Brussels sprouts have had a rough time of it over the years as far as popularity goes! It seems that people fall into two distinct camps – those who love them and those who strongly dislike them. Understandably, when brussels sprouts are boiled and overcooked, they have a mushy texture and give off a bitter taste and sulfur-like smell which is quite unappealing. But in more recent years, varied and better preparation methods have elevated brussels sprouts in the ranks of favorability, even securing annual placement on many holiday menus.
These baby cabbage-like vegetables became popular in the 16th century and earned their name in Brussels, Belgium. In the 18th century, French settlers brought them to Louisiana. Today, California is the largest producer of brussels sprouts in the United States, yet many farmers across the country grow and sell them locally.
While available year-round in grocery stores, brussels sprouts are at their peak in cool weather. The kiss of the first hard frost brings out the sweetness in these gems, making them staples for fall and winter menus.
Related to cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale and collard greens, brussels sprouts pack a nutrient dense punch. Nutrition research show that they are surprisingly an excellent source of protein, as well as high in vitamins A, B, C and K, niacin, iron, calcium, folate, beta-carotene and fiber. These nutrients help decrease the risk of certain serious, chronic diseases such as heart disease, certain types of cancer, and diabetes, as well as support bone, eye and skin health.
- Fun Fact: A 2.8 ounce serving (about a heaping 1/3 cup) of brussels sprouts provides four times more vitamin C than an orange!
Brussels sprouts are sold either on the stalk or, most often, loose by the pound. The stalks prolong freshness and help the sprouts retain moisture. Look for brussels sprouts that are bright green in color with tight, compact leaves. Those with loose leaves are generally older and yellow, spotted or wilted leaves indicates deterioration, so should be avoided. Smaller sprouts are usually more tender and sweeter than large sprouts.
Fresh brussels sprouts will last approximately 1 – 2 weeks in the refrigerator crisper drawer in a plastic bag or container. They will begin to lose their sweetness the longer they are stored, however. Store them unwashed and trimmed to avoid decay.
Their shelf life can be extended by blanching and freezing, which preserves them for 2 – 3 months. For further information, check out – How to Freeze Brussels Sprouts by Spruce Eats.
When ready to cook brussels sprouts, follow these steps:
- WASH and DRY – Remove and discard any outer leaves that are yellow, spotted or brown.
- CUT off tip of the tough bottom stem
- MAKE AN X on the bottom if leaving whole for cooking — or – SLICE in half or quarters, depending on size
COOKING and USE
The key is to cook them until tender, not overcook. Here are some great ways to prepare and serve brussels sprouts to maximize their nutty, sweet flavor:
- SHRED to use raw in salads or slaws
Cut sprouts in half or quarters. Toss with a small amount of avocado oil or other high heat oil. Spread in a single layer on a lined baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper or other desired seasoning. Place into a preheated 425°F oven and roast until browned on the exterior and tender on the interior, about 18 – 25 minutes, depending on size.
Fill the bottom of a saucepan with 2 inches of water. Cover and bring to a boil. Place cleaned and trimmed Brussels sprouts in a steamer basket and insert into the pot. Turn heat to medium, cover pot, and allow to cook for 6-8 minutes or until just tender. Season with salt and pepper or other desired seasoning.
- BRAISE (stove top)
Lightly brown the brussels sprouts in a small amount of oil in a heavy bottom pan heated over medium heat, about 3 – 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Add enough broth or wine to cover the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper or other desired seasoning. Cover pan, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, until just starting to become tender. Remove the cover, stir, and cook until the liquid is evaporated. Brussels sprouts centers should be tender but not mushy.
Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add the brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper or other desired seasoning. Cook, stirring frequently, until brown on the edges and tender in the centers, about 8 – 10 minutes. If becoming too brown and not yet tender, add about ¼ cup of water to the pan and cook until water has evaporated.
Preheat a grill to medium. Partially cook the brussels sprouts by placing them in a large, microwave safe bowl, then heating in the microwave on high for 3 minutes. When cool, sting the sprouts onto skewers, stem to top, leaving about ½ inch space between each sprout. Brush lightly with olive or avocado oil, then season with salt and pepper or other desired seasoning. Place the skewers onto the hot grill, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Turn skewers and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
A simple squeeze of lemon or other citrus just before serving adds brightness to the sprouts. Seasonings and additions that compliment brussels sprouts include garlic, chives, green onions, herbs, salt, pepper, paprika, sweet curry, bacon or pancetta, nuts, dried fruit, cheese, balsamic vinegar, honey, and maple syrup. Pair brussels sprouts with other cool weather vegetables, meats, fish and seafood, legumes and whole grains for interesting side dishes or as part of a main course, soup or stew.