Sprouting broccoli seems to appear earlier and earlier in the winter months and very welcome it is too, signalling that spring is not too far away. Native to the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, sprouting broccoli was cultivated in Italy in ancient Roman times and like so many other vegetables was introduced into England about 1720. It’s a tender green; don’t overcook it, sprouting broccoli turns from fresh and crunchy to wilted, mushy dark green in a second.
Chargrilled Sprouting broccoli with labneh and toasted walnuts and cumin
Serves 2 (as part of main course)
Labneh is available from Middle- Eastern or Turkish shops. To make the labneh, put some thick live natural yoghurt, salted to taste, into muslin and strain it over a bowl for up to 48 hours in the fridge. Open out the muslin and transfer the 100g strained labneh to a plate. This can then be formed into walnut-sized balls and stored under olive oil. You will need about two or three balls for this recipe. Slice 2 cloves garlic thinly then place in a bowl with about 1 tbsp of olive oil, some salt and pepper and 1 tbsp of lemon juice. Remove the tough outer leaves from 12-14 stems of sprouting broccoli and cut off the woody bases of the stems. Blanch the stems for about 2 minutes in boiling salted water, drain well and while still hot, place in the bowl with the garlic (the hot broccoli will partly cook the garlic) and the olive oil and lemon juice. Get a frying pan really hot then toast 2 tsp cumin seeds until they are giving off a good smell, but don’t burn them. Remove the cumin seeds and place 4 walnuts, shelled and roughly chopped into the same pan. Toast these but, again, don’t let them burn. Set aside. Get a ridged griddle pan really, really hot, until it’s pretty much smoking. Place the broccoli onto the pan and make sure it gets some clear char marks all over. Just before it’s done, throw the garlic slices over the top to cook for just few seconds and then put everything back into the bowl of lemon juice and olive oil. To serve, lay the broccoli spears onto a plate and dress with the garlic slices, bite-sized pieces of labneh, the walnuts and cumin and a little of the olive oil and lemon juice. This makes a complete meal with a simple rice or bulgur pilav, and also works well as part of a meze selection.