Under-appreciated veggies: Brussels sprouts
Obviously I’m writing this because I have Brussels sprouts in hand now! They are a favorite winter veggie in my kitchen but I think they are sometimes under-appreciated and under-used by those of us doing single-serving cooking, possibly because the come in packages that contain too many. Some of these may be underused because we’ve had them prepared in ways that did not really let them make their best impression. I thought I’d address some of these, especially the cool weather crops–starting with one that seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it vegetable: Brussels sprouts. Until I started cooking for myself, I was in the hate-it camp. Most of the Brussels sprouts that I had were over-cooked, mushy, and bitter; in a word, nasty!
Fortunately, I’ve discovered ways to make Brussels sprouts a desirable vegetable because they have some excellent qualities: they are inexpensive and readily available in the wintertime. They are nutritious–I’ll not give you all the details here, but you can find all that sort of information from the Nutrient Database Laboratory. They are versatile–you can use them as a substitute for cabbage in some recipes, and (a concern if you’re cooking for one), they store well in the fridge.
First, storage: Brussels sprouts often come prepackaged in a mesh bag that’s about a pound or so. That’s a lot of Brussels sprouts if you’re cooking for one and had to use them all at one time. Fortunately that’s not the case–they’re small, separate units so you are not trying to preserve a cut vegetable (always more difficult)–big bonus for those cooking for one. I store mine with a paper towel that has been dampened and then squeezed mostly dry, in a partly open zipper-lock bag in the vegetable drawer. I’ve seen suggestions (The Victory Garden Cookbook–see bibliography) that the flavor gets stronger with storage. I’ve not found that to be a problem, but that may be because I do keep my fridge really cold, and the damp paper towel helps even out moisture. However, if you do find that you don’t like the taste after they’ve been stored for a few days, the other option of something to do with the rest of the bag would be to blanch and freeze part of them. Blanching is simple: bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it heavily (after it’s come to a boil), and put in the Brussels sprouts for about 2 minutes; then “shock” in an ice bath, drain, and freeze. (The purpose of the blanching is to stop enzyme action, and it keeps the color bright and green.)
Now for cooking them. Personally I’m not a fan of boiling veggies as a method of cooking them (other than blanching before freezing)–there are so many nutrients that are water soluble! So my preference is for some cooking method that does not involve putting them into huge quantities of water to cook completely. So that leaves steaming, stir-frying, roasting, and microwaving. The best way to avoid having “nasty” sprouts is NOT to overcook them.
I’ve added them to soups, used them instead of cabbage with braised pork, and added them to one-dish meals like roasted potatoes with sausages, and lots of other things. They lend themselves well to improvisation and substitution.
Recipes for steaming, blanching, roasting and microwaving can be found in a number of cookbooks so I’ll not post here, except for the recipe that I just made to go along with my baked sweet potato.
For more information on how to cook and specific recipes, I suggest you might want to check The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash (see bibliography). As I was sitting here at the computer writing this, my e-mail notification popped up and said it had received a notification of a new post from domestic diva M.D., a blog that I think is worth following for anyone who cooks. I was surprised to see that the subject was roasted Brussels sprouts.
Since it was about lunch time, I was preheating the oven to bake a sweet potato (a very large sweet potato so that I’ll have some for another use as well). I read the recipe and grabbed the last of the Brussels sprouts from the fridge. I didn’t have the full amount, but this is a recipe that does not depend on the quantity–which is great for us solo cooks. Since I was baking my potato in a 350 ° F oven, I did alter the cooking time just a bit–I popped the Brussels sprouts prepared as in the recipe into the oven for about 45 minutes right along side my sweet potato, and there was my colorful, nutritious lunch! This is the kind of improvisation that can make cooking for one easy–many recipes aren’t dependent on how many you have or how many you want to cook and eat right now.
You should check out this recipe. I’d not used garlic powder with them before, but it was yummy and much easier to use than minced garlic. One of the comments on this post suggested adding Parmesan cheese–I did not try that because I’m out of Parmigano-Reggiano (horrors!), but it sounds like something that would taste great!