23 Nov The Lovely, Lowly Brussels Sprout

As a child, I liked Brussels sprouts right from the start and never hesitated to eat them. I liked their miniature aspect, their hunkered-low-in-the-bowl humility, their quirkiness, their infrequent appearance in the grocery store, their deep-green handfuls heaped in little wooden or roughly-textured green cardboard boxes. Like cabbage, they are an autumn vegetable. This month, they are at their peak. You can find them budded on startlingly large stalks at the farmers’ market.

Brussels sprouts belong to the family of Misunderstood Vegetables. It is THE most unpopular vegetable in Britain — probably because the Brits don’t know how to cook them. Cooks of older generations boiled Brussels sprouts. Boiling does justice to no food except pasta or eggs. Vegetables should never, ever, be boiled. I think most cooks nowadays have learned this lesson. Jill and I like ours steamed and then slathered with butter, with plenty of salt and pepper. A little dill gives them extra punch. I also like them chopped up (after steaming) with butter and soy sauce.

As the name suggests, Brussels sprouts originated in the Netherlands. Why, nobody knows. The French brought them to America, which makes sense because 1) the French will eat anything and 2) the French never hetitate to boast of their latest, odd food find: Oh, pardonnez moi, but I have just found thees splendid leetle nugget that, when fried, is oh-so-heavenlee! It ees, how you say, a squirrel turd? Webster mentions Brussels sprouts in his early dictionary: he calls them “delicate,” as in “small.” Brussels sprouts are not miniature cabbages, though your mother might have told you this to charm you into eating the things. They are in the cabbage family, though, and, like cabbage and broccoli, are cruciferous, which means they’re high in anti-oxidants and good at preventing cancer. As we are making menus for Thanksgiving, we should give this hearty, humble vegetable some consideration.

If you have never had truly fresh Brussels sprouts, cut from the stalk, you owe it to yourself to go out and find them. Apparently they are easy to grow, which means you don’t have to submit yourself to buying a container of wilted two-week-old sprouts that have been trucked across the country. If you have a dog, you can feed them the stalk. Most dogs will look upon it as a bone and chew it down happily. Frieda, our Basset Hound, loves the stalk of Brussels Sprouts.