29 October 2010

The Giants of Lilliput, or, Why my kid ate broccoli.


I don't have many hard and fast rules for feeding my children. Kids are all different and they keep changing and you just don't know what's going to happen from one meal to the next. One rule I do keep is this: if your four year old, who has been rejecting broccoli out of hand for three years, suddenly agrees to eat the trees of a broccoli forest so long as you make some carrot people to go with it, then you make that child a broccoli forest with carrot people in it.

A walk through
the forest

As you can see, the carrot people are very tall, so we dubbed them carrot giants, which is fitting since the four-year-old has been talking about giants a lot recently. The four-year-old not only ate his carrot giants and broccoli trees, but announced that he would like to eat broccoli “more times than this.” Whee!

This is a slight variation on Mollie Katzen's “Enchanted Broccoli Forest” recipe from the book of the same name. You can buy it new, find it in a used bookstore, or do what I did, and filch it from someone who bought it back when it was new the first time. It's a great book if you're trying to ease into eating less meat, and it has a great section on baking. 

Because the carrots and broccoli are only cooked in medium oven for a short time they stay crisp. You could steam them slightly ahead of time to soften if you like, but then the broccoli will lose some of its inherent tree-ness, which might disappoint any tree-eating dinosaurs you bring to the table.

The stems of the broccoli are cut fairly short. You can save the leftover stems to peel and cook another time, or, if you're organized enough, chop them finely and cook them with the rice that will make up your forest floor. If you've had trouble with brown rice in the past, try Alton Brown's method. It's what I use anytime I have to cook more than my rice cooker can handle.

The Giant's Forest

1 pound fresh broccoli

2 cups brown rice
3 cups water

1 large carrot

1 Tablespoon butter
1 medium onion
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
2 Tablespoons minced fresh dill
3 Tablespoons minced fresh mint
¼ cup minced fresh parsely
pepper and cayenne to taste

optional:
½ cup sunflower seeds
¼ pound sharp cheddar (or Swiss) cheese

¼ cup butter, melted


Wash broccoli, then cut florets 3”-4” high with flat bases. Set aside.

Cut off the ends of the broccoli stalks, and peel any tough skin. Chop stems fine and add to rice.

Cook rice, broccoli and water together using your preferred method. (If you're going to simmer it on the stovetop, it will take 40-45 minutes.)

Scrub the carrot and cut lengthwise into quarters, then into pieces about 2” long.

About 10 minutes before the rice is done, preheat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. (Unless, of course you're baking your rice, in which case you can just skip this part.)

Lightly butter a 9”x13” casserole dish.

Melt 1 Tablespoon butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Chop onion and add to the skillet with the salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally for five minutes, until the onions are soft and beginning to brown.

While the onions are cooking, mince the garlic, juice the lemon and mince the herbs.

Add the garlic and lemon juice to the onion and continue cooking until the garlic becomes aromatic, about two minutes.
While the garlic is cooking, grate the cheese.

Remove the skillet from the heat, stir in the rice, herbs, sunflower seeds, cheese and pepper. Taste and correct seasoning if necessary.

Melt the ¼ cup butter.

Spread the rice mixture in the prepared dish. Stand the broccoli trees and carrot giants in the forest, rooting them in the rice mixture. Pour the melted butter over the trees.

Cover the dish gently with foil and bake 20-25 minutes, until heated through.

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