Roasted Brussels sprouts will change your mind

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You may have seen them at farmers markets recently. With their long, thick stalks and sprouting buds arranged in a helical pattern, Brussels sprouts are in season once again.

When I was a kid, Brussels sprouts were pretty low on the list of favorite vegetables. Mushy, malodorous, and a sickly pale green, these were the equivalent of vegetable hell for children. Who in the world first had the idea to eat these nobby nobs anyway?

Kind of like Dijon mustard, Peking duck, and Boston baked beans, Brussels sprouts really do have a connection to the city after which they are named. The first written reference to Brussels sprouts was in 1587 in what is now Brussels, Belgium.

Popular in the 16th century in Belgium and the Netherlands, this vegetable continues to be grown and eaten in the Low Countries of Europe (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg). For those who remember lessons from their high school geography class, this area is also called Benelux. The Netherlands is now the largest producer of Brussels sprouts in Europe.

Because I love my Yahoo weather app so much, I decided to look up the weather in Brussels this week just for fun. The forecast is mid-40s and 80 percent chance of showers. A beautiful photo of the Grand Place in the rain almost spurred me on to look up airfares to Belgium as well. I am easily distracted.

Many moons ago, my husband lived and worked in Brussels at NATO headquarters. While most people never actually use the language they studied in high school, my husband is an exception. The language? French.

Along with practicing his French, my husband enjoyed many other aspects of living in the capital of Belgium. He cultivated an appreciation for Belgian food, culture and architecture. One of his favorite sites in the city: Manneken Pis, the famous historic statue of a urinating youth. It’s nice to know Europeans of the 17th century had a sense of humor not too different from our own.

As members of the Brassicaceae family, Brussels sprouts are cruciferous and belong to the same horticultural family as cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, kale and kohlrabi. And being part of the cruciferous clan, these sprouts contain sulforaphane, a photochemical that may have anti-cancer properties.

Brussels sprouts also provide big doses of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as trace amounts of B vitamins. Like many winter vegetables, Brussels sprouts help protect the body against winter colds and flus with a jolt of vitamin C.

Now from what I remember, boiling was the only way my mom prepared Brussels sprouts when I was growing up. I would douse the smelly orbs in butter and Parmesan cheese to make them more palatable. Boiling the sprouts, however, is what releases the sulphur-like smell that people have come to associate with Brussels sprouts.

Cooks today turn to roasting, grilling and even eating the sprouts raw. My favorite way to prepare them is in the oven. This week’s recipe is from the Pioneer Woman website and will change your mind forever about Brussels sprouts.

Roasted in the oven until they are toasty brown, these Brussels sprouts are easy enough to accompany a weeknight meal and pretty enough to be a showy side dish for a special dinner. I think an appropriate drink pairing for a meal with Brussels sprouts would be a Belgian beer like Chimay ale.

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Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic and Cranberries

  • 3 pounds Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 cup Olive Oil
  • Salt And Pepper
  • 1 cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Dried Cranberries

Trim and clean Brussels sprouts, then cut them in half if desired (or you can leave them whole). Arrange on two baking sheets and toss with olive oil. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper and roast at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until brown.

Combine balsamic vinegar and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and reduce until very thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Drizzle the balsamic reduction over the roasted sprouts, then sprinkle on dried cranberries. Toss and serve immediately.

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Betty Williams