Once upon a time I was a vegetarian who hated vegetables.
Growing up, I only liked meat in the form of filet mignon or bacon. Both of those were luxuries, and so I would grumpily eat chicken breasts or hot dogs only when forced. Some days I would sit at the table for an hour rather than eat one more bite of chicken a la king. So when I heard about vegetarianism, it sounded perfect. There were other people who felt the same way. I could claim a moral reason to not eat meat. And I started campaigning to be a vegetarian at the tender young age of 10.
The problem was that I didn’t like vegetables. I once hid my broccoli in my glass of milk so I didn’t have to eat it. The joke was on me, as my dad saw me do it, and I then had to eat the broccoli and drink the milk (another thing I hated). I didn’t like eggs. I didn’t like beans. I liked pasta with butter and parmesan, and I liked mashed potatoes filled with colby jack cheese, and I loved popcorn. I couldn’t understand why that wasn’t an acceptable diet.
By the time I was fourteen I had worn my parents down, and I became a vegetarian with the caveat that my mom wasn’t making two meals. And so for two years I lived off of beans and rice, cheese pizza, and salads of iceberg lettuce and ranch dressing. It only ended when my doctor ordered me to start eating meat again because I was anemic.
Without that spell of vegetarianism I would not have started cooking, because I would have had no need. Despite the failures of those two years, that was when I first sauteed cherry tomatoes, garlic, and spinach together to add to pasta. I made minestrone and found myself eating green beans and carrots and beans. I took cookbooks out from the library and watched Barefoot Contessa looking for things I could eat. Looking back my diet was bland and unhealthy. But if I hadn’t had that time I may not have fallen in love with cooking.
I am no longer a vegetarian, but I still cook like one at home. I’m known to throw kale into everything and I collect spices and vinegars like other people collect novelty shot glasses. I can steam and saute and broil and braise, and I have strong opinions on proper preparations of various vegetables. In the short life of this blog I’ve made 5 salads, which is over a quarter of the recipes available. And while I still love rice and beans, I’ll almost always choose vegetable pizza over cheese. (Almost.)
I would never have made this slaw during my tenure as a teenage vegetarian. Brussels sprouts seemed too foreign, and the idea of apples in a salad would have been too weird. But if it had been made for me I may have tried it, hesitantly and politely. I may have then tried it again, enjoying how the apples add sweetness and the cheese adds a nutty earthiness, and the brussels sprouts provide a pleasantly bitter note. I would have definitely loved the roasted almonds, which are fragrant with thyme and smoky with paprika and cinnamon. I may have taken quite a few bites.
And then I probably would have turned back to my pasta with butter. Because old habits die hard, and I was young. But now I know better.
Brussels Sprouts Slaw with Thyme Roasted Almonds
Serves 4 as a side
I made this recipe using a mandolin, and I strongly recommend you do the same. It would be a lot of work to use a knife, and unless you have superior knife skills it will not be as fine or even. If you do have such superior skills, I bow to you. The dressing amount is a very light coating, which is how I like my slaws. If you like more dressing, then I would suggest doubling the amount.
1 cup unsalted almonds
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound brussels sprouts
1 medium eating apple, such as Cortland
1 ounce farmhouse cheddar, such as Prairie Breeze
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons greek yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons Grade B maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a bowl toss together the almonds, thyme, paprika, cinnamon, salt, and one tablespoon of the olive oil. Spread onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven for 8 minutes, or until the thyme is fragrant.
Peel the outer leaves from the brussels sprouts and using a mandolin, shred the brussles sprouts into fine flurries. Be careful to hold the end of the brussels sprouts while shredding, and to keep your finger away from the mandolin blade. If this worries you, use either the safety guard or a towel to hold the sprouts while you shred. Once the sprouts are shredded quarter and core the apple, and then shred in the same manner. Place the shredded produce into a medium bowl.
Use a vegetable peeler to shave the cheddar into fine whisps. Add to the bowl with the brussels sprouts and apples.
In a small bowl whisk together the apple cider vinegar, the greek yogurt, the maple syrup, and the remaining olive oil until smooth and emulsified. Taste for seasoning, and add salt as necessary.
Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Top with the almonds.