Exploring Brussels Sprouts: The Rodney Dangerfield of Vegetables. How to Love This Innocent Veggie Scorned by So Many
The cabbage, object of fear and loathing at the dinner table, forced down the unwilling throats of centuries of children because it is `good for you', its cooking smells infiltrating every corner of the house (or institution), has a lot to live down in Britain, the land of the overcooked vegetable.
--John Ayto, "The Diner's Dictionary"
First, the Myth
Despite appearances, Brussels sprouts are not Barbie doll-sized cabbages. However, they are in the same family, Brassica oleracea (that's the botanical name for the group of plants that contains not only cabbage, but also broccoli, collard greens, and kale. By the way, they are also called 'cruciferous' vegetables because their four-petal flowers resemble the shape of a cross).
Where Did Brussels Sprout?
(Yes I know--I'm terribly clever and no one has ever posed that question before).
Did Brussels sprouts originate in Brussels? Well, kinda sorta. Their ancestor, cabbage, has been in existence in the Mediterranean for many thousands of years. Through years of cultivation, selection of various traits, and cross-breeding, what we now call "Brussels sprouts" was grown in and around Brussels, Belgium.
Swiss chard isn't from Switzerland and Jerusalem artichokes are not from Jerusalem, but this time 'they got it right'.
The French navigator Jacques Cartier brought cabbage and kale seeds to the Americas in 1536. Years later explorers carried greens in their ship's stores for their crews--the high Vitamin C in those vegetables was known to stave off the illness known as scurvy. So, cabbage and kale were the introduction of coniferous vegetables to the New World. In the 18th century French settlers brought Brussels sprouts to Louisiana.
And the rest, as they say, is history!
But Why The Stink?
Most people who say that hate Brussels sprouts (or cabbage) complain about the awful smell. I can remember walking home from school, and I'm sure that one block away I knew if my mom was boiling cabbage.
And this is why--Brussels sprouts (and all other members of the cabbage family) contain sulfur compounds called isothiocyanates. When heated, these compounds break down into several other simpler compounds--and one of those is sulphur dioxide. Yes, the same aromatic that provides the smell of the Yellowstone National Park geysers, natural gas, and (our favorite) rotten eggs.
The longer members of the cabbage family are subjected to heat, the stinkier they become. And there, my friends, is the solution. The sprouts are not the problem--it's the cook (or to put it more gently, the cooking method). We can fix this.
They are Good for You!
|Serving size: 1 cup|
|Calories from Fat||0|
|% Daily Value *|
|Fat 0 g|
|Saturated fat 0 g|
|Unsaturated fat 0 g|
|Carbohydrates 8 g||3%|
|Sugar 2 g|
|Fiber 3 g||12%|
|Protein 3 g||6%|
|Cholesterol 0 mg|
|Sodium 22 mg||1%|
|* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.|
Mom Was Right!
They really are good for you. If the nutritional information above doesn't convince you (low calorie, no fat, low sodium, high fiber), how about these statistics? One serving of brussels sprouts will provide 100 percent of your daily requirement for Vitamin C and a whopping 169 percent of Vitamin K (a vitamin we need for strong bones and a healthy heart--and let's face it, most of us don't get enough of it).
How to Select and Prepare Brussels Sprouts
When purchasing Brussels sprouts, they should be all about the same size. Larger sprouts will not cook as quickly as smaller ones, and you want them to finish at the same time. Here are a few other things you should know:
- select sprouts that are firm and compact
- the sprouts should be green in color, not yellowed
- a black spot or two is OK, but if there are any more than that, just walk away
- to prepare place gently wash your sprouts in a colander with cold running water
- slice the bottom end off of each sprout; the first two outer leaves should then fall off. Discard them.
- The remainder of the sprout should be clean, green, and ready for slicing, roasting, gently frying, or even eating raw as in the first recipe below
This first recipe provides a double-shot of charisma--Brussels sprouts and kale. And since they are raw, there is no stink at all. Just crisp, crunchy, greeny goodness.
Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad
- 3 cups Brussels sprouts
- 1 large bunch Tuscan kale, center stems removed
- 1 small clove garlic
- 1/2 cup onion, minced
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Juice and zest of 2 lemons
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Thinly slice the Brussels sprouts with a sharp knife or food processor
- Thinly slice the kale.
- Whisk together the cheese, olive oil, nuts, Dijon, lemon juice and zest, and salt and pepper.
- Add the Brussels sprouts and kale and toss to coat the vegetables with the cheese/lemon dressing.
In this recipe the heat of the oven caramelizes the sugars in the sprouts and renders them sweet and savory.
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, bottoms sliced off and the first outer leaves removed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Slice the sprouts in half vertically (from top to bottom).
- Place in a bowl and toss with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Arrange in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet.
- Roast for 30 to 40 minutes or until crisp and golden on the outside and tender inside (use the tip of a sharp knife to test).
Is everything better with bacon? There are probably a few exceptions, but Brussels sprouts is not one of them. If you are still a skeptic about how tasty sprouts can be, this recipe just might win you over.
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 slices turkey bacon, diced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and sprouts cut in half vertically
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (more if you are an onion lover)
- freshly ground black pepper
- Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey bacon and cook until crisp. Remove from pan and set aside.
- In same pan melt butter. Add onions and sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Season with black pepper; return cooked bacon to the pan, toss and serve.
- NOTE: You may replace turkey bacon with real, bacon. If you do, you won't need the 2 teaspoons of olive oil and you should leave the bacon drippings in the pan.
But, in the words of Emeril Lagasse, do you want to 'step it up a notch?' Might I suggest adding the following:
- a drizzle (about one tablespoon) of balsamic vinegar
- 1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
I recently did an internet search of "how to make vegetable chips at home" and received 23,700 results. The original vegetable chip of choice (the potato) has been replaced by carrots, zucchini, yams, beets, and even kale. Why not Brussels sprouts?
Crispy Brussels Sprouts Chips
- 1 pound of Brussels sprouts
- 3 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
- sea salt for seasoning
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Peel or slice the outer leaves from the sprouts. Yes, this requires a bit of patience, but it is actually something you can do while watching TV. Just keep rotating that sprout until you get down to the ridiculously small leaves.
- Place the leaves in a large bowl; drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat.
- Spread on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer. Roast in preheated oven for about 10 minutes or until browned and crispy. Watch closely--they burn easily.
- Season with salt and serve immediately.
How to Grow Them
If you are interested in growing your own brussels sprouts, here are the requirements:
- Type of Plant: annual
- Exposure: full sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 7
- Soil: rich, well-drained
- Water: even moisture
- Days to Harvest: about 3 months
- When to Plant: start seeds 6 to 8 weeks before last frost of the Spring, or directly sow before the first Spring frost, planting seeds 1/2-inch deep and 2 to 3 inches apart. Thin to 12 to 24 inches apart.
- Sprouts, like their cabbage and broccoli cousins, are cool-weather plants; they hate hot weather.
© 2016 Linda Lum