Brussels sprouts are trendy

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Thanksgiving has passed. The ground is covered with a blanket of crusty snow. Local farmers’ markets have moved indoors. Late November’s chilly weather is peak season for Brussels sprouts, which will disappear from area farmers’ markets in a month or so.

These small green balls polarize opinion like religion or politics. Once prized by Roman chefs, they became a national dish in Belgium, and took their English name from that nation’s capital. Then, in the 20th century, growers developed varieties that could be machine-harvested. These new varieties had a strong, bitter taste. At the same time, 1950s housewives often boiled them to a soft, tasteless mush that smelled like rotten eggs due to high levels of sulforaphane. Soon, the mini-cabbages became maligned. That’s unfortunate, because they can be delicious, nutritious, easy and fast when prepared correctly.

Today, the once-shunned vegetable is regaining popularity, its rise driven by television and restaurant chefs like Mario Batali, Jim McDuffie and Thomas Keller. Restaurants serve sprouts shaved in salads, on pizza, even for breakfast with srichacha sauce alongside a croissant egg sandwich. “Food trends start in restaurants,” says Diana McClean, marketing director for Ocean Mist Farms, a major vegetable producer in Castroville, California. “People taste it and they want to try it at home.” Home cooks are finding that gentler-tasting varieties freshly harvested from home gardens or farmer’s markets are delectable both cooked and raw.

Brussels sprouts have become the veggie of the year! In many homes this year, they took on the ubiquitous Green Bean Casserole, competing for the green vegetable spot on the Thanksgiving table. They’re lighter – minus the calorie and chemical laden cream of mushroom soup – and tastier. If you still served green beans this year, you will have another chance to feature sprouts with your Christmas turkey and cranberries.

With increasing consumer interest, the once-spurned vegetable is becoming a staple again. That may be due to their versatility; there is almost an infinite number of ways to prepare them, and new recipes are sprouting up all the time. Roasted sprouts are very popular, but they’re also great braised, sautéed, grilled, stir-fried or deep-fried into chips. They can be steamed if you’re careful not to over-cook. You can even eat them raw in salad! Thinly sliced, tender sprouts have delicious crispness and crunch.

Their flavor is sweet, nutty and earthy; their texture, crisp and tender. They can be seasoned with bacon or pancetta, garlic, mustard, balsamic vinegar, cheese (Parmesan, Cheddar, Gorgonzola or smoked Gouda all work well), with sautéed mushrooms; maple syrup, or simply with salt, pepper and a bit of butter or olive oil. They can be combined with carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, chestnuts, currants, grapes, apples, nuts.

In addition to glamorous side dishes served alongside holiday turkey or ham, Brussels sprouts make great weeknight meals: casseroles, soups and skillets. Try them with eggs in a quiche or frittata; in a skillet with sausage or apples and cheese; in pasta with alfredo or cheese sauce; or added to a main-dish grain salad with bits of ham, bacon, hardboiled eggs or cheese.

Home cooks want something easy and nutritious – and Brussels sprouts fit the bill. They’re packed with nutrients like vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, folic acid and dietary fiber, and can help protect against colon and stomach cancer. 5,000 years ago Chinese physicians used sprouts as a medication for bowel problems. Like other cruciferous vegetables, they contain nitrogen compounds called indoles that help fight cancer and heart disease. And a cup of cooked sprouts has just 60 calories.

Markets have responded to the need for convenience by offering pre-packaged sprouts that can be thrown in the oven, on the grill or into a skillet and be ready to eat in minutes. Shop carefully, as quality and freshness can vary. Smaller sprouts tend to be sweeter than large ones. Avoid any that have turned yellow or brown; they should be bright green with light bases. To test for freshness, rub a few of them together in your hand; they should make a squeaking noise. But if you really want them fresh, get them still on the stalk.

So even if you think you hate Brussels sprouts, give them another try. You may find that fresh sprouts prepared and seasoned well are delicious autumn (and winter) vegetable superstars.

Roasted sprouts with

winter squash,

nuts and apples

This is a beautiful green and orange side or main dish. The sweet squash offsets the pungent sprouts.

Ingredients:

8 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved or quartered

1 Delicata squash or 2 cups cubed Butternut squash

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 onion

1 apple

1/2 cup walnut pieces

Few sprigs of fresh thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1 clove garlic

1 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese (preferably fresh grated), optional

1 Tablespoon walnuts (preferably toasted, could substitute other nuts), optional

1 Tablespoon dried cranberries (craisins) or dried cherries, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Trim sprouts, rinse and cut in half or quarters. Cut the Delicata squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and fibers, then cut in 1/2-inch cubes. Peel the onion, and chop coarsely.

In a bowl, combine sprouts, squash, and onion. Add olive oil and toss to coat all the pieces. Spread in a single layer or a rimmed cookie sheet or baking pan. Roast 10 minutes.

Peel and core the apple. Rinse and chop the thyme.

Remove from oven, stir in the apple and walnuts, and roast for another 10 minutes or so. Sprouts are done when they begin to brown and crisp on the edges. Depending on the size of your sprouts and how small you cut them, this can take from 20 to 40 minutes.

Crush garlic with salt. When vegetables are done, place in serving bowl and stir in the garlic salt and fresh thyme leaves. Add cheese and / or craisins (dried cranberries), if using.

Serve hot as a side, or combine with cooked pasta, couscous or quinoa and a little balsamic vinegar for a warm winter salad. Add chopped cooked ham, chicken or turkey, if you wish.

Brussels sprouts and Chicken skillet

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast or equal amount chicken tenders, or 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken

1 onion

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound Brussels sprouts, shaved and thinly sliced (about 4 to 5 cups)

1 tart apple, such as Granny smith

1/4 cup dried cranberries

2 Tablespoons Greek yogurt

1 Tablespoon sweet mustard

Directions:

Heat oil in large skillet. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper, and brown quickly over medium heat for one to two minutes. Flip and brown other side for one to two minutes, or until barely cooked through. Set aside. Lower heat. In same skillet, saute chopped onion, sprinkled with salt, about 10 minutes, stirring often.

Slice sprouts thin. Core and slice apple. Add sprouts and apple to the onions and continue stirring and frying for 2 minutes. Add dried cranberries or raisins and stir. Stir in reserved chicken, mustard and Greek yogurt.

Serve over pasta or cooked grain.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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