When it comes to cooking, there are no doubt many European countries that come to mind before the tiny kingdom of Belgium. Americans are familiar with a few culinary items from Belgium, most notably waffles, chocolate and the least popular of vegetables—Brussels sprouts.
Anyone can wax eloquent about Belgian waffles and chocolate—and many do—but not many can offer up an ode to Brussels sprouts. (Stick around. I'll do that later.)
Many mid-20th-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. Those kids then vowed never to force their own kids to eat this wicked vegetable.
I was one who kept that vow. Not a single sprout made it through our doors during my childhood.
It wasn’t until I was 31 that I finally tried Brussels sprouts. A good friend of my sister’s was visiting during Thanksgiving. I watched as 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 Trader Joe's when, lo and behold, I made another shocking discovery—Brussels sprouts grow like green jingle bells on a stalk. I felt tres chic leaving TJs 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 underappreciated leafy greens. The good news is that they come loaded with of vitamins, folic acid, iron, fiber, some protein and even protection from colon cancer in the form of sinigrin.
In the past, boiling the bejesus out of Brussels sprouts resulted in a significant loss of these important nutrients, as well as in a terrible finished product for eating.
So how to prepare Brussels sprouts now to make them as tasty as possible?
There are two great ways—roasting and sauteing. I was firmly in the saute camp, having experienced my 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 caramel apple pie.
Anyway, here is my ode to the tiny cabbage, followed by one tried-and-true 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 overcook!
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.