My mother always encouraged me to eat my Brussels sprouts. As an incentive, she would boil the little cabbage heads to within an inch of their soggy lives, slather them with cheap oleo margarine and liberally salt and pepper them.
More often than not, they would simply sit on my plate, usually next to a puddle of mashed potatoes, staring up at me and daring me to choke them down. Eventually, Brussels sprouts were removed from the family menu.
In hindsight, I know now that my mother’s error was not in her intent, but in her execution. The advent of new, more appealing recipes and my own increased health awareness have led me to better appreciate just what well-prepared sprouts can deliver from both culinary and nutritional perspectives.
Along with cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts are now a Thanksgiving Day side dish mainstay at our house, and I can’t wait for this year’s feast to show my appreciation to one of the vegetable kingdom’s most nutritional offerings.
Brussels sprouts are a cabbage, of the same species as cultivars like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and traditional cabbage — and, indeed, they grow in Belgium and the other European low countries. In North America, they are cultivated everywhere from Canada’s Ontario province to Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, although the majority come from the state of California.
Nutritional research has shown Brussels sprouts to be an excellent source of vitamins C and K, the latter of which improves blood clotting, as well as more moderate amounts of B vitamins and minerals. When steamed, Brussels sprouts can more effectively bind together bile acids in the digestive tract, which can help lower cholesterol. The vegetable’s high levels of glucosinolate also offer some level of protection against cancer.
When done right, there is nothing about Brussels sprouts not to like — and their cruciferous characteristics match or surpass the health benefits of broccoli, kale and kohlrabi. If you are still struggling with the little green cabbages, here are some recipes that can help put the joy back in your side dishes. Each has its own unique flavor profile to augment whatever you may be serving this holiday season.
Bacon Brussels Sprouts
1½ lb. Brussels spouts trimmed. (small sprouts remain whole, large sprouts are halved)
3 slices bacon, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown bacon in medium skillet over medium-high heat, then remove and pat clean with paper towel. Clean the pan and add the olive oil. Stir in shallots and sauté 1 to 2 minutes.
Add Brussels sprouts to oil, season with salt and pepper and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until sprouts begin to soften. Add chicken broth, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 10 minutes until sprouts are tender, then transfer to a serving dish and top with bacon crumbles.
Brussels Sprout Hash
4 tbsp. butter
¾ lb. shallots, sliced
3 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 tbsp. sugar
Course kosher salt
Ground black pepper
2 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed
4 tbsp. olive oil
1½ cup water
Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add shallots and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Stirring occasionally, sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Add cider vinegar and sugar, then continue sautéing for about 3 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to bowl and set aside.
Clean and trim Brussels sprouts. Cut each sprout in half through stem. Slice each half into 1/8-inch strips.
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add Brussels sprouts and sauté over medium heat for 5 minutes or until sprouts begin to brown. Add water and continue cooking over medium heat for another 3 minutes. Add reserved shallots, toss until all ingredients are hot, then serve.
Maple Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Walnut Garnish
1½ lb. Brussels sprouts
2 tbsp. maple syrup
½ cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
¼ cup olive oil
¾ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
Trim Brussels sprouts, removing any loose or discolored leaves. In a large bowl, toss the sprouts together with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the coated sprouts in a baking pan to roast in an oven preheated to 375 degrees.
Roast for 15 minutes, stirring with a spoon to even out the caramelizing of the sprouts. After 30 minutes, stir in the maple syrup. Roast the sprouts for another 15 minutes or until they are fork tender, for a total roasting time of about 45 minutes.
Add the toasted walnuts to the sprouts, toss and serve.
Michael Muckian is an award-winning Madison-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in multiple local, national and international publications. In addition to business and finance topics, he also writes about food, wine, travel, theater, music and visual arts.