Home From Erika's Kitchen Meet the Veggies: Brussels Sprouts 101

Meet the Veggies: Brussels Sprouts 101

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Everyone, I’d like to introduce you to Brussels sprouts. Say “Hi, Brussels sprouts.”

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“Hi, Brussels sprouts.”

So. Let’s talk about our lovely little fellows, here.

How do they taste?

It’s just a tiny cabbage. Nothing fancy. Now, sure… that big raw cabbage taste is packed into that little tiny bite, but it’s still just a cabbage. If you’re going to bite into it raw to get a bit of the taste, it is strongly recommended that you cut off a leaf or a tiny portion. The toughness of a regular uncooked Brussels sprout is enough to cause your gums to bleed, especially if you’re not used to raw veggies.

photo credit: flickr: marusula

photo credit: flickr: marusula

How do I choose quality Brussels sprouts?

Lucky you, you have options. Brussels sprouts are sold inexpensively in the frozen foods section of Whole Foods, and also come wrapped in the fresh produce section of your Trader Joe’s.

If you’re choosing sprouts that have already been cut and are fresh, you want to look for sprouts that look like the cut separating them from the stalk (see photo above) is fresh, not soggy or wilted. If you see yellow on the outside of your sprout, it might be a sign that it’s old. It should feel dense, like there’s a whole lot packed in that little sprout. The smaller the sprout, the better the flavor. If it feels light or the leaves appear to be loose, it might be rotted inside. You don’t want that.

You can also purchase them fresh on the stalk, as pictured above, which is ideal. (It’s always ideal to keep things on the stalk or vine for as long as possible.) No biggie, you’ll just have to cut each sprout off the stalk individually. No part of the stalk should appear to be soft, muddled or wilted. Little broken pieces are fine, though.

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How do I store them after purchase?

Brussels sprouts, if fresh, shouldn’t be left out. Do like the groceries – freeze ’em. They keep exceptionally well, there.

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What goes well with Brussels sprouts?

Things that can counteract that cabbage-y tang work best, and wintery sweets – like apples and almonds – often always win. Of course, you can always quarter your sprouts (cut each sprout into four pieces) and put them into a soup, but still. You don’t want to do just that. You want variety. And, since Brussels sprouts are exceptionally inexpensive in the winter, you want to make proper use of the cheap stuff when it’s at its cheapest. I can dig it.

Also, as much as it pains me to say this… bacon goes really well with sprouts. Turkey bacon, too. (If you have questions about turkey bacon, start here.) And, speaking of which…

How can I cook these Brussels sprouts I’ve bought for the boot camp?

If there’s one thing I can tell you… is that I don’t do anything to Brussels sprouts – roasting, frying, whatever – without blanching them first. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First thing’s first: grab a giant pot, fill it half way with water. Bring it to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water large enough to submerge all of your brussels sprouts.

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You’ll need approximately 4-5 cups of sprouts, two baseball-sized onions and approximately 8 strips of [turkey] bacon for this recipe. If you’ve purchased fresh Brussels sprouts, you’ll need to make two cuts in them: One cut to separate the stem of the sprout from the head, and another cut to split the head into two. The reason for this is the stem is extremely thick, and it has a huge effect on the length of time it takes to cook the individual sprout. Also, it’s a bit of a pain to chew. If it feels wasteful, save the ends in the freezer. When you become better at cooking sprouts the way you and your family likes them best, cook them then.

If your sprouts are frozen and unthawed, you’ll just go right into the blanching; frozen veggies are flash frozen anyway, which sometimes includes the blanching process, so this has, essentially, been made easier for you.

If your sprouts are frozen and thawed, go ahead and drop them in the boil for 15 or so seconds. Just enough to make sure they are cooked through thoroughly.

The next steps are, essentially, how you blanche Brussels sprouts.

You’re going to dump your batch of fully-cut sprouts into the water. It should look like this:

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Your sprouts are going to quickly cook through lightly without becoming soggy and faded. You’re going for that nice, bright green color. Once your sprouts look like this:

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You’re going to pour your sprouts into a sieve where they can drain, and immediately put them into your cold water.

