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In-Season Now: Brussels Sprouts

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Brussels sprouts may have been the bitter bane of our existence when we were kids, but not anymore! These bite-sized green vegetables have recently become one of the hottest side dishes out there, making regular appearances on brunch and dinner menus all over the country (often sprinkled with bacon or pancetta, which certainly doesn’t hurt the cause). And ‘tis the season: Brussels sprouts are harvested between late fall and winter, so now is the perfect time to buy and enjoy them.  Needless to say, mom would be proud to know that our tastes have matured.

Brussels Sprouts Basics

Brussels sprouts are from the same family as cabbage, and each round green sprout looks a bit like a mini-cabbage head, usually 1-2 inches in diameter. Though you may encounter them sold as individual sprouts in the grocery store or market, Brussels sprouts are actually harvested from a thick, long stalk in winter months once the sprouts turn bright green. A fun fact is that Brussels sprouts are thought to have been discovered in Belgium, hence the name.

Choosing and Storing Brussels Sprouts

Select sprouts that are bright green in color and firm and compact in texture — indicators of freshness. If you happen to find them sold unclipped from the stalk in your grocery store or local farmers market, try to choose the stalk over loose sprouts for better freshness and flavor. Loose, unwashed sprouts may be kept in the refrigerator for up to five days. You can also freeze fresh Brussels sprouts in zip-close bags if you want to preserve them. It’s easy: take off any yellow or rough top leaves, wash, and blanch for 3-4 mins in big pot of boiling water, finishing with an ice bath. Frozen Brussels sprouts keep for 6-12 months.

Aren’t Brussels Sprouts Awfully Bitter?

Some folks do not enjoy the flavor of Brussels sprouts because of the perception that they are unpleasantly bitter and have a soft, mushy texture.  Fortunately, that’s not the way it has to be! Fresh Brussels sprouts are actually quite mild and pleasant in flavor. Once they are clipped from the stalk, they start developing their characteristic bitterness and cabbage-like odor, so try to purchase them on the stalk or use them immediately after purchase.   

How to Cook and Eat Brussels Sprouts

The reason we’ve been conditioned to fear Brussels sprouts has little to do with their actual flavor and texture, and everything to do with the way they are prepared. Even though you may have had eaten them over-boiled as a child, you certainly don’t have to now — by incorporating the right cooking techniques, Brussels sprouts can be made thoroughly delicious.

To prep Brussels sprouts, choose green, healthy heads. If you notice leaves that are dark, wilted, yellowing or spotted, remove them before cleaning and cooking. You can eat Brussels sprouts raw by shaving or thinly slicing them into a salad, like in this tasty Brussels sprouts salad recipe.

For the best flavor, the number one key is to avoid overcooking.  No matter the cooking technique, only cook whole or halved Brussels sprouts until they are just tender, no more.  Like many other veggies, you can microwave, steam or boil them whole for 6-8 minutes or until tender. However, the aforementioned cooking techniques don’t do these little sprouts justice — the most effective cooking techniques for achieving craveable caramelization and harnessing the sweet, nutty flavor of sprouts are oven-roasting, pan-roasting or braising.  This recipe for roasted balsamic Brussels sprouts is a perfect example.

Nutritious and Delicious!

Besides being delicious, Brussels sprouts are some of the most nutrient-dense veggies in your grocery aisle. A member of the cruciferous veggie family along with kale and broccoli, Brussels sprouts contain glucosinolates, sulfur compounds that are being researched for their effects on cancer prevention. One cup of raw Brussels sprouts has just 38 calories, but boasts over 100% of your daily antioxidant vitamin C and vitamin K requirement, essential for healthy blood clotting. With up to 12% of your daily fiber needs, they’re also great for keeping your digestive system running smoothly. Have we convinced you to eat your Brussels sprouts yet?

Try These Recipes!

You can add Brussels sprouts into just about any recipe for a seasonal wintery twist. Try them in your favorite soups and stir-fries, roast them with your main protein for dinner, or shave them to add into your daily lunch salad. Need inspiration? Try the following tasty Brussels sprouts recipes:

As the centerpiece:

As a side dish:

As a snack:

 

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