Theresa Hong: Gaining an appreciation for winter's bounty

February 23, 2011 

There's a monster on a plate, and nobody seems to care but me. I sit alone at the kitchen table, disdainfully staring at the green balls of slime seemingly slithering on my plate.

And at 8 years old, it seems to me even my mother's fashionable table abhors its guests. I know it longs for a more palatable vegetable to be seen with.

"Tough," I think, my arms defiantly crossed. "The only way those things are leaving your runway is a one-way trip to the trash can."

Grossius sproutis (as I so deemed them) -- the dreaded Brussels sprouts -- cruelly mock me. And despite my efforts of trickery, my attempt to spread the sprouts across my plate in an effort to appear I actually ate some has failed miserably.

Unlike peas or corn, the bulkiness of the Grossius sproutis prevents a precocious child from this old ruse. It's as if it knows its own power, the power to hold a little girl hostage at the dinner table.

It's times like these I long for a dog.

I sigh (hoping my mother will hear me), roll my eyes, place my elbows on the table and do what any young girl in my situation would do -- I pout, glaring at the clock on the wall: tick-tock, tick-tock.

It's going to be a long evening.

Fast-forward about 30 years. You can now find me without fail, relishing in these little spheres of goodness. I have finally tamed the slimy green monster (along with its friend, the angry bloody beet), or perhaps I should say, it has tamed me.

When properly cooked or roasted, fresh winter vegetables such as Brussels sprouts and beets add meatiness and complexity to any meal, especially salads. So, when it was suggested to me to create a recipe using these winter treats, I jumped at the chance to redeem myself to, well, myself, and to my poor mother, who I'm sure wanted to pummel me with those brussels sprouts that night.

Using essential winter vegetables -- red cabbage, roasted beets and savory Brussels sprouts -- I added an ode to my husband's Asian heritage, combining sesame oil, roasted chicken, cilantro and a homemade dressing with a little bit of sweet, a little bit of sour and, of course, a little bit of spice.

This fusion of cultures is what America was built on -- a patchwork quilt sewn together with old and new cultures, traditions of past, present and future, and the love of family and friends and what these special people add to influence our own heritage.

Oh, and I bet you're wondering who won: me or the brussels sprouts? Well, let's just say the brussel sprouts (and mom) won that night. After all, I had an Atari Asteroid high score to beat. Looking back, however, it seems we all won.

Theresa Hong writes about food for the Merced Sun-Star. E-mail her at theresa@alamocitychick.com.

RECIPE: Asian-American Chicken Salad

Salad:

1 head Romaine lettuce

2 cups fresh spinach

2 cups shredded red cabbage

2 carrots, shredded

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

4-5 roasted brussels sprouts

1 large roasted beet

2-3 large chicken thighs, roasted and shredded

Dressing:

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

3 1/2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro

3-4 fresh jalapeños, sliced

Assemble lettuce on large plate. Add spinach, chopped cabbage, carrots and cilantro. Place sliced beet and brussels sprouts around the plate. Place roasted shredded chicken in the middle.

Dressing: Combine rice wine vinegar and honey, and whisk until incorporated. While whisking, slowly add oil and continue whisking until smooth. Add cilantro and jalapeño slices. For less heat, remove jalapeño seeds.

Roasting vegetables: Place brussels sprouts on a baking sheet, drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until tender. Coat outside of the whole beet with sesame oil, cover with foil and bake at 375º for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool, remove foil and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.

This recipe is from Theresa Hong.

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