Love them or loathe them, you can’t get away from Brussels sprouts at this time of year. Believed to be a descendent of the wild cabbage, we have been eating these tasty and nutritious winter greens since the 18th century.
I planted several seedlings (variety Brodie F1) back in early June, but sadly most succumbed to pests and the plants have been dwindling as the months have gone by. However, I managed to keep a few plants unscathed, ready for the Christmas table and a couple more meals on top of that. Some of the stems have lovely tops which have developed into small cabbages with pretty pink veining, so I have them to cook as well.
I was told a story a few years ago by a lady who had been struggling to get her little daughter to try a Brussels sprout. There was something about the humble sprout that her daughter wouldn’t entertain even though she would eat every other green vegetable without hesitation. Her mother, in exasperation, said that they were simply tiny cabbages grown by the fairies, and from then on, her daughter ate them with gusto!
Pick sprouts when they are small and firm as larger sprouts have less flavour. Smaller sprouts will be crisper in texture and have a sweeter, nuttier taste. Don’t forget the tops – these can be cooked just liked cabbage. Ideally pick sprouts just before cooking, trim away any loose leaves and leave whole if small, or halve if bigger. Rinse in cold water, and then cook in a little lightly salted, boiling, water for a few minutes until just tender – they should have some texture when cooked, and not be slime-green coloured, full of water and soggy like the ones I remember from my school dinners – yuk!
Here are a few of my favourite ways to serve fresh Brussels sprouts:
- Brussels sprouts go well with blue cheese, goat’s cheese, chopped nuts and seeds, crisp bacon, chorizo, chilli, sage, thyme, garlic, onion, orange, wholegrain mustard, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and balsamic vinegar.
- Serve small cooked sprouts on a bed of crushed, seasoned peas in Yorkshire puddings and flood with gravy or a tasty cheese sauce.
- Shred or roughly chop sprouts and stir fry with shredded leeks and very finely sliced white cabbage. Finish with a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce and some melted redcurrant jelly.
- Stir fry chopped sprouts with finely chopped garlic and add sultanas, a pinch of chilli, cinnamon and cumin, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
- Blanch 300g prepared larger sprouts in boiling water for 1 minute and cool quickly in cold running water. Drain well, cut in half or quarter, and mix with wedges of eating apple, fresh sage leaves and finely chopped onion. Toss in 1 tbsp each of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey or maple syrup. Spread across a lined baking tray, season well and cover with foil. Bake at 200°C (180°C fan oven, gas mark 6) for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes until tender.