Of all the vegetables, Brussels sprouts might be the most maligned. They are often described as sodden or stinky, bitter and unlovable. I say it's all slander. Brussels sprouts by nature are bright, firm, and pleasantly vegetal. Only when they are overcooked do they develop such disagreeable qualities.
The first time I saw Brussels sprouts growing on their three-foot tall, heavy stalks, I was smitten. The numerous buds were so dramatic and gorgeous that I almost couldn't bear to cut them from their stalk. Pre-packaged sprouts tend to be less fresh and less sweet than those sold still attached to the plant. Look for whole stalks in farmers' markets during the fall and winter months. They are especially popular around the holidays, but there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy them as part of a weeknight dinner.
Try slicing the sprouts in half, tossing them with a couple of tablespoons olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, then roasting them in a hot oven until just tender. Brussels sprouts make a terrific partner for nuts, smoky meats, and dried fruits. They're also particularly tasty sautéed with bacon and balsamic vinegar. Brussels sprouts belong to the family Brassicaceae, along with collards, cabbage, broccoli, and kale. All members of this family, righteously nutritious and full of dense, earthy flavor, seem to benefit from a good dose of fat. Cook Brussels sprouts in butter, coat them with heavy cream, or serve them with a soft cheese, and they become little orbs from heaven. However you choose to prepare your sprouts, err on the undercooked side, when they barely yield to a fork, and you'll never again think of them as anything other than delightful.
Brussels Sprouts Salad
This salad is a variation on leeks vinaigrette, a traditional French dish. The dressing, made from mandarin juice, mustard, and mild vinegar, is quite delicate so it doesn't overpower the vibrant, fresh flavor of the Brussels sprouts.
½ pound Brussels sprouts
1 small leek
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
The zest and juice from 1 mandarin
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon mild vinegar (such as champagne vinegar, rice vinegar, or sherry vinegar)
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, pull apart the individual leaves of each Brussels sprout. Slice away the stem-end to reach the inner leaves. There should be about 6 cups of leaves total. When the water is boiling furiously, blanch the leaves for 10 seconds. Drain, then dry thoroughly by whirling them in a salad spinner or spreading them out on a kitchen towel.
Thinly slice the white and light green parts of the leek. Transfer to a bowl of cool water. The leeks will float and any dirt will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Drain and rinse.
Melt the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter foams, add the drained leeks, ¼ teaspoon salt, and lots of black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
In a large bowl, whisk together the mandarin zest and juice, mustard, vinegar, and cream. Add the cooled leeks and stir to combine. Using your hands or two large spoons, add the Brussels sprouts and toss to coat evenly with the dressing. Taste for seasoning, adding a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice if needed.
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