Sunday, December 6, 2009

Brussels sprouts: Good Things in Small Packages

The best time to buy and enjoy Northwest Brussels sprouts is after the first frost. Like kale and collards, Brussels sprouts turn sweeter in cold weather. Unfortunately 98 percent of the commercial crops in the United States are grown and harvested in California where winters are mild. These warmer weather Brussels sprouts never attain the sweetness of local varieties that get hit by frost in fall and winter. The majority of the Brussels sprouts harvested from commercial crops are frozen.

I had never seen or tasted frozen or fresh Brussels sprouts until I was a teenager. When I found them in the frozen vegetable section, Mom wasn't interested, so I spent my own money for bitter tasting specimens that didn't win me over.

When I got a winter CSA from Willie Green’s Organic Farm one year, I tasted my first fresh Northwest grown Brussels sprouts. After that I was hooked. Iwanted to know more about these curious little cabbage relatives.

In The Whole Foods Companion, Dianne Onstead says Brussels sprouts are believed to have evolved from a variety of Savoy cabbage and is one of the few vegetables that evolved in northern Europe. They were initially cultivated around Belgium, in the late 1700s; and Elizabeth Schneider in Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini says that Thomas Jefferson was one of the first major Brussels sprouts cultivators in this country.

Today a number of Northwest farmers grow organic Brussels sprouts. I got mine (above) last Saturday at Whistling Train Farm in Kent. Nash 's Organic Produce from Sequim had a mountain of them, and their display looked so perfect and inviting. I bought loose Brussels sprouts for Patty at Willie Green's from Monroe, where I also bought celery, spinach, carrots and onions. Jeff' Miller's Brussels sprouts looked as good as I remember them from last year and I wanted to get more but these vegetables aren't keepers. They don't keep as long as savoy and green cabbages in the refrigerator.

Seeing all the Brussels sprouts at the market made me miss my old dog Hunter, who passed away a few years ago. She used to check under booths for stray produce and loved this time of year. To her, a raw Brussels sprouts was a real treasure.

Although Hunter wasn't really picky about her vegetables, Brussels sprouts are perfect when you buy them fresh, and favor bright green, smaller compact heads. Once the heads get large they can be tough, and when the leaves are loose, inside leaves begin to decay so when you cut open the sprout, you can see it going bad.

Once you've got your treasures home, if you have a dog like Finn, you'll have to put the Brussels sprouts away. Like Hunter, Finn likes Brussels sprouts raw.

Occasionally I find recipes for raw sprouts like the one I saw in the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market Cookbook that called for hot water, olive oil, Parmesan and Romano cheese and black pepper. The cheese water and oil get whisked together and tossed with washed, halved Brussels sprouts. But most recipes involved roasting, steaming, stir-frying or sauteing. I decided to check and see what recipes were out there on local food blogs since this is Brussels sprouts season, and I found this one for an Asian flavor and this one for rich almost decadent flavor.

Finn's produce inspection--Brussels sprouts, radicchio and carrots.

If you aren't sure what to do with Brussels sprouts or want something easy to make, I offer this simple recipe from my cookbook,THE NORTHWEST VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK: 200 INSPIRED RECIPES THAT CELEBRATE LOCAL FLAVORS, available from Timber Press in sping 2010:

Lemon Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4
Be patient and wait until it gets really cold for good Brussels sprouts. The secret is to sample as they cook and don't over or undercook them. Simple lemon and a dash of agave nectar or honey enhances sweet nutty-tasting Brussels sprouts without detracting from their sweet nutty flavor. If you want a lemon substitute, try raspberry vinegar or if you froze red or pink currants from last summer, add about a quarter of a cup during the last few minutes of cooking.

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cut in half
2 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1 or more teaspoons honey or agave nectar
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Steam the Brussels sprouts in a saucepan until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. While the Brussels sprouts cook, combine the butter, lemon juice, and honey or agave nectar. Toss with the Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

A golden delicious apple, Lemon Brussels Sprouts and cranberry rice with carrots.

No comments: