Saturday, August 16, 2008

August 1, 2008: Brussels sprouts

For most of my life, the Brussels sprout has been more a myth than a vegetable. Children and former children seem almost to rejoice in their hatred of it. I suspect that my mum was one of their number and thus never cooked them for me - I probably reached adulthood without even knowing precisely what a Brussels sprout looked like.

I suppose their green leafy layers and relation to the cabbage are not great selling points to the corn-and-carrots crowd, but I think these compact little bundles are actually quite cute. I count myself lucky that I'm only just getting to know them now, after a solid decade of developing a real appreciation for vegetables. This way I can say easily and without prejudice that I like Brussels sprouts just fine!

I'm not on any one-person crusade to raise awareness of the Brussels sprout. Plenty of other keen cooks have been enjoying it for years. It was actually a collaborator at work who first extolled to me the virtues of lightly steamed sprouts, fried in butter. Others eat them with bacon, chestnuts or cheese, and naturally they played their part in the Great Big Vegetable Challenge (even making the list of vegetables Freddie unequivocally likes!). In many recipes, caramelisation seems to be the key. So I started by frying them with sugar - even healthy Heidi Swanson recommends this approach! Served with tofu and nuts, the sprouts still maintain some fresh crispness and character of their own.

Having determined that Brussels sprouts are really quite alright, I was actually willing to play along when Isa Moskowitz made her bold claim that Brussels sprouts are the vegan French fry. In any case, her recipe corresponded quite closely with my favoured method for trying out many unfamiliar vegetables - just bake 'em with olive oil, salt and pepper until golden. The sprouts yielded spectacularly to this treatment. The insides were tender but not mushy; the caramelised edges delightfully flavourful; and those outer leaves! They were so delicately crunchy. Like the ones we ate at Attica.

Is the Brussels sprout my new French fry? Not by a long shot, but there's plenty of room for the sprout to do its own unique thing in my kitchen.


  1. Completely the same story for me, Cindy. I had never eaten a sprout in my life until about a year ago. I think they are delicious!

    We had amazing sprouts at Donovans where they had been smothered in delicious ironbark honey. I've made my bastardised version at home and they were totally nom-worthy.

  2. I eat mine stir-fried in butter with bacon and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.


  3. Ooohhh, I luuuuurrrrrrv cabbage. Could never warm to brussels sprouts, though. But then again, mum used to just dish them up steamed and plain... maybe I should try them done a little differently... I mean, fried in butter and dished up with bacon - ANYTHING would be good!

  4. I've heard others suggest that roasted cauliflower tastes like french fries. I don't entirely agree but can see how people reach that conclusion.

    I'm not certain how much 'health' remains in brussels sprouts or cauli after roasting, but they sure are tasty.

  5. I think someone secretly slipped some sprouts into my dinner recently. An unidentifiable half-orb. Attempted poisoning, and the police have been called!

    Vegan French-fries... hmmm... i'll do my best to be open-minded, but if I don't survive it, there'll be ketchup on the carpet!

  6. se when I first moved to the UK and I couldn't work out why everyone hated them so much! Lots of great ideas here to try.

  7. That sounds delicious, s-j! I bet a few drips of agave nectar would work too.

    Elizabeth: What, no chestnuts? ;-) I reckon that combination would make most sprout-eaters (and a few people who think they aren't!) very happy.

    You're right, Maffy - I suspect a lot of people would eat an old boot if it was fried in butter and dished up with bacon. :-D I've read a few complaints of childhood sprouts being boiled plain to the point of mush - that'd put me off too!

    Stoo, I've similarly read of roasting cauliflower smelling like popcorn! I'm not quite sold on these theories either, but getting that golden edge on them is the best, isn't it?

    Haha, Duncan! You must have some bad sprout experiences lurking in your deep dark past. Rest assured, French fries are still widely acknowledged to be The Vegan French Fry - so pass the ketchup!

    It must be all in the preparation, Mallika! I guess the Brits were boiling them blandly, and that's no doubt where many past Aussies inherited their cooking habits.

  8. it amused me in Scotland that brussels sprouts were important at Christmas dinner in E's family not to eat but to whinge about! (OK some of the family ate them and some whinged)

    E's mum got it into her head on my last visit that I loved them but the truth was that it was one of the few decent fresh green veg I could find in winter. Luckily I have learnt to love them and find roasted crunchy outside leave unbelievably good

  9. Hi Johanna! Isn't it funny what traditions we're compelled to maintain. :-D I'm pretty sure my family would complain very loudly if I tried serving Brussels sprouts to them at any time of the year.

  10. I'm totally with you on this one, Cindy: I too, never having grown up eating brussels sprouts, spied some at the markets a while back and thought them so cute I had to try them out. We had them roasted, just as you described, and they were great! A little way off from the delights of a french fry, I think, but pretty tasty nevertheless.

  11. Frances, I think we're both lucky to have bypassed the childhood horror of Brussels sprouts - so much easier to develop an affection for them in our own time. :-)