The forerunners of the modern Brussels sprouts were wild cabbage-like plants with small green buds growing along the stems. They were already being cultivated in ancient Rome, but they are named after Brussels because that’s where they became popular in the century.
Brussels sprouts may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of holiday fare, but they have had an honored place in Britain for centuries, alongside the roast goose or game. Perhaps it was the British tendency to cook vegetables to death that have given Brussels sprouts a raw deal. The solution, naturally, is to eat them raw, or very lightly sautéed.
Best Fresh off the Stalk
First, make sure you have the freshest sprouts possible. If you can get a freshly harvested whole stalk, with the sprouts still attached, all the better. At a local farmers market you may see these Dr. Seuss-like plants 3 to 4 feet tall, with the elegant, miniature cabbages spiraling up the stalk. Sprouts will keep well this way, and you can break the buds off the stalk as needed.
For a raw Brussels sprout salad, shave the sprouts whisper-thin, and then toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Or get more festive by mixing and matching with toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts, or hazlenuts), fruit (dried cranberries, fresh apples, or pears), and even cheese (shaved Parmesan, cheddar, or fresh ricotta for a creamy, slaw-like salad).
Healthy and Tasty
Brussels sprouts, like all of the cabbage family, are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and folate. They also contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, both of which are believed to block the growth of cancer cells.
But the best reason to eat them is that they taste terrific. Even former sprouts-phobes may not recognize what they are eating when you serve them this Brussels sprout leaves sautéed in butter.
3/4 lb Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons butter (or olive oil)
1/4 cup chopped shallot (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley or thyme (optional)
salt and pepper
Cut about 1/4 inch off the stem end of each sprout, then begin peeling leaves. When you get to the point where it’s difficult to peel farther, trim off another 1/4 inch and continue removing leaves. Repeat until you have a bowl full of fluffy leaves.
Place a frying pan over medium-high heat; when hot, add butter, shallots, sprout leaves, and an herb of your choice. Stir until sprout leaves are bright green and slightly wilted, about 3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss and serve.