I’ve been championing Brussels sprouts for many moons.
Some time in the 1990s, when I was food editor for the Toronto Star, I penned a piece on “underdog foods” in which I named those that have a bad rep, some of them for no apparent or justifiable reason.
The list included these items: Liver, prunes, turnips, tofu, tapioca – and Brussels sprouts.
Ever one to support the misfit and maligned (something that dates back to my childhood as a secular Jew growing up in a white-bread, white-collar suburb of North London, England), I immediately came to the rescue of these culinary underdogs.
I sang their praises and offered a recipe that would endear each of these foods to anyone with a palate.
Liver has traditionally suffered from over-cooking (except by the French, bless their hearts) rendering it grainy, dry and akin to a leather sole in texture. I endeavoured to save its reputation by offering a recipe for chicken livers (my favourite) done with tomatoes and a little red wine vinegar.
As for prunes, I cannot bear to hear them criticized and can see no reason they bring a smirk to many a face other than their laxative properties – not a bad thing in my mind. In that article, I served up the dessert my mother used to make for my birthday when I was a child (okay, I was always a tad eccentric): the prune souffle from the Joy of Cooking.
Which brings me back to Brussels sprouts.
This cute little veg is basically a baby cabbage but with more taste. Maybe it’s the abuse they’ve long suffered, especially at the hands of old-school British cooks, in the shape of over-cooking. Admittedly, an overcooked brussels sprouts is a nasty thing. But one cooked properly is a beautiful thing indeed.
I recently raved about the blanched and quartered sprouts in the magnificent salad I ate at chef Lynn Crawford’s lovely Toronto eatery: Ruby Watchco. Since then, I’ve been adding them to mine.
I’ve also noticed Brussels sprouts popping up on other menus and generally – dare I hope? – coming into vogue.
So when I saw a recipe for them from David Chang, he of New York restaurant Momofuku fame, in the latest issue of “O” (Oprah’s) magazine, I bought a copy and took to the stove. Chang says this is the dish he brings to his family’s annual Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a hit there – and it was a hit with me. Enjoy!
Brussels Sprouts with Asian Vinaigrette
I used Kikkoman ponzu sauce instead of fish sauce, with good results.
3 tbsp canola oil
2½ lb/1 kilo Brussels sprouts, preferably small, tough outer leaves removed, halved
¼ cup Asian fish sauce
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp lime or lemon juice
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 to 3 small fresh chiles, such as bird’s eye, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro stems, plus 1 cup leaves (from about ½ bunch)
⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
½ cup puffed rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F.
In large, oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Add Brussels sprouts; cook, stirring occasionally until sprouts start to turn golden and are barely tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven; roast until all are deep golden brown and tender, about 15 minutes more.
Meanwhile, in large heatproof bowl, whisk together 2 Tbsp. water, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, vinegar, chiles, and garlic to make a vinaigrette. Stir in cilantro stems and mint; set aside.
Add hot Brussels sprouts to vinaigrette, toss well, and transfer to a large serving platter. Toss with cilantro leaves and puffed rice, if using, and serve.
Makes about 8 servings.