Thursday, January 17, 2013

Read This, Then Eat

A vegetable lover, I had always thought that Brussels sprouts are miniature cabbages, so I avoided them. No amount of Polish heritage would convince me to like cabbage, so it followed that I would not like Brussels sprouts. It took prodding from a friend, a desire to eat more heathfully and a more adventurous spirit to try the tight little light green spheres. And, boy, am I glad I did!

My discovery of these little nuggets of delight coincided with the roasted vegetable craze, so my introduction to Brussels sprouts meant a sweeter, earthier, caramelized side dish. Eager to incorporate my newfound veggie buddy into a main dish, I searched for such, and found one that is light and hearty, tasty and healthy. (See accompanying recipe.)

As with many vegetables, we baby boomers were “treated” to overcooked, mushy, colorless versions of the real deal by our mothers, many of whom really had no idea how to cook. In my house, the idea was to get food on the table for seven people by 5:24 p.m., when my father walked in the door from work.

We were pretty much fed the basics in the English household, Route 5, Vernon: spaghetti and meatballs, pork chops and applesauce, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and a culinary delight my mother called slop (brown ground beef, then add frozen corn, mix in ketchup, and voila!). Other than the usual garden bounty—my mother was a terrific gardener--I remember iceberg-lettuce wedges topped with French dressing, green beans out of the can and lots of frozen corn.

Not being critical here; my mother probably made the vegetables she hoped we kids would eat, and Brussels sprouts would not have been one of those.

Even though they look the part, sprouts are not small cabbages, although they are, like other cruciferous vegetables—broccoli and cauliflower—members of the cabbage family. They taste similar to cabbage, while also tasting slightly milder and denser in texture. Their origins are thought to be in 16th-century Belgium, hence the name “Brussels.”

But it doesn’t matter where the delightful little globes came from as long as they wind up in your mouth. You can cultivate your own Brussels sprouts—they grow on a long stalk—or you can just buy some at the grocery store or farmers market. In addition to selling them whole, in bulk, some groceries sell them already cleaned and cored, or even sliced into a chiffonade for quick preparation in the aforementioned accompanying recipe.

Brussels sprouts for sale at Syracuse's Regional Market.     
When shopping, look for bright green sprouts and a tight, compact head. Yellow or wilted leaves are a sign of age. Select sprouts that are similar in size to allow them to cook more evenly. Only wash sprouts before preparing, not before storing; they’ll get mealy in a hurry.

Bob Langkammerer is the regional executive chef for Wegmans supermarkets in Syracuse. “We are selling more and more Brussels sprouts,” he says, “especially in prepared foods, and a lot has to do with how we flavor and season them, as well as their health benefits, which are phenomenal.” Among them:

High fiber content (more than 15 percent of daily requirement) that lowers cholesterol and aids digestion.

Antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and A, as well as manganese protect the body’s cells from intruding free radicals.

Anti-inflammatory agents like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin K are abundant.
One cup of Brussels sprouts contains more than 161 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C, more than 20 percent of vitamin A and almost 25 percent of folate, necessary for maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

He reports that he attended store openings in Maryland and Pennsylvania recently and those stores have vegetarian bars, similar to the Asian or homestyle self-service foods bars. As part of the grand openings, that bar served roasted Brussels sprouts. “And I got more bang for the buck sampling those,” he says. “People were heading right to the pan and digging out what was left.”

He believes the preparation method meant the difference to those shoppers. “Roasting brings out the caramelization in the Brussels sprouts, making them sweeter and giving them a nice, wholesome flavor. Just boiled or steamed, they really don’t taste the same as roasting.”

As with all produce, Langkammerer stresses that you thoroughly wash before preparing. You may have to core each sprout since the stem can be a bit fibrous and tough to chew and, depending on the size, you may need to cut each in half. “Toss with oil, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, and roast in the oven. They taste great, and they’re very simple to prepare.”

Once you’ve mastered the basic roasted Brussels sprout, try these recipes for more variety.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Carrots and Parsnips
Recipe courtesy of Bob Langkammerer, regional chef for Wegmans Syracuse.

½ pound organic carrots, peeled and cut on the bias into bite-sized pieces
1 8-ounce package Brussels sprouts, washed and quartered
1½ pounds parsnips, peeled and cut on the bias into bite-sized pieces
1½ tablespoons basting oil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons Wegmans savory finishing sauce (grocery department)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss vegetables with basting oil in large bowl; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread in single layer on baking sheet. Roast on center rack of oven, about 30 to 40 minutes, until tender. Toss with finishing sauce.

Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Noodles
This recipe is from Taste of Home magazine. It is categorized as a side dish, but there’s no reason this casserole can’t take the starring role at dinnertime. Serve with an orange vegetable and tossed salad, and you have a nice-looking plate.

1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, quartered
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter or margarine, divided
1 cup sour cream (can be light)
1 cup small-curd cottage cheese (can be light)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
3 cups medium egg noodles, cooked and drained
½ cup soft bread crumbs

Place the Brussels sprouts and a small amount of water in a saucepan; cover and cook until tender. Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute onions in 2 tablespoons butter until golden brown. Remove from the heat; stir in the sour cream, cottage cheese, garlic, paprika, salt and caraway seeds. Drain sprouts; add to onion mixture with noodles. Spread into a greased shallow 2-quart baking dish. Melt remaining butter and toss with bread crumbs. Sprinkle over casserole. Bake, uncovered, at 375 degrees, for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta
Another Wegmans recipe; if you’re a vegetarian, feel free to omit the pancetta, an Italian bacon.

1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces diced pancetta (deli department)
¼ cup shallots, peeled and chopped
1 14-ounce package shaved Brussels sprouts (or shave your own with a mandolin)
¼ cup basting oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Wegmans apple vinegar spritzer (grocery department)

Add olive oil and pancetta to large skillet; cook on medium about 5 minutes, until pancetta begins to render fat but is not browned. Add shallots, Brussels sprouts and basting oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, on medium, 8 to 10 minutes until vegetables are nearly softened but not browned. Remove from heat. Add apple vinegar spritzer, toss and serve.

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