetable pickled by my wife," asparagus itself didn't quite make the cut.

I've never really figured out whether I like beets.
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC)
Pickled asparagus? Really? I've never had this. I'm curious. Reaaaally curious all of the sudden. I'd pay money for it! You don't have any extra sitting around, do you?

*mumbles to self* Pickled asparagus....huh!
Feb. 4th, 2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't call the pickled asparagus I have sitting around "extra." Just "temporarily unconsumed."
Feb. 4th, 2011 04:28 pm (UTC)
Agreed. You have to protect your supply!
Feb. 6th, 2011 02:34 am (UTC)
I think the thing on the balloon is a rhino (seen here eating his veggies), certainly a contender for most beautiful baby animal. Right after, um, you know.
Feb. 6th, 2011 03:15 am (UTC)
Yup, that there seems to be a rhinolet.
( 18 comments — Agree or disagree? )


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