Monday, March 14, 2011
The Dreaded Vegetable?
There's been a lot of fattening blogging going on around here. That's why this week I'm turning to a more healthy alternative (thanks Steph), even though it's a thing most often met with dread when mentioned. I'm referring to...Brussels sprouts!!! [Sound effects: scary howling noises, people screaming!]
(Something I noticed when proofreading restaurant menus was part of my job description is that the word most commonly misspelled on menus today is Brussels sprouts. I can't tell if this is in direct relation to people's dislike of it, or that it's just a weird thing to spell.)
Like many, the first time I tasted Brussels sprouts was horrifically bad. It was in the lunchroom of a publishing company I worked for in Princeton. The company was so wealthy (and generous) that two staff chefs cooked for us minions Monday through Friday. One day lunch consisted of poached chicken breast and boiled Brussels sprouts. Yuck. The vegetable was bitter and bland at the same time. Because I don't like wasting food, I ate every bit of the big heap of sprouts they ladled onto my plate. It was many years until I'd try them again.
But here's a fact. Once people get over their fear of their first misguided taste of this cruciferous-family (related to cabbage) vegetable, Brussels sprouts are delicious...as long as they are eaten in any way other than boiled.
At some point after the boiled Brussels sprouts incident, I was lucky enough to find a recipe for "Hashed Brussels Sprouts" in the cookbook of New York's famous restaurant Union Square Café. If anyone knows how to bring out the best in vegetables, it's this place. You slice the sprouts, sauté them in olive oil, add lemon and wine and voila: a fantastic version of Brussels sprouts (and here is the recipe).
Even more irresistible—and more findable in restaurants—is this side dish offered on most Tom Colicchio Craft restaurant menus: "Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon." This is the version that created a Brussels sprouts-loving monster out of me, and I haven't doubted the vegetable since. Therefore, I strongly urge any Brussels sprouts haters to try them prepared in this way. To get you started, here's a version of that recipe.
Finally, I read about this uncooked Brussels sprouts salad in a 2005 issue of Gourmet magazine. It comes from the kitchen of the famed Jonathan Waxman, who was recently a contestant on "Top Chef: Masters." Mr. Waxman cooked in the 70's at Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse—where they say California cuisine was born—and today he cooks at the amazing Barbuto in New York City. His "Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad with Fresh Walnuts and Pecorino" is now my favorite incarnation of this "dreaded" vegetable, hands down. It's a marriage of I-can-eat-this-forever and healthy, as long as you're all in for eating the good fats in olive oil and walnuts, and don't over-do the shredded cheese (which is very easy to do).
So think about trying Brussels sprouts next time you see them on a menu, or give one of these recipes a try. If a food is this good for you and can be something you crave, it should be celebrated.