Meatless Monday: Broccoli and Affordable Health Care

In an old comedy routine, Mel Brooks plays a therapist who advises his patient, "Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it."

I wish Justice Antonin Scalia's broccoli would have a word with him. During the Supreme Court oral hearings about the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, he argued if the government can make you buy health insurance, it can make you buy broccoli. But buried in there is the implication that broccoli, like compulsory anything, is something unpleasant forced down our throats.

Your honor, I object.

I love broccoli. And Justice Scalia, so did your ancestors. The ancient Romans couldn't get enough of it, developing new varietals, new shapes, new shades and one of the first known broccoli recipes. They didn't eat broccoli because of some government mandate or because it was healthy -- what did they know from folate? They ate it because it tasted good.

I understand not all Americans feel the broccoli love. But even you, sir, would argue with 70 percent of health care costs related to lifestyle and diet, we might not be facing upwards of $47 trillion in health care costs if we ate more broccoli and less beef.

The government can reward good behavior by subsidizing broccoli, lentils, kale, pumpkin -- all the produce we know we should be eating, rather than subsidizing beef, no one's idea of health food. How the government allocates the funding for our food system is a pivotal issue in the upcoming Farm Bill -- one we should watch.

Putting farm subsidies into broccoli instead of beef may be the most affordable health care plan ever.

The truth is our broccoli has been talking to us all this time. We just need to start listening.

Broccoli and Lentils Apicius

The first known broccoli recipe appears in Apicius, the early Roman recipe compendium, where it's cooked "with a mixture of cumin and coriander seeds, chopped onion plus a few drops of oil and sun-made wine." I give it a modern makeover, abetting it with lentils (also not subsidized) to turn it into a main course or significant salad. It makes use of the entire broccoli, from crown to stem. There's no waste and you get the most bang for your broccoli.

1 bunch broccoli
1 cup lentils, any color, but tiny black lentils, also called beluga lentils, hold their shape nicely after cooking
2 cups water or vegetable broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon wine, red or white
½ teaspoon honey or agave
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (or 1-1/2 teaspoons cumin)
1 teaspoon coriander
⅓ cup pine nuts
⅓ cup scallions, sliced fine
1 handful parsley, chopped
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Take the broccoli and chop the florets into bite-sized bits. Slice the stems into thin, stylish discs.

Steam for 7 to 10 minutes, so broccoli is still bright green and has some crunch.

Rinse broccoli in cold water and set aside.

In a large pot, bring water or vegetable broth to boil over high heat. Pour in lentils. Cover and reduce heat to low, simmering for 20 minutes or so, until lentils are just tender and all the liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, toast cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Give it a shake occasionally so the seeds don't burn. When your kitchen is suffused with a beautiful toasty smell, remove from heat.

Pour toasted cumin seeds into a small bowl. Or add your cumin powder here, along with the coriander. Whisk in olive oil, wine, honey or agave.

Tip lentils into a large serving bowl. Pour olive oil mixture over them and toss to mix.

Add broccoli, stirring gently to combine.

Toast the pine nuts in the same fashion as the cumin seeds, but shake the pan frequently and watch them closely -- they can go from golden to black in a matter of minutes. Add to toasted nuts to broccoli and lentils, along with the chopped scallions and chopped parsley.

Season generously with sea salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Covered and refrigerated, it keeps for several days.

Serves 4 to 6.

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