Brussels sprouts, the vegetable that comes with a reputation. The first time my tongue had ever touched a brussels sprout was no earlier than last winter, when it was served alongside a roasted cornish hen that just looked too delicious not to order at Parts and Labour. All my life I had heard about how "awful, bitter, and inky-tasting" brussels sprouts were, so I made a point of staying away from them. I saw countless TV shows and movies enact this "brussels sprout myth" as children and adults alike would grimly move their sprouts about their plate, never allowing them into their mouths. Just like that misunderstood kid in school who got the reputation for being "weird" (I may have been that kid...), brussels sprouts just need to be given a chance to express what makes them so special. My reaction to finally tasting my first brussels sprout at Parts and Labour was something along the lines of "Really? This is what people have been complaining about all this time? These are delicious!". So why is it that brussels sprouts have gained such a negative reputation? The trick to making brussels sprouts is to remember two steps: 1) Score the core. 2) Overcook and you overlook.
The first step is a quick little prep tip that will, in turn, help us with step two. Scoring an "X" into the centre of the core of each brussels sprout allows for more even and quick cooking. This is an incredibly helpful step because overcooking brussels sprouts leads to those awful, bitter, inky-tasting sprouts that they have gained their reputation off of. Overcooking brussels sprouts firstly affects the texture. Yes, you want the leaves tender, but you don't want them anywhere near mushy! Overcooked brussels sprouts also have a very different flavour. Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, which are actually really good for you, but release more and more sulfur the longer they are cooked, which significantly affects their taste. So we know brussels sprouts downfalls, but what is it that makes them so great? First and foremost, I love their appearance and texture, like little itty bitty cabbages, but with the most tender, buttery little layers of leaves. The many different types of preparation for brussels sprouts can utilize the texture and form of the sprouts to enhance their flavour. For instance, many people love their brussels sprouts leaves slightly crisp around the edges to add a touch more texture. I'm also a big fan of the health benefits of eating brussels sprouts, as they are packed with Vitamins C, K, and A, as well as manganese and folate. Just do a quick search on the health benefits of brussels sprouts to see the many ways they can provide antioxidant, cardiovascular, inflammatory/anti-inflammatory, detox, and digestive support, and even more! Their extensive health benefits make brussels sprouts another veggie that we can add to our growing superfood list!
As much as I do enjoy brussels sprouts, they're not exactly a mouth-watering food when you just hear "brussels sprouts". Now "Brussels Sprouts with Bacon" is definitely a title that can trigger some serious mouth watering action. I love this recipe because it is simple and really delicious with the contrast of textures with the crisp bacon and tender sprouts, and the sweet and tangy vinaigrette that lightly coats the sprouts. I not only enjoyed eating this because of the great flavour, I also felt really good about eating it because I knew how good it was for me! Do something good for both yourself and brussels sprouts reputation and whip up these tasty sprouts with your next meal!
Tip: To ensure even and quick cooking for your brussels sprouts, score your sprouts. Simply use the tip of a sharp knife to cut an "X" into the centre of each core.
Tip: Ever wonder why some recipes call for placing your vegetables in an ice bath after cooking? This quick and easy step is not to be skipped as it helps to stop the cooking process of the vegetables as well as reserve their colour, so you end up with crisp and vibrant veggies!
Adapted from Williams Sonoma
4 oz. bacon slices, cut widthwise into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 onion, finely minced
2 tbsp cider vinegar (I didn't have any so I just added 1 tbsp apple juice and 1 tbsp rice wine vinegar, which worked great!)
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp grainy mustard
1/2 tsp dried thyme
5 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and scored with an "X" in the core
1. In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour all but 1 tbsp of the fat into a heatproof bowl or mug and reserve. Add the onion to the remaining fat in the pan and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, thyme, and onion. Slowly begin to pour in the olive oil in a slow and steady stream, while continuing to whisk. Set aside.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the brussels sprouts and cook until tender, 4-6 minutes. Drain, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. Drain well, then cut them in half lengthwise and place on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
4. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm 2 tbsp of the reserved bacon fat. Place the brussels sprouts, cut side down, in the pan. Cook, without moving them, for 4 minutes, or until the cut side begins to get some golden colour and the edges are slightly crisp. Transfer to a bowl and add enough vinaigrette to lightly coat the brussels sprouts. Stir in the bacon and serve immediately.
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