“You want me to make what?” I’m no stranger to veggies. In fact, I always make a point to put out balanced meals for my family. And I take a very traditional approach – each dinner has a protein, a starch, and a veggie. This is how I was raised, and this is how I’ve raised my kids. I think it has served them well. No question, I’ve been faced with the “I’m not eating that” or “I hate spinach” moments. But my philosophy has always been “you get what you get so don’t throw a fit.” (Well, that was when my kids were much younger. Glad those days are over!)
So, when I started dating my husband several years ago, you’d think it wouldn’t have fazed me when he asked me to make Brussels Sprouts. I thought I had perfected nearly every vegetable side dish known to man! But the truth was, I had never made Brussels Sprouts! Never. Not once. And they actually intimidated me a bit. (Especially when after asking if I would make them, he followed up with “my mom used to make the absolute best Brussels Sprouts!”) Yep, I was intimidated. I wasn’t even really sure what Brussels Sprouts were. Some odd genetic experiment between a broccoli, cauliflower, and a cabbage? Should I buy them while still on the stalk, or after they’ve been cut off? Should I get the small ones or the big ones? And how the heck do I cook them?
Well, the challenge was on. Not only did I need to figure out the answers to all those questions, I needed to ensure I came up with The Best Brussels Sprouts Recipe Ever! My lawyer brain kicked into high gear and I researched and researched. I must have read several dozen articles, recipes, and commentaries on Brussels Sprouts. It turns out that although they likely made their first appearance in Ancient Rome, they were originally cultivated in Brussels (now there’s a shocker!), and gained widespread popularity throughout Europe in the 1500s. Nearly all of the Brussels Sprouts in the U.S. today are grown in California, and a whopping 85% are grown for the frozen food market (I’m not exactly a fan of those!).
Now for the cooking part of the challenge… After trial and error (and error, and error), I’ve learned a few things. Walnut sized Brussels Sprouts produce the most consistent and flavorful results. The baby ones are really cute, but seem to lack some flavor, and the really large ones are a bit difficult to cook to a consistent texture. I tried cooking them whole (hard to make those tender without overcooking them, and there’s really nothing worse than overcooked Brussels Sprouts – bitter and Yuck!), shredded (great for salads, but not awesome for a satisfying stand alone side dish), and leafed (that attempt turned to mush in a big hurry).
I boiled, baked, braised, sautéed, caramelized, and broiled them with mixed results. But finally finally I came up with a technique that worked every single time. And it’s one of the most basic ways to cook them. Sauté in butter, olive oil, salt, and pepper until they start to brown, then add some chicken broth (veggie broth if you’re going for a truly vegetarian option), and braise them (top with some slivered almonds if you really want to get fancy). Easy as that! It produces tender, nutty, flavorful, warm and satisfying nuggets of happiness in each bite. Until then, I had no idea that Brussels Sprouts were so good! I knew I had a winner. Brussels Sprouts worthy of presenting to my relatively new boyfriend whose mom made the absolute best ones!
Fast forward several years…. not only did Paul love my Brussels Sprouts (and eventually marry me :)), our kids (and my sister’s kids, since I cook for them too – read about that here) all loved them. The most shocking end result is that I’m pretty sure if you ask all of our collective kids (13 in all) what their favorite veggie is, they will say Brussels Sprouts. So when someone asks you to tackle something that’s a bit scary and intimidating, embrace it. You may surprise yourself with the results!