Sensational Sprouts

Enjoy mini cabbages raw or simply cooked — not overcooked

Maple Galzed

Anyone who’s puzzled over the popularity of Brussels sprouts can blame bacon.

Chefs agree that bacon was behind any number of food trends over the past few years, when restaurants around the country clamored to add anything with pork fat to their menus. Inexpensive and visually impressive, Brussels sprouts provided the perfect backdrop.

“Bacon makes Brussels sprouts better, and Brussels sprouts make bacon better; they’re good friends,” says Ashland restaurateur Tom Beam.

But Brussels sprouts are indisputably a better mealtime option all on their own. High in vitamins C and K, the tiny cabbages also are packed with antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming fiber-rich Brussels sprouts helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and ward off cancer.

Resistance to Brussels sprouts remains high in some circles, however, despite chefs’ best efforts. The key to delicious Brussels sprouts dishes, they say, is pairing them with proven flavor profiles and, above all, don’t overcook them.

“Of course, no one wants an overboiled, soggy Brussels sprout,” says Kristen Lyon, chef-owner of Jefferson Farm Kitchen in Jacksonville.

“If they start to smell, you’re doing it wrong,” says Beam.

For odorless preparation and presentation, chefs like Lyon incorporate raw Brussels sprouts into recipes. Either separate the leaves, or thinly slice them — julienne or chiffonade — for a salad. A more tender texture can be achieved by massaging the leaves with salt and lemon juice or vinegar, in the manner of handling raw kale or collard greens, recently popular in Caesar-style salads.

“You could do a Cobb with Brussels sprouts leaves,” says Beam. “Put ranch (dressing) on Brussels sprouts; everyone loves ’em.”

At Pie + Vine, Beam coaxes more flavor from individual Brussels sprouts leaves by roasting them, adding a bit of bacon, lemon zest and chili flakes, then finishing them with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a side of poached, fresh pear and ricotta salata cheese. Served warm, the salad is one of four on Pie + Vine’s seasonally rotating menu.

“It’s unbelievable how many we sell,” says Beam, adding that when the salad gives way to summertime vegetables, he’ll get at least 20 complaints from customers who can’t do without it.

Such enthusiasm over Brussels sprouts wasn’t always the case, says Beam. It usually takes at least a few months for a new restaurant dish to gain a following. When he first put Brussels sprouts on his wintertime menus six years ago, they were a tough sell, although plant-based diets are more widespread among customers who live in Ashland.

“Sometimes, we have to convince people,” says Lyon.

“My generation missed out on Brussels sprouts,” adds Beam. “Kids are eating ’em now.”

Younger and older diners alike gobble up the sprouts at Beam’s Sesame Asian Kitchen, which deep-fries them and dusts them with red miso powder, which the chef likens to the effect of nutritional yeast on popcorn. Next up, he says, is dehydrating Brussels sprouts leaves in the manner of kale for crispy “chips.”

Other straightforward methods include pan-searing to caramelize the sprouts, then bathing them in a little broth, covering and braising, says Lyon. While pan-searing allows for a little more control over the cooking, roasting at high heat concentrates the flavors, says Lyon. She simmers Brussels sprouts in Indian-style curries and mingles them with root vegetables in shepherd’s pie.

“You could go spicy,” she says. “You could go sweet and savory. They’re very versatile”

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MAPLE-GLAZED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

MAPLE-GLAZED BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons maple syrup, divided
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons cider vinegar
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, for 6-8 minutes. Stir in the broth, 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, thyme and cayenne. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until sprouts are nearly tender (6-8 minutes). Uncover, then increase heat to medium-high, and cook until liquid has nearly evaporated (about 5 minutes). Off heat, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, remaining 1 tablespoon maple syrup and the vinegar until combined. Season with the salt and pepper to taste.

Servings: 6 to 8

Source: “The Side Dish Bible” by America’s Test Kitchen.

CRISP SPROUTS

Crisp Sprouts

Ingredients:

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 strips bacon, cut crosswise into thin strips
2 tablespoons red onion, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 small garlic clove, peeled and mashed with a bit of salt

Directions:

Trim root ends of the sprouts. Halve sprouts through root ends. Heap sprouts onto a baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of oil. Toss with the salt. Scatter on the bacon. Spread out sprouts, cut sides down. Roast at 450 F in the oven, tossing once or twice, until dark and crisp (about 20 minutes). While sprouts are cooking, let the chopped onion mellow in the vinegar with the sugar. After about 20 minutes, whisk in remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the crushed red pepper flakes and garlic. Toss roasted sprouts with vinaigrette. Alternatively, simply sprinkle sprouts with a bit of red wine vinegar.

Servings: 3

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