Brussels sprouts: redemption and reconciliation

As a child of the 70s and 80s, as a child of the east coast, as a child of people who thought vegetables grew conveniently in either cans or freezer bags, there was no threat more terror-inducing, no promise more likely to inspire nausea, than Brussels sprouts being served for dinner.

Before circa 2010, I had never had Brussels sprouts that didn’t come out of a freezer bag. I believed Brussels sprouts were a tragedy of nature on par with food allergies, Donald Trump, or snow in July: JUST WRONG. I tried, and often succeeded, in being culinarily open-minded after I went vegan in 2004, but I could not bring myself to even contemplate eating the tiny cabbages of wilty, tasteless death. I couldn’t do it. I was more likely to intentionally eat okra cooked by someone with unjustified frying pan ambition (i.e., almost everyone, at least when it comes to okra) than to eat Brussels sprouts.

Brussels sprouts constitute, I would think sadly to myself, nothing less than an abomination of biblical proportions.

And then something magical happened: I ate some Brussels sprouts cooked by a genius; someone who didn’t see vegetables as an enemy in a war of attrition; someone who was not philosophically opposed to seasoning.

My taste buds didn’t agree to engage with the hated cabbagelet until 2010, but maybe a year or two before that, my defenses started to weaken. I saw Brussels sprouts in their natural form: on a vegetable club that could double as a small ornamental tree and a lethal weapon.

You better recognize.

You better recognize.

“Oh-ho,” I thought, “that looks really damned cool. Too bad I’m not eating it.” But something was happening, and so when in 2010 hubby and I found ourselves ordering dinner in the tragically now defunct Calico Cafe, I ordered the entree that proudly proclaimed its Brussels sproutiness. I feared, both for my taste buds and my sanity, but the dish looked scrumptious. The sprouts didn’t look like the chefs had ever even heard of freezer vegetables, or the east coast, or the 70s (except the cool parts, like “More Than a Feeling” and The Muppet Show). The Brussels sprouts looked like they rocked.

So, I did it, I ordered them. And I heard the angels singing in concert with the guitar solo of the millennium. I’d never felt more justified in my love of hyperbole. Or eating, let’s not forget the eating.

Since then, Brussels sprouts have slowly but surely been finding a permanent spot in my ever-widening kitchen repertoire. You know what’s galling as all hell? It’s not hard to cook them, and cook them to be super-damned tasty. So, about those freezer bags of the noble vegetable dumped into boiling water and then served in an advanced state of structural breakdown: Damn them to everliving hell. Double-damn the people who think this isn’t murder, sacrilege, and misanthropy rolled up into a tasteless, toxic meatball.

Brussels sprouts and I are fully reconciled. We’re friends. And I want to share the love so, yes, some recipes for your edible edification. It all starts with this, your basic roasted garlicky mini-cabbages:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Garlic, modified slightly from Vegan With a Vengeance, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, p. 125.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, washed and halved (or cuts in thirds if they’re on the large side)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F. Toss everything together in a bowl, then spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes, flip them over, then put back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Done and done.

Sure, you can just eat these either as a side dish or straight from the baking sheet (ahem), but don’t limit yourself. These bad boys are dinnertime gold on top of a hardy salad, and especially amazing on pizza (but slice them into thirds or quarters for the latter option).

And then there’s the chili. Yes, for real. Chili with Brussels sprouts is the bomb diggity, and an excellent way to get through more chili and like it, even at the end of Farch (which is the death of hope, creativity, pigment, and the love of chili):

Chipotle Chili with Sweet Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts, Appetite for Reduction, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, p. 238-39

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2-3 chipotles in adobo, seeded and chopped
  • 1.5 lbs sweet potatoes (2 average sized), peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 12 oz Brussels sprouts, quartered (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 19 oz can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • Fresh lime juice to taste

Directions

In a soup pot over medium heat, saute onion in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic, coriander seeds, and oregano and saute a minute more. Add remaining ingredients (except for lime juice). Mix well. The sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts will be peaking out of the tomato sauce, but don’t worry, they will cook down.

Cover pot and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for about half an hour, stirring often, until sweet potatoes are tender but not mushy. Squeeze in lime juice to taste and adjust any other seasonings. Let sit uncovered for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Damn right.

Now then. Go forth and redeem the misunderstood Brussels sprout. It’s a noble mission, and your fellow humans–not to mention your belly–will thank you.

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10 thoughts on “Brussels sprouts: redemption and reconciliation

    • Try them, try them! It’s all because we come from families that boil the bloody shit out them–roasting makes all the difference! (Garlic helps too.)

  1. I was of exactly the same mind until a grew some, Fresh off the stalks in November and sauteed with garlic and chestnut pieces they tasted like heaven – and I had never known they could be so wonderful. Took me 45 years to find out.

  2. I must admit seeing them in their natural state makes them look a lot more edible. That plus your description just might push me to try them.

    • Do it! Try the roasted ones I suggest above. At worst, you’ll have spent a couple bucks and half an hour to find out that you think I have weird taste in food. 🙂

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