Do you have a favorite vegetable? An antioxidant-rich green you’re near-evangelical about? A vitamin-packed food you cannot feed your family enough? One maybe they’re half sick of, but they know better than to mention it because of the inevitable lecture on the awesomeness of this vegetable and your belief that clearly you’ve failed them as wife, mother, friend, and companion simply because they don’t understand the glory that is this versatile, vaulted vegetable?
I have one of those: the brussels sprout.
If you have eaten even one meal in our house, chances are I’ve served it to you. If we’ve just met and are still exchanging pleasantries and clarifying how to pronounce each other’s names, chances are I’ve already mentioned it. If we’re old friends (and by now, we are, right?), it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’ve already told you at least eighty times that the brussels sprout is the single most awesome vegetable in existence.
With little exaggeration.
Consider the brussels sprout: doesn’t it have a fabulous name? Did the first little brussels sprout come from brussels? Has it traveled all over the world on a fabulous Eurorail trip and picked up its sophisticated taste and fancy multi-layeredness in the most foodie-famous hot spots in Europe? Has it studied green perfection under its older sibling, the cabbage, and perfect roundness from the architectural glories all over the Old Continent? Does it wear a little beret and tie its scarf just so in this vegetable-fantasy cartoon? Obviously, the brussels sprout is multi-lingual. Any vegetable this sophisticated would have to be.
In actuality, brussels sprouts made their first appearance in America thanks to none other than Thomas Jefferson, which means it’s not only a great vegetable that could star in its own foodie fairytale, it’s also an American history lesson.
And a science lesson! Have you ever seen how brussels sprouts grow? I wasn’t in on this mystery for years, so if you’re already in the know, forgive me, but this is too cool not to share. After domestic eons of buying them pre-shucked and pretty in the produce section, my mother came home one day with what I could only describe as a magical wand of vegetableness: brussels still on the stalk. It’s thick and heavy and comes right out of the ground like a stepladder of sprouts.
Now, Bill and I grow them against the fence in our backyard. They’re a hard vegetable that even I am incapable of killing (we have a moderately successful edible garden in our back yard, and every item in it is a testimony to hardy, hard-to-kill plants when I’m involved) and they add the most beautiful green trim to the yard as they grow. And they hang around all summer – you don’t harvest them until after the first frost. I’m admittedly a little sad to pick them when the time comes, just because they’re so cute and green out there, but they are so delicious on my plate.
The best thing about the brussels sprout is how hands-down usable it is. It’s bright and sharp when boiled, bitter enough to offset even the richest meal. It’s sweet when roasted and so easy-going and comforting you almost want to make mac-and-cheese just to go with it and curl up by the fire with a good book. It can be crunchy or it can be soft, it can be loud or quiet. It can be dressed up or served simply. Basically, it’s your foodie best-friend: whatever you need it to do, it will do, and it will do it with flying (and ardently green) colors.
I realize not everyone likes to wax poetic about their favorite vegetable, but that’s just because they haven’t found the right brussels sprouts recipe yet. Brussels are like books: when you say you don’t like them, it’s just because you haven’t found the right one yet. And as a brussels sprout evangelist, it has been my mission in life to make sure everyone finds their brussels sprout recipe.
I like to serve mine boiled and tossed with a mustard-caper butter, a recipe I gleaned from Deborah Madison’s incredible ode to farmers’ markets, Local Flavors. One of my good friends lives down the street from a resto in New York that serves them fried with a chili caramel glaze. If that doesn’t get you drooling, consider the sweet and garlicky “green candy” from Boston’s Myers + Chang. Momofuku Ssam Bar serves theirs boiled or roasted with a spicy mint sauce. They are great in a slaw with hazelnuts and pomegranates and delicious with red quinoa, almonds, and apricots. They’re also pretty perfect popped straight out of the oven and tossed with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.
And for the doubting Thomas, there’s always the old stand-by: brussels sprouts with bacon. That one is guaranteed to be a hit even with the most anti-vegetable eater at your table. After all, there’s bacon in there.
Plus, brussels sprouts are incredibly easy to get on the table. Rumor even has it that the best brussels sprouts to cook with at home are actually the ones in the frozen food section. (Thank you, Matthew Amster-Burton for taking this from rumor to tried-and-true tip!) That means that not only are they perfectly delicious, they’re virtually season proof. And a great thing to stock up the next time you’re at the store.
Tell me: What’s your favorite thing to do with this littlest cabbage, or, shall we say, the petit chou chou? It’s the only vegetable I can think of that makes a fantastic dinner, side for dinner, leftover breakfast, and pet name. Even though technically there’s another french name for brussels and petit chou chou just means little cabbage, we all know that the best little cabbage around is the brussels sprout. I’m not sure you could ask for a better veggie endorsement than that.