Feasting On Winter Sprouts

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Getting The Best From Brussels Sprouts

I love most winter vegetables, but am especially enjoying Brussels sprouts these days. Indeed, for weeks I have been binging on a most delectable combination of roasted sprouts with roasted sweet potatoes. I like to dark-roast the sprouts until they are blackened and caramelized. After trimming and halving them, I always add any loose leaves to the roasting pan, where they get as crispy as potato chips, with a delightful, salty crunchiness. Yummy hot or cold, they make a splendid snack (and if you eat enough of them, they even count as dinner.)

If you cook sprouts on the stove top, they are far and away the tastiest when lightly steamed or quickly stir-fried. Long cooking or boiling renders them mushy and slimy, and no amount of saucing can fix that. Yuck. I also like them shredded raw into salads and slaws, especially with raw purple-top turnips and some orange sections or thinly sliced tart apple. Add some toasted walnuts and a bit of gorgeous blue cheese, drizzle with fresh lime juice and you have a wonderful salad, rich in contrasts and layered flavors.

Give Them The Best You’ve Got

I’ve found that Brussels sprouts do best in deep, mounded beds of loamy soil amended with plenty of compost. They appreciate full sun and good drainage as well. Like most of the cabbage clan, they prefer slow, organic fertilizers like alfalfa meal, kelp, and cottonseed meal rather than high-nitrogen chemical fertilizers. I’ve found that aphids can be a pest on green Brussels sprouts, especially when soils get dry in late summer, but the red Italian sprouts seem impervious to these little pests.

Harvesting Your Sprouts

Harvest after the first frost, which mellows the peppery bite of Brussels sprouts. Pick the largest sprouts from the bottom of the stalks first, leaving the smaller, upper ones to fill out before picking them. They taste best when small and firm, so pick them young. Don’t let the sprouts get too close to flowering or they lose all their good qualities. If sprouts get too big and start to open, harvest the whole stalk for a decorative holiday table “tree” (add eggs for Easter?). They sure look festive, even when they are  no longer fit to eat.

In the kitchen, rinse sprouts well, dry thoroughly, then store in paper or mesh bags in the vegetable compartment of your fridge. For a fresh tasting treat, drizzle lightly steamed Brussels sprouts with fresh tangerine juice and stemmed cilantro, or quickly saute quartered Brussels sprouts in olive oil with chopped shallots, Kalamata olives, and capers. For a snappy slaw, shred Brussels sprouts, spritz with fresh lemon or lime juice and toss with plain Greek style yogurt.

Roasting Roots

When roasting sprouts or root vegetables, don’t use extra virgin olive oils, which don’t take well to high heat. Instead, combine a bit of fruity olive oil with high-heat cannola oil, which will give you beautifully caramelized vegetables that are darkly browned and richly flavorful but not burned.

Dark Roasted Sprouts With Sweet Potatoes

1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon cannola oil
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil (not extra virgin)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Pour oils into a baking dish and toss with sprouts and sweet potato chunks until coated. Place sprouts cut-side down, sprinkle everything with salt and roast until deep brown (30-40 minutes). Serve hot or cold. Serves at least one.

Steaming Sprouts

For finest flavor, choose small, firm, tightly closed Brussels sprouts and avoid soft, floppy ones. For best texture, cook until barely tender and remove from heat at once.

Zesty Lemon Sprouts

2 cups Brussels sprouts, cut in 1/2 lengthwise
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped finely
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/8 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon thyme, chopped&

Put spouts in a steamer basket above an inch of water and steam over high heat until barely tender (about 3-4 minutes). While they cook, heat oil in a sauce pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and lemon rind and sizzle until pale gold (2-3 minutes). Drain sprouts and add to pan with lemon thyme, stirring to coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, then add lemon juice to taste, a teaspoon at a time. Serves 4.

Brussels Sprouts With Orange Herb Dressing

2 cups firm, small Brussels sprouts, quartered lengthwise
2 cups mushrooms, quartered
1/3 cup Orange Herb Dressing (see below)

In a steam basket above an inch of water, cook Brussels sprouts and mushrooms over high heat until barely tender (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat immediately, toss gently with Orange Herb Dressing, and serve. Serves 4.

Orange Herb Dressing

1/4 cup virgin olive oil
1 organic orange, juiced, rind grated
1 tablespoon sweet rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh mint, minced
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In a jar, combine all ingredients, shake well and drizzle over sprouts or greens. Makes about 2/3 cup. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 3 days.

Gingered Brussels Sprouts

2 cups firm, small Brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 inch ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

In a steam basket above an inch of water, cook Brussels sprouts over high heat until barely tender (3-4 minutes). Remove from heat immediately and remove steam basket from pan. In a heavy frying pan, heat oil and garlic, and ginger over medium high heat and cook until barely soft (2-3 minutes). Add green onions, sprinkle with salt and cook for 2 minutes. Slice each sprout in half and add to pan, stirring to coat. Serve at once, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Serves 4.

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