When I was about ten, my younger brother and I sat at the dinner table alongside my dad with grimaces on our faces as we peered at the foul-smelling, mushy green spheres taking up real estate on our plates. As smelly steam rudely crept into our nostrils, my mother grabbed her purse, kissed us on the heads and scooted off to her monthly neighborhood Bunko night. Before the door closed, she promised over her shoulder, “Just eat ’em, they taste like lettuce.”
A bigger lie has never been uttered.
Brussels sprouts, unarguably, have a bad rap. Especially among clans of playground-dwellers. Before I’d ever laid eyes on one, I knew the ominous veggie was no good and that I should do everything in my power to steer clear. They were the butt of jokes and the focus of books in which kids were forced to sit at the table until they choked them down. (Those books also tried to convince you how tasty and nutritious Brussels sprouts are for you, but we knew better.) I considered myself immensely lucky for never having personally experienced such a torment.
Lucky, that is, until that fateful dinner.
Pardon my french, Mama, but lettuce my ass. I’m not sure exactly how they were prepared, but based on their flavor and consistency, I would assume they were left to rot in a dumpster for a week before being heated for a million hours in the microwave.
Perhaps it can be blamed on generations of households where mothers made it common practice to boil the everliving snot out of these naturally crunchy, bright green globes until all life has departed, leaving a soggy, putrid green, malodorous mess. Nevertheless, I was not a fan.
After picking at everything else on our plates and begging my dad for probably an hour to let us feed the little buggers to the dog, I finally strategized a way to get them down. It was my only chance at freedom.
I methodically cut each sprout in half, rationed a small sip of milk for each, and, without chewing, gulped them down, one by one. As I spluttered and pleaded for armistice, aiming pathetic, dying puppy faces in my dad’s direction, he rolled his eyes, probably wishing that we’d hurry the heck up with the melodramatics so he could get on with his life. I remember a devastating moment when I realized I may come up short on milk, but somehow I made it out alive.
And for some mysterious reason, the mush balls never made a dinner appearance for the rest of my childhood. (Actually, it may have had to do with the fact that, after taking a couple bites of his own sprouts, my brother immediately projectile-vomited them back onto his plate.)
Regardless, this particular veggie has not held much interest for me until my recent recipe-reading binges. Not one to stray from the foreign, and being aware that I didn’t know squat about squat when I was a kid, I picked some up from my favorite market and tried my hand at the following recipe. To my surprise, I became an instant fan of its crisp texture, brilliant color and, being a member of the cabbage family, its vaguely broccoli-like taste.
Also like broccoli is the sprout’s cancer preventing qualities, which are preserved by steaming, roasting or stir-frying. Boiling, however, significantly reduces its cancer-fighting compounds. And mushy and useless is just no way to be.
During a recent adventure at Fairway, the king of markets in this here land, with laden with aisles of fresh, organic, and specialty products (it’s been a happy substitute for my much missed Central Market), I found a bin of beautiful gigantuan Brussels sprouts and picked out a bag full to take home. Ain’t they purdy?
Have a go and you too will see that, despite deeply instilled childhood ideology, Brussels sprouts can be your friend.
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts
- 2-3 cups Brussels sprouts, rinsed, halved and sliced
- 1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped and toasted
- 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp. Worscestershire sauce (optional)
- Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
Rinse Brussels sprouts under cold water, tearing off any discolored leaves. Chop off the tough, white stem, and halve each sprout. Cut each half into thin slices, making shredded discs. Prepare other veggies, if you’re using any (I used 1/2 cup thinly sliced cremini mushrooms and 1/4 cup sliced radish). Season with salt and pepper.
Heat butter in a pan on medium heat. Once melted, add the shredded sprouts and other veggies, tossing occasionally.
Meanwhile, in another pan, toaster oven, or conventional oven, toast the chopped walnuts for three to five minutes, being careful not to burn them.
When sprouts are slightly wilted but still bright green and crunchy, add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, tossing to coat and adding more to taste.
Add walnuts and toss to combine. Serve warm by themselves or over rice as an easy lunch, side or light dinner.
Any other ideas for Brussels sprouts? Lay ’em on me.
In the meantime, enjoy your greens… even the scary ones!