What I wanted? A simple recipe — any recipe, any trick, any technique — that would entice my 8-year-old son to embrace broccoli.
What I got? A simple recipe that ended up so good, so crispy, so delicious I no longer cared if he ate the broccoli (he did), because I wanted it all to myself.
And it was pathetically easy. I wanted something that accentuated, rather than masked, the flavor of the broccoli. I wanted something that appealed with both texture and taste. And that meant that as far as technique went, steaming and boiling were right out. We'd be doing some roasting or frying.
For inspiration, I considered the vegetable tempura served at Japanese restaurants. I liked the idea, but not all the fat (not to mention mess, trouble and time) that goes with the frying of it. So my goal was a crispy coated vegetable that cooked up without a lot of oil.
I started by cutting the broccoli into small florets. Small pieces not only cook faster, they also collectively provide more surface area. And more surface area meant more coating and more crunch.
Since I wasn't frying, my coating would need to be made from dry ingredients (traditional tempura coating is a pancake-like batter), and those ingredients would need some sort of glue if they were to stick to my florets. Eggs whites were an easy choice. I whisked a few (from a carton for ease) in a very large bowl. Then I added my florets and used my hands to toss until thoroughly coated.
Onward to my dry coating. Breadcrumbs were an obvious choice, but I wanted something with more body and more flavor. After several attempts, almond flour (sold in the gluten-free and natural foods sections, or made at home by grinding almonds in the food processor) proved to be the best choice.
Once I'd seasoned my almond flour, it was just a matter of tossing the egg white-coated florets a few at a time in the almond mixture. For even roasting on all sides of the florets, I set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet, then arranged the florets on the rack. A quick roast at high heat resulted in deliciously crisp, savory and — dare I say — meaty broccoli.
But since we're coming into spring, I wanted to see just how adaptable this recipe is. Turns out it produces equally good crispy asparagus. Because asparagus is much smoother than broccoli, the coating doesn't adhere quite as evenly, but it's still delicious.
ALMOND-CRUSTED BAKE-FRIED ASPARAGUS
Start to finish: 35 minutes (15 minutes active)
6 egg whites
1 1/2 cups almond flour
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 bunches asparagus, tough bottoms trimmed
Heat the oven to 450 F. Set a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. Coat the rack with cooking spray.
In a very large bowl, whisk the egg whites until frothy. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, mix together the almond flour, garlic powder, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.
Place the asparagus in the egg whites and gently roll or toss until all of the spears are coated and moistened. A few spears at a time, transfer the asparagus to the almond flour mixture. Roll the spears in the mixture until evenly and well coated. If needed, pat the coating on with your hands. Arrange the coated spears on the prepared rack. When all of the spears are on the rack, spritz them lightly with cooking spray.
Roast for 20 minutes, or until crispy and lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per serving: 190 calories; 110 calories from fat (58 percent of total calories); 12 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 12 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein; 700 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch