Love Those Brussels Sprouts (really)

 

This odd duck was another discovery for me in the good taste and nutrition categories. So many people say “eew”, but that’s probably because they’ve been overcooked. If prepared correctly, these mini cabbages are savory and satisfying. And, like other veggies that can take the cold, Brussels are sweeter after the frost hits.

While the origins of Brussels sprouts are unknown, the first mention of them can be traced to the late 16th century. They are thought to be native to Belgium, specifically to a region near its capital, Brussels, after which they are named. They remained a local crop in this area until their use spread across Europe during World War I. Brussels sprouts are now cultivated throughout Europe and the United States. In the U.S., almost all Brussels sprouts are grown in California.

In our region it’s best to transplant in early summer to midsummer at least 90 to 100 days before the first frost date. For summer harvest, you must plant transplants of an early, heat-resistant variety in very early spring, but sprouts maturing in hot weather or under dry conditions are more likely to be bitter.

Commercial gardeners remove the leaves to accelerate harvest, but you don’t need to do this in your home garden. Some believe that the sprouts develop better if the lowermost six to eight leaves are removed from the sides of the stalk as the sprouts develop. Two or three additional leaves can be removed each week, but several of the largest, healthiest, fully expanded upper leaves should always be left intact on top to continue feeding the plant. I just remove the ones that look done and leave the rest. Some plants got so top-heavy one year that I had to stake them as I did the tomatoes earlier in the season.

Brussels sprouts are grown much like the related cabbage and broccoli. Nitrogen fertilizer and water during the heat of summer are very important, as is insect control. The most common problems are aphids, cabbage worms and diseases (e.g., downy mildew, black leg fungus and black rot bacteria). Some ideas for natural pest control:

1. Grow flowering plants nearby that attract and harbor beneficial insects. These 'good' insects prey on many common garden insect pests. 2. Homemade spray remedies have been used with good results to control harmful insects. They usually involve noxious (but non-toxic) ingredients such as garlic, cayenne, stinging nettles or horsetail which are diluted in water and blended to be sprayed on the plants. Some simple formulas include: (1) for Soft-bodied insects (mites, aphids, mealybugs): Mix one tablespoon canola oil and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Shake well and pour into a spray bottle. Spray plant from above down, and from below up to get the underside of the leaves. The oil smothers the insects. Neem Oil, which comes from the neem tree, a renewable resource from India. It is organic and can be used to kill or repel many of the pests that attack Brussels sprouts (and other crops). It’s also good for houseplants, bedding and potted plants, trees and shrubs, lawns, yards and landscapes. (2) for mites and other insects: Mix two tablespoons of hot pepper sauce or cayenne pepper with a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Let stand overnight, then stir and pour into a spray bottle and apply as above. Shake container frequently during application. (3) for fungal diseases: Mix two tablespoons of baking soda into a quart of water. Pour into a spray container and spray affected areas. Repeat this process every few days until problem ceases. (4) for insects and fungal diseases: Combine one tablespoon of cooking oil, two tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of Ivory soap into a quart of water. Pour into a spray container and apply as above. Remember, though that sprays which kill harmful insects will also kill beneficial insects. Use these homemade remedies selectively, only spraying the infected plants. Apply them early in the morning or just before dark. Re-apply after a rain.

Unlike most green vegetables, Brussels sprouts are high in protein. Although the protein is incomplete—lacking the full spectrum of essential amino acids—a serving of whole grains will make them complete. As a member of the cabbage family, Brussels sprouts are a cruciferous vegetable. Current research suggests vegetables in this group offer protection against some forms of cancer and their high fiber content promotes colon health and helps prevent diverticulosis and colon cancer. Other plusses include high vitamin C (the body’s primary water-soluble antioxidant) which supports immune function and lessens the risk of heart disease or stroke. Brussels are also high in vitamin A and beta-carotene, both help defend the body against infection and promote supple, glowing skin. Folic acid helps nervous system cells to develop in a fetus, if one’s on the way, and it has been said Brussels protect against inflammatory polyarthrisits, a form of rheumatoid arthritis.

Storage and cooking:

The fresher the sprouts, the better the flavor, so refrigerator storage should not exceed a day or two. Remove any damaged or irregular outer leaves and store fresh unwashed sprouts in plastic bags in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. The best home preservation method, though, is freezing. As with any vegetable, Brussels sprouts will need to be blanched prior to freezing.

Since the leaves cook faster than the core it’s good to cut an X in the bottom of the stem when cooking them whole. As a rule, if they’ve lost the bright green color they’re overdone and have lost most of their nutritional value as well. Depending on size, cooking time should not exceed 7 to 10 minutes, whether steaming, braising or boiling. Here’s a recipe that I did partially and it’s great:

 

 

Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Honey Mustard Dressing

(from the O Magazine)

 

Dressing:

3 lemons

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 TBSP Dijon mustard

2 TBSP chestnut honey (or just regular honey)

1 TBSP whole grain mustard

2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

 

Vegetables:

½ pound fresh chestnuts

2 containers (10 oz each) fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed

8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

 

  1. To make dressing: In a small saucepan cover 1 lemon with water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until soft, about 1 hour, turning the lemon occasionally. Remove lemon and let cool. Cut lemon in half and with a teaspoon scrape out pulp, leaving just the peel; finely chop the peel. Squeeze 4 TBSP juice from 2 lemons. In a bowl, mix lemon peel, juice, olive oil, Dijon, honey, wholegrain mustard, thyme, salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.

  2. To prepare the vegetables: With a paring knife cut an X in a flat side of each chestnut shell. In a saucepan, cover the chestnuts with water and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain chestnuts. When cool enough to handle but still warm, peel chestnuts.

  3. With a tip of paring knife, make a shallow X in the bottom of each Brussels sprout. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add Brussels sprouts and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until cool.

  4. In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add chestnuts and sprouts; season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, turning occasionally with a spatula, until veggies are browned, 15 to 20 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove veggies to large serving platter. Whisk dressing and drizzle over veggies.

 

Delicious if you have the patience for the dressing. If not – just do the chestnuts and sprouts and toss into some pasta with fresh chopped garlic, olive oil, butter, salt and pepper. Y-um, either way.