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This is also referred to as “shocking” your veggies, which stops them from cooking. We only want them lightly cooked through, not soggy and not watered down. Because the sprouts are so dense, if we didn’t “shock” them with the cold water and remove the heat, they’d still continue to cook from within, and eventually overcook.

This is blanching. I wouldn’t do anything to brussels sprouts without doing this first. It ensures even cooking, and the best flavor.

Meanwhile, chop up a couple of onions, and get your skillet ready, on medium heat.

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You’re going to pour a little water into your skillet – literally a quarter (1/4) of a cup – and bring it to a boil. Drop your onions in the skillet, and let them wilt a bit and become translucent. Once translucent, add 1 tablespoon of organic canola oil, and continue to stir, carmelizing the onions.

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(I use part water and part oil as a way of cutting the amount of oil necessary in the dish. More on that later.)

Now, it’s time for the [turkey] bacon. Pull out your entire packet. Slap in on your cutting surface. Get to choppin’.

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Check your onions. Once your onions start to look more brownish, and start to smell sweet instead of bitter, like so —

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— you’ll want to toss your [turkey] bacon into the pan, and start cooking.

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I know, I know… they ‘look like worms’….yes. Delicious, sweet little caramelized worms.

Add a tablespoon of thyme, a teaspoon and a half of rosemary, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook your [turkey] bacon all the way through. Don’t worry. The onions can take it.

If it starts looking dry, add organic canola oil by the teaspoon, stirring thoroughly.

Now… add in your sprouts.

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Keep them on the heat, stirring frequently. You want to reheat your sprouts, but in the sweetness and smokiness of the [turkey] bacon and onions. Winning.

You can add anything from almond slivers to candied pecans (just be careful with how you candy them) to apple slices in here, especially if you’re a vegan or vegetarian. But, as a starter intro to brussels sprouts, this is pretty darn good.

Add another pinch of salt over the top of the entire dish – that mans you need to be careful to extend that pinch over the entire dish, not just “get another pinch” of your pinch runs out – and stir it one last good time in the skillet.

Before you know it…

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Plate up. Dig in.

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26 comments

Whitney February 12, 2013 - 11:06 PM

I love Brussels sprouts and will have to try this!

Cassandre February 12, 2013 - 11:13 PM

I have recently been reintroduced to brussels sprouts and have been making them like crazy. I actually make them very similar but just with onions. i always felt like it was missing a little kick in flavor and seeing this post i realized i need some turkey bacon in my brussels sprouts. Thanks for this post Erika.. can’t wait to try it

Ken February 13, 2013 - 2:47 AM

Only discovered brussel sprouts over the past few months. They’re fantastic! Haven’t had to blanche them at all – straight into a pan to fry, or in the oven to roast — but definitely half them. Get that nice browning on the edges and they’re so mellow and sweet! I find that their flavour is a lot more tame, and a lot more sweet, than cabbage. More tender too, of course. Bacon, mushrooms, peas, all go very well. They’re also much sweeter after the first frost, helps the moisture evapourate and concentrate the sugars, but you’d need to talk to the farmers at a farmer’s market to see when that happens.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 13, 2013 - 8:58 AM

See, I don’t think roasting is for beginners at all. They’re often not thoroughly cooked – half mushy, half too crunchy, too chewy – and people often mistake “carmelization” with “burning,” which only exacerbates the bitterness, not adds to it. That’s not how I want to introduce brussels sprouts to people who are new to them, lol.

Dee February 13, 2013 - 11:38 AM

I actually don’t blanch them either, but if you peel off the first few layers of leaves, and then coat the single leaves with the hearts in some oil and roast them, you get something that tastes akin to kale chips, they’re so crunchy and delish. And the hearts get nice and soft at the same time. I think you just need to watch your sprout vigilantly when roasting.

Erika Nicole Kendall February 13, 2013 - 2:07 PM

Lots of people don’t blanch them. That doesn’t change the fact that I recommend it for beginners. It ensures that the sprouts are properly cooked, instead of tasting weird and turning people off to them.

Beginners “vigilantly watching” something while it’s roasting in the oven wind up thoroughly undercooking things, especially if they’re roasting them with something else in the oven, particularly meat. It’s just not a win.

