Learning to Love Brussels Sprouts

brussel_sprouts.jpgWhat exactly is the root of all this antipathy toward Brussels sprouts? Is it the color? Sometimes it's not easy being green. Or yellowish-green.

Is it the smell? You know what I'm talking about. Boil Brussels sprouts on your stove top for 10 minutes and the neighbors will begin to wonder which farm animal you recently adopted.

Is it your mother's fault? If she served mushy, water-logged, brown Brussels sprouts when you were a kid, it's not your fault that you hate them.

Let me attempt to ingratiate Brussels sprouts with you, especially since many of you will likely be cooking and/or eating them next week on Thanksgiving.

Though Brussels sprouts have been around since ancient times, they are named after the city of Brussels in Belgium, where they have been cultivated (and appreciated) since Medieval times. Brussels sprouts are members of the brassica family, so they're related to broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kolrabi, none of which are going to win any popularity contests. That's why Brussels sprouts taste like cabbage and are sometimes referred to as "mini cabbages."

5 Tips for Liking Brussels Sprouts:

1. Select brightly colored Brussels sprouts that are free of black spots or other blemishes, which indicate they are old.

2. Choose smaller Brussels sprouts, which tend to be nuttier in flavor and less "cabbagy" tasting.

3. DO NOT overcook them. Overcooked Brussels sprouts release more sulfur, which causes that smell. You know the one.

4. How you cook Brussels sprouts makes a big difference in how they taste. First par-boil Brussels sprouts and "shock" them. Partially boil the sprouts for 2-3 minutes, then plunge them into a bowl of ice water; this will stop the cooking process and maintain the sprouts' vibrant color. Then you can saute them on the stove top or roast them in the oven.

5. If you are invited to someone's house for Thanksgiving this year, offer to make the Brussels sprouts, so you don't have to suffer Aunt Maude's sadly boiled, mealy sprouts for another year. Everyone will be thankful for that.

And for you food bloggers out there, here's a secret for building traffic. Come up with a killer Brussels sprouts recipe. Believe it or not, of all the posts I have written, one that continually elicits reader emails is Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Lemon. Many people have emailed me thank you notes, saying that this "sunny" version of Brussels sprouts has become their new favorite. I even had one woman say she subscribed to my feed because of that recipe.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears
Makes 6 servings

brussels.jpgSweet honey and pears act as a foil to the earthy Brussels sprouts. It's a simple yet elegant dish that is ideal for a holiday dinner.

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 large Bartlett or Bosc pears, unpeeled, and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
salt and several cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large saucepan boil Brussels sprouts for 2 minutes; drain.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients (except walnuts) and toss until vegetables are well coated. Lay vegetables in a single layer on a tin-foil lined baking sheet (for easy clean-up). Roast for 20 minutes, turning once, or until vegetables have a few brown spots.

Place cooked vegetables in a serving dish. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and some extra salt and thyme. Serve immediately.