Help me like Brussels sprouts…

I have hated Brussels sprouts since I was a kid. I hated them so much that I couldn’t even fulfill my parents’ “three bites” rule without gagging helplessly. Eventually my mom gave up trying to get me to eat them.

However, now that I am “grown up,” I’ve discovered there are many things that I used to loathe that I now really enjoy, such as beets. So I did a little Googling of Brussels sprouts and learned they are immigrants to North America; they came here from Europe and originally, it is thought, from Iran, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. A cold-season crop, they’re a relatively new edible; the first rough description of one was recorded in 1587. They got their name because the plant is supposed to have been grown since around then in the vicinity of Brussels in Belgium.

Fun facts: Belgians claim that the sprouts, eaten at the beginning of a meal, prevent intoxication, while Germans call them rosenkohl, for rose cabbages. Like its brethren kohlrabi, broccoli, and cabbages, the Brussels sprout belongs to Brassica oleracea genus of the Cruciferae family; the closely related Brassica campestris includes bok choy, turnip, mustards, rutabaga, and radish.

I struggle to enjoy any Brassica, but Brussels sprouts are the worst. In the past year, I’ve been able to tolerate them as accompaniments in restaurants, so when I saw this beautiful branch of buds at Berkeley Bowl (California grown, supposedly) for just $2, I thought I’d finally attempt to cook them. I tried halving them, tossing them in olive oil, and roasting them with salt and pepper until they were just tender, then squeezing some lemon juice on them. They were not gag-worthy, but they were still really bitter, like tiny versions of the cabbage I also have to force down. Later I sautéed them with Tuscan chili olive oil in a pan until soft, but … eh.

So I’m asking: anyone have any favorite recipes that could turn me into a lover of the little green lumps?

20 Responsesto “Help me like Brussels sprouts…”

  1. Noah says:

    So I used to be in your boat: not digging brussel sprouts and all. Then one day I ate lunch at Lupa in New York and had these absolutely killer sprouts, raw of all things. Very simple to prepare and one of my favorite dishes/app/salad now.

    Brussles sprouts with pecorrino

    Just take the brussels sprouts and very thinly slice them. I would say almost a shave but perhaps a slight bit thicker than that. Can take a little while but worth the effort. Lightly glaze the sprouts with good fragrant extra virgin olive oil. Add some crumbled pecorrino cheese Good parmesan works OK too. Both add a nice saltiness to the bitterness of the sprouts. add fresh ground pepper and a squeeze of lemon. viola!

    Hope you enjoy

  2. meloukhia says:

    I happen to adore brussels sprouts, and here’s how I like them best:

    Wash and halve your brussels sprouts.

    Put a cast iron pan on medium heat and throw in butter and olive oil. Wait for the oils to heat before adding your sprouts. (If you want to be a fancy pants, throw in some sliced shallots or garlic here too, but you don’t need to.)

    Saute open for a minute or so, moving the brussels around. Then cover and cook until soft, checking periodically. Do not let them get too soft. You want a hint of crunch here.

    Serve with salt and pepper. You can toss another pat of butter on there too, if you feel like it. I also like them as a side with mashed potatoes and really good German sausage.

    What happens here is that the brussels sprouts steam to softness, but the oils kind of caramelize the outer leaves and make them crunchy and flavorful and delicious. In fact, so delicious that I think I am going to go make some, right now, with the brussels sprouts I got at the farmers’ market.

  3. Gen says:

    I don’t have a recipe, but I’ve been told at the local (central California) farmers’ market that brussels sprouts are sweeter after a frost. It might be worth trying to find some after some cold weather.

  4. Jim Dixon says:

    I got this recipe from a couple of sous chefs at Portland’s clarklewis (despite the drama, still an incredible place to eat). It usually converts even the most ardent brassicaphobe.

    Cook a diced onion in plenty of good butter (as the chefs said, “more than you might you think”) and a healthy pinch of sea salt. Add about a pound of sprouts, which you’ve split in half (at the restaurant they leave them whole but cut a cross in the stem end so it cooks completely…splitting is much easier, and the cut surface browns nicely), and cook slowly for at least 30 minutes (45 even better). Add a good dollop (like a half cup or more) of whole grain (aka stone ground) mustard. Stir it in, cook for another 10 minutes, and eat.

    I used to chop them up, cook quickly in olive oil, and add lemon juice (or another acid, sometimes vinegar). This works well, but once I started using the recipe above I’ve never gone back.

  5. Emma says:

    I like them best only lightly cooked. So I usually boil them just until their colour changes. Or steam them, although that takes longer, I think, from memory. I halve them if I’m lazy, or I cut a cross in their stems. Then when done I drizzle them with avocado oil and salt and pepper.

    I don’t recall them as being bitter. So maybe the whole, sweeter after a frost thing works. I’ve only eaten them in New Zealand, and the places they are grown, generally have a lot of frosts in winter.

  6. grocery goddess says:

    mmm… yummy brussels sprouts. Whole Foods’ roasted sprouts are the best, especially when slightly over-roasted until the outer leaves are crisp and brown as the recipe suggests:

    My 2nd favorite is boiled lightly as Emma describes and served the English way with a dollop of Branston Pickle. It is hardly a local or Ethicurean option, but the gist of it is to add a tangy/sweet condiment to cut the bitterness.
    Perhaps fresh cranberry sauce or tangy berry chutney?