Ken February 13, 2013 - 2:51 AM

Oh, also found that a touch of acidity really works well too. Pan-fried, then just a splash of orange juice. The bit of tartness helps bring out the natural sugars. I imagine balsamic vinegar would work too, or a sprinkle of lemon juice.

Amber February 13, 2013 - 9:09 AM

love brussel sprouts with bacon (and maybe a little parmesean cheese too). I tried to get my kids on board but they don’t like them. Oh well, more for me.

Dr. Haley Perlus February 13, 2013 - 7:37 PM

This is my first time commenting on your blog but I have been following you on facebook and have made a few comments. I really love your stuff and I congratulate all of your successful women.

Now, back to brussels sprouts – they also taste great with mashed cauliflower.

Brenda55 February 14, 2013 - 9:08 PM

These are one of my favorite veggie. My favorite way of cooking sprouts is a little salt, pepper and olive oil and then roast them. The develop a sweetness to them that is divine.

I will have to try the blanch method next time. Thanks for the tip.

Selena February 26, 2013 - 4:36 PM

Same here. Roasted with fennel and sweet potato. Delish!

Valencia February 18, 2013 - 1:05 AM

This was bomb.com …I tried roasting them once,before and I kinda burnt them…no good, but this was,great ….thank you.

LaQueshia February 18, 2013 - 2:51 PM

We had a dinner party Sunday and I made these brussel sprouts for the first time and they were delish! I am looking forward to playing with them more.

Khalilah February 19, 2013 - 3:59 PM

This looks amazing. And I’ll be making this tonight!

FelicityR March 8, 2013 - 11:09 PM

So I just made this… It was BOMB!

Teeya April 29, 2013 - 1:49 PM

I love brussel sprouts i make them with onions & turkey bacon also but i had some fresh chopped garlic gives it a little somthing extra and it smells amazing it’s even good with out the bacon:-)

Stephanie June 27, 2013 - 8:16 AM

Thank you for this recipe. I usually buy them in a steamer bag already spiced because I never know what to do with them. Now I can buy fresh ones!!

Earlene Blosser July 29, 2013 - 4:51 PM

This recipe looks so tasty and delightful! I hope I will have time to make it soon!

Denise July 30, 2013 - 2:31 AM

Whoa!! That has to be the best post I’ve ever seen on brussel sprouts!! Now I WANT to make this and eat it! Thank you so much for sharing Erica! I loved the whole post!

Asha August 25, 2013 - 7:30 PM

It’s ironic that I would read this right now. My son loves, loves, loves brussel sprouts. I must admidt I am a fan as well. I usually prepare them by cutting them in halves and tossing them in sea salt, crushed black pepper and olive oil and roast them. About half way through I squeeze honey over the sprouts and put them back in the oven. Thanks for the new recipe!

Karen September 27, 2013 - 12:17 PM

Do they lose any nutrients during the blanching process? I’ve just been roasting mine. I like almost any veggie if it’s roasted.

Erika Nicole Kendall September 28, 2013 - 8:40 AM

Honestly, IMO the process is much to quick for that to happen. They’re not boiling, they’re not losing color, they’re bright – as you can see in the photos – and it’s just enough to soften them, not cook them through completely and certainly not enough that they’d lose any nutrient value.

I knooooow everyone loves roasting their veggies, which is especially why I’m avoiding roasting in the boot camp. Gotta learn other ways to cook stuff, man!

Karen September 28, 2013 - 9:26 AM

Grilling? 😉

Karen September 28, 2013 - 9:29 AM

Seriously, if I don’t roast (or grill) most veggies, I’ll just keep ’em raw. Except for Brussels Sprouts!

Carrie December 18, 2013 - 7:15 PM

Mine BSs just came out of the oven, I threw in a parsnip and carrot with them blanched BSs this time. Darn Ms. Erika you are a good cook! Thanks for sharing.

Bonnie April 8, 2016 - 6:16 PM

I roast mine..I spray them with olive oil cooking spray (0 cals ) sprinkle them with garlic powder and red pepper flakes…400 oven 15 minutes..turn, spray and sprinkle again. 10-15 minutes..I love them..

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