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Cooking the Books: Brassicas by Laura Russell

a review of brassicas by laura russell

[box]Two disclaimers: First, a copy of Brassicas was provided by Ten Speed Press free of charge for this review. Second, I consider Laura a friend, but I would not have written about the book if I didn’t love it.
Jump to the recipe for Charred Brussels Sprouts with Fig Glaze[/box]

Vegetables are beautiful. I seem them all the time on Pinterest. Looking just a little bit sexy and tempting…and then I see a macaron. I have this problem. You all know about it. I love dessert. If candied kale were a thing, I probably would have jumped on that band wagon ages ago. Probably around the same time I decided that cupcakes were an acceptable coping mechanism.

It’s why this blog is mostly of the dessert flavor.

But I’ve been branching out lately. I even made Gluten-Free Kale & Sweet Potato Lasagna. So, when my friend Laura Russell (the brilliant writer behind the Gluten-Free Asian Kitchen), told me she was writing a cookbook about vegetables, I was tentatively excited. I mean, we’re talking veggies. And she had to go and choose the healthiest type of veggies – brassicas, which incidentally, is the title of the lovely cookbook that comes out on April 8th.

Spicy Kale Stir Fry from Brassicas by Laura Russell

There are no recipes for candied kale or broccoli brownies in this book. (I am actually relieved by this – the whole avocado / black beans in brownies trend freaks me out). And it is downright amazing. That’s right. I said that about a cookbook all about vegetables. Freaking amazing. I want to make and eat everything in the cookbook kind of amazing.

When the book first arrived, I opened it and left it on my desk at work. At least three coworkers paged through it at my desk when they came to see me – before I even got to look. There is currently a waiting list of friends who want to borrow it because they can’t buy it yet. The book itself is gorgeous. Rich, slightly moody photos of vegetables making you want to saunter into your kitchen and get to cooking. The book has chapters on kale, broccoli, root brassicas and leafy brassicas.

There is a handy-dandy chart in the back to help you identify and adapt the recipes no matter if you are gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, egg-free, vegetarian, vegan or fish/shellfish free. Most of the recipes are naturally gluten-free or say right in the recipe notes how to make the recipe without an gluten-containing ingredients. Which is excellent, because when I am making dinner, I need it all spelled out for me – it’s nothing like making cupcakes (those I can do blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back).

This cookbook might just get me to eat my vegetables with a bit more zeal. Let’s be clear though – this is not your mamma’s diet food. This is not a lose weight in three weeks kind of book. This is a see how wonderful and complex these ingredients are kind of book. This is an explore that crazy looking UFO veggie kind of book. This is a make your friends jealous when you Instagram your dinner kind of book.

The Rating

Author: Laura Russell Title: Brassicas: Cooking the world’s healthiest vegetables
Format: hard cover, full color photos
Stars: 5/5*
Buy it or Forget it: Buy it, Instagram your dinner and fall in love with vegetables
Must try recipes: Charred Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Fig Glaze, Spicy Kale Stir Fry
*Read more about my cookbook review criteria.  

Let’s get cooking

The best part of cookbooks? Trying new recipes! I made the Spicy Kale Stir Fry last week and ate it for three meals straight. Then I made these Brussels sprouts, and I decided that the recipe really was only 2 servings – my dinner and leftovers for lunch.

making charred brussels sprouts with fig glaze

Due to my dad’s pork allergy, I made this recipe using turkey bacon in place of the pancetta. It was still incredibly delicious, but I can only imagine how good it would be as written. That might just be the best part of this cookbook – the recipes can work as a framework for a dish, rather than being a roadmap that has to be followed to the letter.

This recipe might be love.

charred brussels sprouts with fig glaze from brassicas by laura russell

Cooking the Books: Brassicas by Laura Russell
Recipe Type: Vegetable
Author: Laura Russell
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
Total time: 25 mins
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. 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
  • 1 1/2 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. variations
  4. 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.
Reprinted with permission from Brassicas: Cooking the World’s Healthiest Vegetables: Kale, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts and More by Laura B. Russell. Copyright © 2014 by Laura B. Russell. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher



  1. hännah says:

    Oh my goodness, this looks like an excellent cookbook. I definitely like these veggies when they’re prepared well by someone else…but I can never seem to recreate the magic at home. This might be just what I need!

  2. The brussels sprouts sound delicious! Pancetta (or in this case, turkey bacon) make everything better. The whole cookbook sounds really intriguing, and I’m kind of surprised I haven’t heard of it until now… excited to check it out!

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