THERE ARE probably many European countries that come to mind before the tiny Kingdom of Belgium when it comes to cooking. Americans are familiar with a few culinary items from the north coastal country on the continent, most notably waffles, chocolate and perhaps the least popular of vegetables -- Brussels sprouts. Anyone can wax eloquent about Belgian waffles and chocolate, but not many can offer up an ode to Brussels sprouts.
Mid-century American children were traumatized by the sulphurous stench and mushy texture of horribly overcooked sprouts, but gagged a few down in order to earn that bowl of Marshmallow Jello Surprise for dessert. They vowed never to force their kids to eat this wicked vegetable.
And they kept their promise. Not a single sprout entered through our doors during my childhood. It wasn’t until my 31st year on this planet that I finally tried Brussels sprouts.
A good friend of my sister’s was visiting during Thanksgiving, having spent several years in the Himalayan country of Nepal. She sauteed quartered sprouts with chopped garlic in olive oil. Simply prepared, they weren't nasty at all, but, tender and delicious.
Inspired to experiment, I was picking up a small bag of sprouts at when, lo and behold, I made another shocking discovery -- Brussels sprouts grow like green jingle bells on a stalk. I felt tres chic leaving TJ's with a stalk protruding from the top of my reusable bag.
The sprout stalk made it home and I used a small paring knife to remove the buds. My youngest daughter loves to “help” in the kitchen, so she took on the job of removing the loose outer leaves. The larger sprouts need to be halved (and sometimes even quartered), revealing their cute tiny baby cabbage interiors.
And, in fact, they are cruciferous vegetables of the Brassica family just like cabbage, kale and broccoli -- other under-appreciated leafy greens. The good news is that they contain loads of vitamins, folic acid, iron, fiber, some protein and even protection from colon cancer in the form of sinigrin. Boiling the "bejesus" out of Brussels sprouts results in a significant loss of these important nutrients, as well as in a terrible finished product for eating.
There are two great ways to prepare Brussels sprouts -- roasting and sauteing. We were firmly in the saute camp, having experienced our first sprouts cooked this way. But, I might have recently defected to the roasting school of thought. Both methods take about the same amount of time, but sauteing requires more oversight and I am all for making things easier in the kitchen.
This Thanksgiving, we’ll be bringing these tasty little buds to dinner in hopes of balancing the food karma scales weighed down by my sinfully delicious mentioned last week. I’m not sure where our attempt at smoked duck falls, though I’m guessing on the sinful side with the pie. Perhaps the fact that it is a local organic duck from Dog Mountain Farm in Carnation buys us some food karma credits.
Anyway, here is my ode to the tiny cabbage, followed by one proper way to prepare them -- so your kids won't grow up with traumatized taste buds.
Ode To Brussels Sprouts
“Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the pie and meat,
And though they might produce some pouts,
Thank you, God, for Brussels sprouts.”
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Browned Butter and Garlic
- 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed
- 2 TB olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- 3 TB butter
- 1 tsp lemon juice or vinegar (opt.)
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or spray the pan with cooking spray.
Cut the sprouts into halves or quarters, depending on their size, placing them in a large bowl with the sliced garlic. Drizzle the sprouts with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss to coat the sprouts. Arrange on the baking sheet in a single layer.
Roast the sprouts for 20-25 minutes, turning once or twice with a spatula. Do not over cook!
While the sprouts roast, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Increase heat to medium-high and cook for about two more minutes, swirling frequently to brown the butter. Remove from the heat and add in the lemon juice. Keep warm until the sprouts are done.
When the sprouts are finished roasting, remove them from the oven and transfer them back to the large bowl. Drizzle the butter mixture over the top and toss to coat. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Serve immediately.