Opinions on Brussels sprouts resemble the political landscape in which we unfortunately find ourselves: 100% polarized. Think about it. When have you ever seen someone ambivalently shrug at the mere mention of these pint-size cabbages? You either hear a warm, fuzzy coo or a disgruntled shriek, and nowhere shall the two meet.
I don’t understand it personally, as I have yet to meet a vegetable I have not liked. But loads of people out there beg to differ. Some are pretty darn vocal about it.
Pulitzer Prize-winning American author and columnist Dave Barry had this to say about them: “We kids feared many things in those days – werewolves, dentists, North Koreans, Sunday school – but they all paled in comparison with Brussels sprouts.”
Political satirist and journalist P.J. O’Rourke shared downright contempt. “A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”
And if targeted, public scoff wasn’t enough, Brussels sprouts have a wider PR problem to boot.
I am basing this on the vast number of food bloggers and recipe sites that offer apologetic introductions to the sprout recipe they share. The wording varies but the gist is always the same and goes something like this, “I know, I know. Brussels sprouts. Yuck, right? Well, I absolutely hated those dreaded little green beasts myself until THIS remarkable recipe made me see the light. Now I have to play referee at the dinner table as little Johnny and little Suzy jockey over the last coveted sprout.”
And yet I understand the Brussels sprouts dilemma intimately because they didn’t fare much better in my own home at first. My husband Erik, one of the most open-minded people I’ve ever met, was pretty categorical on the subject. “Let’s just pretend they don’t exist,” he muttered with tight lips.
As it turns out, he just had never eaten well-prepared Brussels sprouts. Shoved on his plate plain, boiled and with that bitter, hard core still attached, they could hardly be called beguiling. They were also usually mushy, overcooked and reminiscent of fermenting cabbage. Sometimes, just to mix it up and keep things interesting, they appeared on his plate bland and rock hard. It certainly explains the tight lips.
I took his almost defiant resistance to Brussels sprouts as a personal challenge to make them ridiculously irresistible. I solicited the help of the winning triumvirate of bacon, roasted chestnuts and Parmigiano-Reggiano to do so. Yes, I know. I cheated. Is it even possible not to like anything that contains enough bacon, roasted chestnuts and Parmigiano Reggiano? The ensemble was certainly a ‘gateway’ recipe sure to have all my loved ones hop on board of the Brussels sprouts love wagon. And it did the job.
Inevitably, after many satisfying portions of this rich and savory dish, we all began to crave a little teensy weensy variety. I know I personally had a hankering for something that celebrated their subtle sweetness and light cabbage-like flavor without using heavy hitter ingredients like bacon. Sometimes all they need are some breadcrumbs and onion powder, or some chili garlic paste, to knock your socks off.
All Brussels sprouts ask is to be cooked properly, which really means they are begging to not be overcooked. It is what brings out that unpalatable sulfur-like taste and aroma that has given them a bad rap throughout the years, after all. So keeping that in mind, braise, roast, and sauté away.
That way, we can leave the polarizing to the politicians.
making spicy crispy brussels sprout chips
Pre-heat the oven to 425°F.
Prep 1 ¼ lbs. of Brussels sprouts by first cutting off the hard part of the stem at the base of the sprout.
Also remove any discolored or spotted outer leaves.
To separate the leaves from the sprout, cut off a thin slice from the base of the sprout…
Doing so will cause the outermost leaves to fall off.
Continue to slice small sections of the base of the sprout to continue to separate the leaves. Do this until you reach the dense ‘heart’ of the sprout. Save these hearts and roast them along with the chips. You will get around 6 cups of ‘chips’ and around 5 oz. of tender sprout hearts.
In a large bowl, measure out the 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (add more or much much more, depending on your preference for heat.
I have little ones in the house so I take it easy on this very powerful, strong and extremely tasty condiment)
Mix well with a small whisk and reserve three tablespoons of the oil/garlic paste mixture for sprinkling on top of roasted chips. Now add the sprout leaves and hearts to the bowl and mix well until every leaf is covered with the glaze.
Ten minutes before roasting the sprouts, place the baking tray in the oven to heat up. Once the 10 minutes are up, remove the tray from the oven and transfer the sprout leaves and hearts onto the tray tray, arranging them quickly in a single layer.
You will hear a nice, happy sizzle and think you’ve stumbled into an Asian noodle shop because of the unbelievable soy- and garlic-infused aroma.
Place tray back in the oven, lowering the temperature to 400°F. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the leaves are crispy and dry. Serve immediately to enjoy them at their crispy best.