    Keep trying. You will eventually be hooked on those little delights.

  7. cookiecrumb says:

    I’m comme si-comme ca about them. They’re best if you shred them, or go to the trouble of separating the itty bitty leaves. Cook in butter/oil, salt, apple cider and some cider vinegar. Sigh… (Roasting does sound good.)
    I, too, bought one of those Dr. Seuss-y branches of scary nubbins a few years ago, and they were scary bitter. It all depends, I guess.
    My new fave cookbook writer, Michel Richard, likes frozen sprouts because they’re tender and they stay green.
    Go check it out:

  8. donna says:

    Almost anything is edible if covered in sufficient amounts of cheese….

  9. Marc says:

    It might be impossible for you to enjoy brussels sprouts because you might be super sensitive to phenylthiocarbamide, one of the bitter compounds in the vegetable. The ability to taste this compound is wired into our DNA. There are lots of articles on this subject on the net. Here’s one:

    Strangely enough, McGee’s first edition of On Food and Cooking doesn’t mention the topic. Perhaps his new edition does.

  10. ladygoat says:

    Roast ‘em. Olive oil, salt, pepper, hot oven, 15-20 minutes. Easy, and the only way I like the buggers.

  11. DairyQueen says:

    Wow — you people like your sprouts! I will try the slicing thin method, and the recipe with butter and mustard sounds very tempting.

    Marc, I’m going to look up phenylthiocarbamide, because perhaps it is why I dislike cabbage and all the related Brassicas — although I’ve learned to enjoy radishes with butter and sea salt. Everything’s better with butter…or bacon!

    Thanks for all the help!

  12. Omniwhore says:

    There’s an idea — wrap them in bacon and smear them with butter! Then you’d like them, Sam I am…

  13. Sharkbait says:

    I like to halve them, and saute them with bacon, caramelized onions, toasted walnuts and some currants (or dried cranberries). The nuttiness, the sweetness of the onions and fruit, and the fatty deliciousness of the bacon all balance out the bitter. So tasty!

  14. Joanne says:

    I’ve converted a number of brussels sprouts haters at Thanksgiving… My father complains constantly (he loves brussels sprouts) that all the restaurant ones he gets are undercooked and inedible).

    I pull off the sprouts from the club, cut the bottom off remove any loose leaves and then split them in two. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Toss in the sprouts and blanche them for a few minutes – You want them to be bright green and slightly tender. You can also cook them through at this point but instead I take them out and don’t rinse them (so they still cook and soften a bit). Right now they are fine to eat but here’s the window dressing trick…

    Roast some walnuts in the oven until they start to give off oil (You should do this in advance) and color slightly. It’s incredibly easy to burn walnuts once they start to color, so make sure that when you take the pan out of the oven to get them off the pan as they will continue to cook after they come out.

    Now Find some good quality pancetta or thick bacon (I used Fatted Calf’s Pancetta). Cut it into small chunks and fry until crisp (the trick here is to use medium heat and cook it longer). Pour off almost all the bacon fat. Leave about a teaspoon in the pan and add the walnuts to warm them back up. (Alternatively you can omit the bacon fat and add a tablespoon of butter or clarified butter). Add your blanched sprouts and warm through.
    Voila: Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Walnuts

  15. kevin says:

    This is an excellent recipe and I’ve even had non-sprout lovers enjoy it:

  16. Peter says:

    I love Brussel sprouts! But I also love cabbage.

    The best way is to wash thoroughly, remove any brown leaves, and halve.

    Steam for 3-5 minutes. Drain. Toss with butter and a bunch of lemon juice. Add salt and dark balsamic vinegar to taste.


  17. Kendall says:

    This recipe turns them into french-fry equivalents!

    Cut them in half. Pour a good 1/4 cup of EVOO on a plate. Sprinkle crushed red pepper, italian seasonings, and garlic salt in the EVOO. Place the sprouts cut side down. They will soak up the EVOO.

    Fire up the grill to a high heat. Place carefully on the grill, cut side down. The EVOO will drip out of the sprouts causing the fire to flame up and char the underside. Remove from the grill when good and charred (but not burned).

    Sprinkle with sea salt and enjoy!

  18. dick says:

    They must have been frosted. Then just clean and boil along with some walnuts – great. Add butter over when done.

  19. Henwhisperer says:

    Being frosted makes a world of difference! No frost? Throw them in the freezer overnight. Try freezing parsnips, too.

  20. stonefruit says:

    Here’s what I do:

    1. Cut the sprouts in half and steam them until they’re nearing fork-tenderness.
    2. Saute some chopped garlic in butter and olive oil. (Cast-iron might be good; I just use a regular, not-non-stick saute pan.) After you’ve sweated the garlic briefly, with the flame on medium heat, add the Brussels sprouts along with some pecans, kosher salt, black pepper, and thyme. Toss everything together, and arrange the sprouts cut-side down (a set of tongs works well for this).
    3. Let the sprouts brown on the bottom and serve. They’re garlicky, toasty, and nutty.