Brussels Sprouts: They’re Not Just for Breakfast

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yeah, yeah, I’m just kidding around. I thought that would get your attention, though, and the title is a reflection of two things: (1) Yesterday’s post on seared scallops lacked sufficient humor and left me desperate for anything even remotely funny and (2) it occurred that I haven’t done much on the breakfast front on this blog yet. The humor issue I will attempt to remedy in today’s post, should the gods of comedy be so kind. The breakfast issue will need to wait until 2012, when I have more time to do it justice. In the meanwhile, these next few weeks will be dedicated to fish, festive fare, and science in the media. Salads and veggies will also make appearances, of course, like today. I have great stuff coming on all these topics, including succulent seafood dishes, strategies for holiday eating, and a shout out to The Daily Show, among others.

By the way: Did you really think I’m that much of a nutrition nerd that I seriously eat Brussels sprouts for breakfast? Come on, dude. I mean, it’s not blueberry pancakes all the time, but I’m not breaking out the crucifiers for the day’s first meal, either.

Actually, you should know that I’m rarely serious. Except about science. Then I’m serious. Okay, well, not always serious, but sincere, certainly. (And alliterative, apparently.) My students are currently reading In Defense of Food, so I need to spend a little time talking about the often ridiculously unhelpful and uninformed treatment of nutrition science in the context of the media and popular press. It’s a tricky subject, and one about which I have some, er, strong opinions. (Can you tell?) Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Michael Pollan will all be making appearances, so stay posted as we enter the final month of 2011. (Update: links here.)

Brussels Sprouts: Why the Bad Rap?

They grow on a stalk: how adorable!

Okay, on with today’s topic, those teeny tiny heads of cabbage. What? You hate them? Find them bitter? Really? I’ve made them for lots of people and they’ve been a huge hit. I’ve heard such accolades as “These are the best Brussels sprouts I’ve ever had!”  I’m trying to remember now – was there applause? Okay, that last part was hyperbole, but the roasted Brussels sprouts were the first to go at our 2010 Christmas party. People raved about them, and I’m not making that up.

(Okay, fine, my dad may have been the one making the comment about the sprouts being the “best ever,” so, well … yeah.  I think it still counts, though, in light of the other evidence. Nevertheless, don’t tell my mom; she’s very competitive, and he’ll get in trouble.)

I was thrilled with the response to my Brussels sprouts! I really had no idea how they would be received on my holiday table, as many people seem to find them loathsome. To tell you the truth, I was down right dumbfounded with how popular they were. The Mediterranean herb and olive oil poached salmon was the star, after all, and my wild mushroom paté took hours to prepare. So why all the fuss about these humble green vegetables that required 10 minutes of preparation?

I quickly reminded myself that lots of people don’t really know how to cook, especially veggies. (Or are my sprouts that good?) Please know that there is absolutely no judgment here about this simple fact, and I consider myself lucky that I had cooking classes in school and a mom who spent time in the kitchen with me at a young age to get me started. I also spent two years cooking in a vegetarian restaurant (and working an additional eight as a busgirl, waitress, host, and occasional bartender).Today, the lack of home economic education in schools combined with increasing numbers of women in the workforce and the explosion of convenience/prepared food in the supermarket are all barriers to cooking, alongside various other factors. I’m glad cooking is making a bit of a comeback, and I’m delighted to be a part of that in some small way.

Anyway, my point is that, like lots of fabulous veggies, I think they often get a bad rap because people had a less-than-stellar experience encountering soggy, gray, bitter Brussels sprouts. (Yuck!) Time for a little Brussels sprouts 101, I’d say, and then come back later this week for two outstanding salad suggestions. (Update: kale and Brussels sprouts salad is here and seared scallops with cranberry beans and roasted Brussels sprouts is here.)

The Magic Begins in a White Hot Oven

I roast vegetables regularly in autumn. In the past week alone I’ve roasted Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, pumpkin, squash, beets, and leeks. They make a wonderful side dish on their own or can be used in salads and such. Roasting is the key!

It’s really rather simple. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the sprouts in a bowl and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper; make sure they are lightly coated, but not greasy. You can also add some crushed or sliced fresh garlic if you like.

(You may recall that I talk about sodium a lot on this blog, and it’s important to watch your salt intake, especially from the major culprits of prepared, processed, and canned foods. That said, unless you have a medical issue specifically restricting salt I think that seasoning veggies with salt and pepper is pretty important to bring out the flavor, and it needs to be before they go into the oven. As I’ve said, however, people have different palates and preferences so you should make your own decision here. It may well be that you don’t want the salt, which is fine. If you do use it, remember I said “sprinkle,” which is to say that I use a few hearty pinches for the entire batch.)

Pour the sprouts onto a baking sheet and place in the oven. Set the timer for 10-12 minutes. When the buzzer goes off, take a look: they should be brown in some places, especially on the bottom. Give them a toss and throw them back into the oven for, say, 5-7 more minutes. The final cooking time depends on how big the sprouts were. I recommend tasting them a few times during the process. They should be on the soft side while still retaining their green color. Once roasted, they will be sweet, not bitter. If they are too hard and crunchy on the inside, akin to raw cabbage, they need more time; give them another mix and return them to the oven.

In less than 20 minutes or so, you’ll find yourself snacking on these sweet little veggies and wondering if you’ll have any left for your other dishes…


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Dr. P.K. Newby is a nutrition scientist, speaker, and author with expertise in all things food, farm to fork, whether preventing obesity and other chronic diseases through diet or teaching planet-conscious eating. As a health expert and food personality, she brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability to educate and inspire, helping people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Healthy Hedonism (TM) is her philosophy: Because healthy food shouldn’t suck.

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