We had frost — the first of the season — on Thanksgiving Day.
The leaves on the hardwoods are at their most colourful this week. The lawn mower has been retired for the winter, and the tender garden crops are gone for another year.
What remains in the garden are the ones that can withstand cooler temperatures and frost. In our garden, that includes parsnips and Brussels sprouts.
There was a time, quite a long time, when I didn’t like Brussels sprouts. How could I be expected to like a vegetable with such a mushy texture, strong flavour, faded colour, and unpleasant odour?
Then I learned that I was mistaken. I do like Brussels sprouts after all. What I don’t like are overcooked Brussels sprouts. It’s the overcooking that leads to all those undesirable characteristics.
The solution is obvious: don’t cook them too long. Because of their shape, it can be challenging to get large Brussels sprouts cooked in the centre, without cooking the outside leaves until they lose their nice leafy texture and become soft. The trick is in the preparation. After cleaning and trimming the sprouts, use a sharp knife to cut an X into the core, so that the boiling water can penetrate into the sphere and cook the centre more quickly. You can also cut large Brussels sprouts in half before cooking.
Boiling is just one of the cooking methods that works for Brussels sprouts. They can be shredded and sautéed in hot oil with a bit of onion and garlic, or sliced and braised in broth. To braise, first sear the exterior in hot oil, than add a liquid, such as water or chicken broth, cover the pan, and simmer until tender. In the case of sliced sprouts, it doesn’t take long.
Brussels sprouts can also be quartered, tossed in hot oil, arranged in a single layer on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper, if you wish, for easier clean-up) and roasted in a hot oven, 200°C (400°F) until they are lightly browned, and tender.
The flavour of Brussels sprouts, like that of most leafy green vegetables, is complemented by the taste of salty bacon. Toss crumbled bits of well-drained, crisply cooked bacon over cooked sprouts just before serving.
Nuts, such as pecans or walnuts, also go well with Brussels sprouts, and can be simply chopped and sprinkled over cooked sprouts just before serving.
Dark green and orange vegetables are rich with nutrients, as well as being colourful. You get both in one dish with the following recipe. Citrus and Dijon mustard add a little zing to the flavour, and the crunchy seeds add an interesting texture.
Brussels Sprout and Carrot Duo
adapted from Topp, Ellie and Suzanne Hendricks: “Savoury Wisdom: Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Two”. Prentice Hall Canada, Toronto, 2001.
4 carrots, julienned
750 mL (3 cups) Brussels sprouts
25 mL (2 tbsp) orange juice
5 mL (1 tsp) olive oil
5 mL (1 tsp) lemon juice
5 mL (1 tsp) granulated sugar
1 mL (¼ tsp) Dijon mustard
15 mL (1 tbsp) toasted sesame seeds
15 mL (1 tbsp) toasted sunflower seeds
25 mL (2 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 cm (½ inch) of water. Place carrots in bottom, then add Brussels sprouts. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer for 8 minutes or until vegetables are just tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, drain well, and set aside.
In the same saucepan, combine orange juice, oil, lemon juice, sugar and mustard. Bring to a boil. Add vegetables and toss; heat through.
Place in serving dish and sprinkle with seeds and parsley. 8 servings
Here’s another recipe that demonstrates how interesting and tasty Brussels sprouts can be.
“One Hot Mama” Brussels Sprouts
from Hobsbawn-Smith, Dee:
“The Curious Cook at Home”. Whitecap Books, Vancouver, 2004.
750 g (1 ½ lbs) Brussels sprouts
15 mL (1 tbsp) vegetable oil
1 onion, finely diced
4 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
125 mL (½ cup) diced ham
2 mL (½ tsp) hot chili paste, or 1 jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
50 mL (4 tbsp) minced fresh basil
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Set the oven to 190°C (375°F). Trim off the ends of the Brussels sprouts and thinly slice them. Heat 5 cm (2 inches) of salted water in a sauté pan.
Add the Brussels sprouts when the water is boiling. Cook over high heat until bright green and tender. Drain, discarding the water. Set the Brussels sprouts aside.
Reheat the pan, add the oil, then the onion, garlic and ham. Cook until the onions are tender, about 5 minutes, adding small amounts of water as needed to prevent browning. Stir the mixture into the Brussels sprouts along with the hot chili paste or jalapeño, basil, salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Serves 6-10 as a side dish.
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.