Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Veggie Tale

One of my favorite experiences is to discover I that I now like something that I previously hated. It usually happens when the original item is re-imagined in some way. For example, capri pants. I grew up disliking them; they made short folks look stumpy and taller people look mis-proportioned. They were a bit too short to be proper pants and too long to look like anything other than a piece of clothing left in the dryer for an extra 20 minutes. Bad, bad, bad.

But then, one day a few years ago, someone brought them back...but ever so slightly changed. Now capri pants can be almost any length -- just past the knee, mid calf, a few inches above the ankle. They are cut more flattering now, in better fabrics. The new lengths and new design make them adorable. I wear them all the time -- denim capris to run errands, linen capris to the beach, tailored wool capris to work. The transformation is complete - I now love what I once disliked.

The same thing recently happened in my life with a lowly crucifurous vegetable. Brussels sprouts. I despised them as a child. My mom boiled them until they turned into a bitter, sulfuric smelling, pile of mushy vile green vegetable matter. They smelled revolting and tasted only marginally better. She only made them about twice a year, but those few days lived on in my memory during the other 363 days. It was the only vegetable that I ever disliked.

Recently I have revisited the sprout. A few months ago, I was in a roasting phase -- I had roasted every root vegetable and potato that had crossed by path. I was itching to try something new and inspiration struck, as it often does, at the Farmer's Market. For some reason brussels sprouts looked good. They had dainty heads, tightly packed, tiny leaves, and a gorgeous bright green color. I bought them on whim, still not sure that I liked them. Honestly, I hadn't had them since I was about 17 years old.

Once home, I read a few recipes, brainstormed for a while, and then settled on roasting. I wanted to like brussels sprouts and I wanted to roast something. It seemed like a good plan. Luckily, I was right. I tossed them in olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and garlic. I roasted them on high heat until they cooked through and began to caramelize. They were wonderful -- tangy and a bit sweet, with a hint of bitterness tempered by the bright note of mustard.

I repeated this process a few times -- I didn't want to tempt culinary fate. I liked brussels sprouts for the first time and I was sure that messing with the system could only lead back down the road to mushy, smelly side dishes.

However, once brussels sprouts were on my radar I kept noticing new recipes. One in particular kept catching my eye -- sauteed shredded brussels sprouts. The same recipe littered the web with just a few differences. Some used apple cider vinegar, some bacon, and others poppy seeds. The basic recipe was the same though -- shredded brussels sprouts, sauteed with some acid and some oil, and cooked for just a few minutes. Finally I couldn't resist the description of the crunchy ribbons of vegetables balanced with sour and a touch of fat, and I had to try it.

Here is my version of the recipe. And, you must believe me, though I know I tend to speak in superlatives, but these are the best brussels sprouts that you will ever eat. They are amazing -- both soft and crunchy, tangy and tart, rich and light, and unlike any other brussels sprouts imaginable. They don't even really taste like brussels sprouts, and I don't mean that in a bad way. They are transformed by the shredding and the sauteing into a vegetable with a whole new flavor and texture. Seriously, try these.

The World's Best Shredded Brussels Sprouts (no, really) -- serves 3 -4


--splash of olive oil
--1/2 onion, diced
--1 clove garlic, diced
--salt and pepper
--1 lb fresh brussels sprouts
--3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
--1/2 cup chicken broth
--1/4 cup pine nuts, preferably toasted


1) Remove any discolored leaves from the sprouts. Cut off any remaining stems. Use either a food processor, a mandolin, or your knife to shred the sprouts into fine riboon. (Essentially you just slice them into thin rounds and the layers separate into ribbons as they cook. )

2) Heat a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan. Saute the onions, garlic, and salt and pepper for a few minutes.

3) Add the brussels sprouts, apple cider vinegar, and chicken broth. Put a lid over the pan (or a piece of foil) and allow the sprouts to steam for about 3 minutes.

4) Take off the lid and stir as the liquid cooks off (about 2 more minutes). Be sure to stir regularly during this time to allow even cooking and to fully separate the shreds.

5) Add the pine nuts, and toss to distribute them. Taste a piece of brussels sprout -- it if it still a bit crunchy and starting to brown, it is ready. If not, let it saute for another minute and taste again.

To serve:

Pile on a plate with the rest of your meal. Look around in wonder at your dining companions as you taste these delightful sprouts for the first time. Go back for seconds.


Resist adding bacon or lots of oil to this dish. These delicious sprouts aren't meant to taste meaty and fried. These are best light and crunchy, with just a hit of richness from the splash of fruity olive oil accented by the sweet sourness of the apple cider vinegar. Don't allow smokey bacon or oil to obscure the delicate blend of flavors -- you'll regret it! However, be sure to add the pine nuts, they are an integral part and add an important layer of flavor and crunch.

As I served them. The yummy sprouts are nestled next to meatless meatballs swimming in homemade chicken gravy, on a bed of wheat noodles. Healthy, hearty comfort food at its best :)

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