Purple sprouting broccoli – your first sweet treat of the year

This week we’ve been harvesting purple sprouting broccoli from our plot, and I have to say I think this is one of my favourite vegetables. We’re now in the ‘hungry gap’ as at this time of year there isn’t much left of the vegetable plot – all the winter vegetables have been eaten and the spring vegetables are just being planted. Then, all of a sudden the bountiful harvest of sweet tender-stem broccoli begins.

The shop bought stuff doesn’t come close – after it’s been picked it loses it’s natural sweetness very quickly so the best way to experience this is if you grow you own. If you’re wanting to enjoy this marvellous vegetable next spring then get some seeds in the soil within the next few weeks and come next spring you’ll be picking broccoli that has all the natural sugar and flavour still intact.

My kids enjoy eating it raw, straight from the plant when it’s bursting with natural sugars – they love it. Unfortunately, they aren’t so keen on steamed broccoli and when we have a large harvest I have to get a little inventive. We make broccoli pizzas, we add steamed chopped broccoli to pancake batter and also to mash to make bubble and squeak cakes… but their favourite way to eat it is in stir-fried noodles. As a treat, I add some battered broccoli on the top as a garnish and they think it’s amazing.

This dish comes together really quickly so its best to chop all your vegetables and prepare all the other ingredients before you start cooking. I have a mandolin which makes quick, neat work of the vegetables. This cheap and compact mandolin is as good as any of the other commercial ones I have had in the past and I love it.

This is Asian home cooking with aromatic, oriental flavours and I really think a good soy sauce makes it. I use double strength Clearspring Organic Soya Sauce and Clearspring Organic Brown Rice Miso Paste. The taste is far superior to any other soy sauce I’ve encountered and guilt-free as Clearspring are committed to supporting organic, sustainable agriculture.

Play around with the vegetables, use whatever you have to hand, and add more miso or vegetable stock if you’re wanting a more soupy sauce. I omit the chilli for the children as they aren’t keen on things being too spicy.

Stir-fried noodles with crispy purple sprouting broccoli

Ingredients

For the noodles

  • 1 large handful of mushrooms
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger
  • 1 green finger chilli (optional)
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 pepper
  • ¼ cabbage
  • 1 bunch of spring onions
  • 1 small bunch of coriander
  • 1 handful of purple sprouting broccoli
  •                                ~
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • ½ tbsp maple syrup (or dark brown sugar)
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • 1 star anise
  • 600ml miso/vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp cornflour, mixed with 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • ½ cup cashews
  • 175g/2-3 bundles of noodles

For the battered broccoli

  • 15-20 thin stalks of broccoli or halved lengthways if they are thick
  • 80g plain flour plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 160ml of ice cold water
  • sunflower oil for frying

Method

Finely chop the vegetables and set them aside, cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet or until just softened, rinse under cold water to stop them cooking and set aside. Get all of the other ingredients for your stir-fry ready and then start to prepare the crispy broccoli.

The Batter

Pour about 2 inches of sunflower oil into a small deep sided pan and heat up to 180ºC. For the batter, whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together, then make a well in the middle and gradually incorporate the water. The water should be as cold as possible to stop the batter absorbing too much oil and becoming greasy. Also, don’t over whisk the batter – slightly lumpy is preferable to a perfectly whisked batter as the gluten will start to develop and it won’t be as crispy.

If you don’t have a thermometer then you can test if the oil is ready by dropping a small amount of batter into it. The batter should drop half way down the pan and then straight away start bubbling up to the surface again. If the batter doesn’t sink at all and just froths on the surface, it’s too hot and will burn quickly, if it sinks very slowly to the bottom and floats slowly to the top then it’s too cold and the batter will end up soggy and greasy.

Dust the broccoli in flour before dipping it into the batter as this helps it to stick to the broccoli. Cook the broccoli in batches, for 1-2 minutes, turning halfway through and keep adjusting the heat on the pan to keep the correct temperature. Drain on a piece of kitchen towel and then transfer to a baking tray whilst you prepare your stir-fry. Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC.

The Stir Fry

Add the sesame seed oil to a large wok or pan and cook the mushrooms on a high heat. When they are slightly browned and softened, reduce the heat. Add the cashews and sesame seeds and toast lightly before adding the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli (if using). Cook gently for a few minutes until slightly softened then add the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, maple syrup, cinnamon and star anise. Let this fry out for a minute or so and then add your miso or vegetable stock.

Bubble up for a few minutes then whisk in the cornflour mixture and let it cook out for a minute or two. When the sauce is slightly thickened, add the rest of the vegetables and the noodles to the pan. Mix it all around with a pair of tongs and cook for a minute or so to soften the vegetables slightly.

We prefer our vegetables thinly sliced but really crunchy and fresh so that’s why we add them near the end, preferring not to cook them too much. Whilst this is going on you can gently reheat your crispy broccoli in your pre-heated oven for a few minutes.

Serve the noodles in warmed bowls and garnish with the crispy broccoli on top.