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How to Love Brussels Sprouts

March 23, 2010

Almost all of us have childhood tales to tell about dinner time purgatory spent with what we thought were awful little lumps of green grossness. And how many times have you been invited to a holiday dinner only to face the dreaded bowl o’sprouts? Have you ever passed them by in the market thinking to yourself, “Are they really that awful?”

Actually, they can actually be really good, if you know what you’re doing.

To start, pick out fresh sprouts by examining each one. Choose small sprouts, not too much larger than 1” to 1 1/2” large. The leaves must be tightly packed together. Squeeze ‘em, just like an avocado or a peach, only harder. If there’s any sort of give beneath those leaves, put it down and pick another one. These babies have got to be hard. In fact, they must be so firm you would be able to play a game of marbles with them. And the smaller, the better. As with strawberries, tomatoes, and other produce, sometimes smaller does mean better flavour.

At home, wash them and then peel off the first layer or two of leaves to remove any blemishes and leaves that may be a little less tender than those beneath. Trim the bottoms to remove knobby stems or dirt. If you’re going to roast them, cut each Brussels sprout in half and then proceed with your recipe.

Like almost any vegetable, don’t boil Brussels sprouts. Boiling will leach out both flavour and nutrition and then you have only yourself to blame for a less than appetizing side dish. If you would rather steam the sprouts, with a paring knife cut a small  “x” into the bottom of each one, about 1/8 cm to 1/4 cm. Make sure you steam the sprouts only until they can be pierced by a knife but they’re not falling apart. With your water at a rolling boil, it may take 20 minutes or so to fully steam a whole sprout, but keep an eye on them to avoid over cooking.

Roasting brings out a lovely flavour in tender, almost sweet sprouts, and if you want to start a love affair with them, I think this is the only way to go. Just remember they are best cut in half when roasting to prevent an undercooked inside and a scorched outside

And a last note: no matter what cooking method you use, don’t just plop Brussels sprouts on a plate and leave them to fend for themselves. Do something, anything with them! Toss them in your favourite oil, season them with herbs (dill works very nicely!), add a little lemon zest, compliment them with a little lemon juice and pepper, pair them with roasted carrots, sprinkle them with snipped chives and a little butter.

Below I’ve included a recipe for you to give a try. There’s a recipe similar to this somewhere in one of my cookbooks, except it used a little agave nectar to sweeten things up. I’d love to hear what you think of the recipe – have you been swayed by the sprouts’ savoury allure after tasting this delicious dish?

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Olive Oil


4 cups washed and peeled Brussels sprouts, cut in half
1/3 cup walnut pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt, to taste (optional)
Fresh black pepper, to taste (optional)


1. Preheat your oven to 400F.

2. In an 8×8 baking dish (or similarly sized casserole), combine the Brussels sprouts, walnuts, and olive oil, and toss the mixture to thoroughly coat with the oil.

3. Place your dish in the oven, uncovered, and roast for 20-25 minutes, or until the edges of the sprouts are golden brown and they’re easily pierced with a fork or knife.

4. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve. If you have any left, this dish also makes for great leftovers.

Makes 4-5 side servings.

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