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Brussels sprouts overcome bad rap and attain star status

Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)


Oct. 23--I'm ashamed to admit it, but it was their bad rap that kept me from trying Brussels sprouts until well into my adult years.

But now that I'm a full-fledged fan of the cruciferous vegetable, I'm left wondering: What's the deal?

Cholesterol-free and full of fiber and vitamins and folic acid (moms-to-be, take note), Brussels sprouts are just as nutritionally sound as other members of their family, including broccoli, cabbage and collard greens.

They're delicious, too. Yes, you heard that right.

Paired with crispy bacon or pancetta or drizzled with a creamy garlic mustard aioli, bland old sprouts can be elevated to star status.

And I know it's only October but if department stores can put out Halloween costumes while everyone is wrapping up their end-of-summer vacations, I can suggest that roasted Brussels sprouts with tart cranberries and a touch of balsamic vinegar would be a beautiful and delicious -- and not to mention color-coordinated -- side dish for your Christmas dinner table.

The thing is, you do need to do something with sprouts. On their own, they're bland, even bitter. Boiling does nothing except soften their crunchiness -- and wipes out nearly all the nutrition they hold.

So maybe it was the cooking method and a lack of creativity that turned people off long ago?

Chef Michael Grayson of Ellwood Thompson's Local Market thinks so.

"I think as children, our parents tried to force-feed us (frozen) Brussels sprouts," Grayson said, and our moms probably boiled them, which is the worst thing you can do.

"They looked Army green and they were mushy and didn't have any texture," he added.

Thankfully, I knew enough not to boil the sprouts. In fact, my first stab at cooking Brussels sprouts was wildly successful, so much so that I now prepare them just about every week in our house.

Rather than olive oil, I relied on a little bacon grease to brown the sprouts for a few minutes. A small amount of water and a few pinches of brown sugar coat the sprouts in a sweet caramelizing glaze. (Maple syrup is a good substitute for the brown sugar.)

Then I throw the cooked bacon back into the pan when the sprouts are done to soak up the syrupy goodness.

I could stop there and be completely happy.

But as Grayson points out, there are other equally simple recipes that make Brussels sprouts pop with flavor.

He suggests roasting whole sprouts in the oven with nothing more than olive oil and salt and pepper. Or for added flair, separate the leaves first.

"Because they're unfamiliar with (Brussels sprouts), people think they're bitter and they shy away from them," Grayson said, or they make the other cardinal mistake and "try to mask them with way too much stuff."

He suggested slicing them and eating them raw. Mix the raw shreds with your favorite vinaigrette and you've got something that resembles homemade coleslaw.

I ventured out from the familiarity of bacon and brown sugar and happily found that balsamic vinegar and thin slices of red onion add a toothsome bite to ordinary Brussels sprouts.

But pan-roasted sprouts topped with a drizzle of garlic mustard aioli probably follows bacon and brown sugar as my new favorite Brussels sprouts dish.

You can buy the aioli or make your own, combining one part of your favorite spicy mustard to two parts mayonnaise, garlic (to taste) and a dash or two of lemon juice. Adjust to taste and add salt and pepper.

Those who love Brussels sprouts really love them.

But for everyone else, ignore their historically bad reputation and give Brussels sprouts a try. Or if it's been awhile, try them again in a new way.

You might just find a new appreciation for them.

(804) 649-6945

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and

Brown Sugar

Makes 3-4 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts

4 or 5 strips bacon

2-3 tablespoons water or as needed

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Trim and clean sprouts and cut in half. Set aside.

Fry bacon in a skillet or saucepan over medium heat until crispy. (You can either cut bacon into pieces or leave whole and break into pieces later.) Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Set aside.

Discard all but enough of the bacon grease to coat the bottom of your pan.

Add sprouts to the pan and saute 3 to 4 minutes over medium heat until bottoms are browned. Add water, about 1 tablespoon at a time, along with brown sugar and stir to dissolve sugar. Cover and cook 5 to 8 minutes or until sprouts have softened and the sugar has caramelized.

Add more water throughout as necessary to keep the sprouts from burning.

Taste and adjust sweetness and add bacon pieces back into the pan. Add salt and pepper.

Take off heat and serve.

Holly Prestidge

Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic

and Cranberries

Makes 9-12 servings

3 pounds Brussels sprouts

1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 cup balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Trim and clean Brussels sprouts, then cut them in half if desired (or you can leave them whole).

Arrange on two baking sheets and toss with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast 25 to 30 minutes or until brown.

Combine balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cooking to reduce until very thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the roasted sprouts, then sprinkle with cranberries and nuts, if using.

Toss to coat and serve immediately.

Adapted from

Garlic Mustard Braised Brussels Sprouts

Makes 3-4 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

3 whole shallots, peeled and sliced

3/4 white wine

3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock

2 tablespoons half-and-half

2 tablespoons garlic aioli mustard (Trader Joe's or your favorite)

Trim sprouts and cut in half. In a large pan, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat. Place halved sprouts flat-side down in pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook 5 to 7 minutes (without turning over) until bottoms are browned.

Add shallots, wine and chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium, cover pan and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until sprouts are fork-tender.

Remove sprouts from pan and put into a serving bowl.

Add half-and-half to the pan and cook 2 to 3 minutes over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally. Whisk in garlic aioli mustard. Taste to see if sauce needs more mustard, salt or pepper.

Pour sauce over cooked sprouts and serve.

Adapted from

Brussels Sprouts with Vinegar-Glazed Red Onions

Makes 3-4 servings

1 pound Brussels sprouts

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

1 small red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Trim outer leaves and stems from Brussels sprouts.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add salt. Meanwhile, prepare an ice-water bath.

Add Brussels sprouts to boiling water and cook until tender but still bright green, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and plunge sprouts into ice-water bath to cool.

Drain well and cut in half.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon each butter and oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts and cook, tossing occasionally, until they are brown and crisp on the edges, about 3 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to a large bowl. Cover to keep warm.

Add remaining butter and oil to the same pan over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook, tossing occasionally, until wilted and transparent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add vinegar (stand back to avoid the fumes) and stir to loosen any brown bits on the bottom of pan. Cook until vinegar is reduced and the onions are glazed, about 30 seconds.

Combine onions with Brussels sprouts and serve.

Adapted from


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