A 2008 survey revealed that Brussels sprouts were the most hated vegetable in the U.S. Not surprising considering the number of people still traumatized after being forced to eat smelly, boiled-til-mush sprouts as a kid.
Today, however, these baby cabbage look-alikes are super trendy, roasted until sweet and nutty on restaurant menus, scattered on pizza and shaved raw in salads.
Even my veggie-averse new guy has found a recipe to love. His sister-in-law fries up cubed pancetta, adds finely-sliced sprouts and cooks them until tender, finishing the dish with toasted pine nuts, lemon juice and black pepper.
After despising them for years, Shelburne grower Brian French of Lennox Farm has also embraced the sprout, especially when roasted to a sweet, tender brown.
Though they don’t have a crop this year, Brian and his dad Bill are one of a handful of Ontario farmers watching the demand grow for these labor-intensive vegetables, which push out like little balloons from sturdy stalks up to 2 feet (60 cm) tall.
French says Brussels sprouts loved this year’s cool, wet summer, but it’s hard to encourage consumers to eat them when it’s hot outside.
With Thanksgiving and cooler temperatures on the way, that should change soon.
According to Foodland Ontario, the sprouts may have been sold at markets in Brussels, Belgium in the 1200s, hence their name, but they didn’t catch on until much later. Thomas Jefferson introduced them to the U.S. in 1812.
What’s that smell?
The sulfurous smell associated with seriously overcooked Brussels sprouts and other members of the cabbage family is associated with a compound linked to their cancer-fighting abilities.
Buy & Store
- Look for dense, firm, bright green heads. Ignore wilted, tired-looking sprouts.
- Remove and discard any damaged or yellowed leaves.
- Though available year-round from the US and Mexico, the Ontario season runs from September to November. Many say local Brussels sprouts taste sweeter and milder when zapped by frost.
- To store, loosely wrap in a paper towel and refrigerate up to a week in a plastic bag.
- If you buy them attached to the stalk, cut off the sprouts when you get home.
- Just before using, rinse under cold water and pat dry.
- Cut a thin slice off stem end and remove any brown or yellow leaves. Keep stray green leaves for salads and stir-fries.
- Cook sprouts whole, cut in half or quarters or shred. Do not overcook!
- Though many recipes call for scoring an X on the bottom of whole sprouts to promote even cooking, this step isn’t necessary.
- Test for doneness by inserting a knife tip into the stem end.
- Microwave: Cut in half and toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Microwave with 1 tbsp (15 mL) water 3 to 6 minutes until tender.
- Sauté: Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. Sauté halved sprouts until brown and tender.
- Steam halves until tender, covered, on a rack over simmering water. Sprinkle with lemon juice, salt, pepper and feta cheese.
- Roast: Cut in half and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 350F (180C), turning once, until golden-brown and tender, about 25 minutes. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan, Gruyère, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.
- Serve healthy, low-calorie Brussels sprouts shredded and raw in a salad or slaw.
- Sprouts love onions, garlic, shallots, bacon, walnuts, caraway and fennel seeds, a mustardy vinaigrette, brown butter, Swiss cheese, sage and dill.
- Brussels sprouts and chestnuts are a classic British favourite alongside the turkey.
- Roast halved sprouts with cranberries on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350F until tender, about 25 minutes. Dress with Dijon mustard, maple syrup and apple cider.
- Add to pasta, vegetable soup, pot pies and stir-fries.
- Marinate halved Brussels sprouts, bell pepper cubes and mushrooms and thread onto skewers. Grill 4 minutes on each side or until sprouts are tender.
Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Lemon-Chile Vinaigrette
Adapted from the Eating Well Vegetables cookbook, this light salad is the perfect way to use Brussels sprouts while it still feels like summer outside. You can also sauté the shaved sprouts in butter and olive oil for a yummy vegetable side.
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lb Brussels sprouts, washed and patted dry
3/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts or walnuts, chopped*
Trim stem end of Brussels sprouts and remove outer leaves. Reserve leaves for another use.
In a large serving bowl, combine lemon zest, juice, honey, red pepper flakes and pepper. Slowly whisk in oil until incorporated and thick.
Shred Brussels sprouts in a food processor fitted with the slicing disk. Transfer to serving bowl. Add onion and hazelnuts and toss gently to combine.
Makes 6 servings.
*To toast nuts, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350F (180C) oven 5 to 7 minutes, stirring or shaking pan once, until golden and fragrant. If using hazelnuts, rub with a clean kitchen towel as soon as they come out of the oven to remove the papery skin.
First published in The Toronto Star Sept. 27, 2017