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Wednesday, October 4

Gapers Block

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"Young lady, you're not getting up from the table until you've eaten every single one of those Brussels sprouts."

I heard that growing up quite a bit. I disliked them. They were bitter and mushy and always cold, even if I tried to eat them first the texture just threw me in a tizzy and I would gag. And I was convinced that I hated Brussels sprouts. Until I moved to Chicago. I learned to like them, not because I was determined to like all the foods I disliked from my childhood, but because they were cheap and I was poor.

I'd read that they were fairly high in protein (31 percent of calories come from protein) as well as high in Vitamins A and C. And they were 29 cents per pound. My frugal sense and my realization that French fries were not a vegetable made me eager to find a way to eat them that I could like. But first I had to figure out how to pick out the best ones.

The brighter the green, the fresher they are. Which makes sense. Aside from squash, yellow isn't a very good color for most vegetables. Tightly wrapped heads are better than very loose ones, but heads picked in warmer weather will naturally be a little looser than those picked in colder weather. The smaller the head, the less bitter the taste and the easier it is to cook them evenly. Tightly wrapped heads will also have less tendency to get mushy as they cook. I wish my mother had known that.

Brussels sprouts need to be kept refrigerated if you're going to keep them for more than a day or two. This will keep them from turning yellow and getting soft. Poke several holes in the plastic produce bag to keep them from molding and they'll last about five days in your crisper.

Now that I had a large bag of little green balls, I had to find a way to make them taste good. I knew that they were a distant cousin of cabbage, and I knew they came from Belgium (it can't be proven, but they at least gained popularity in Belgium). This meant that I could use similar cooking techniques as for cabbage as well as Belium-native ingredients. But besides butter and beer, I wasn't sure what else were traditional Belgian ingredients. And while I was OK with boiled cabbage dressed with butter, salt and pepper, I knew that technique wouldn’t make me like this vegetable. I needed flavor, I needed something impressive. But I wasn't sure what. I turned to my cupboard to see what I had.

Vinegar might help cover up the bitter flavor, but I didn’t want a pickled dinner. I wanted zest and tang though. And that's when it hit me. Mustard! I turned to my cooking bible (The Joy of Cooking) and found a recipe for a mustard dill sauce. It even said it went great with Brussels sprouts.

I steamed them lightly, poured the sauce over the sprouts, and gingerly took a bite. And then happily took another, and then considered crying when Andrew said, "Hey! These are good. I didn't think I liked Brussels sprouts." And we've liked them ever since. Before you go wrinkling up your nose, consider giving them a shot. You just might find yourself getting up from the table with everyone else instead of pretending your Brussels sprouts are planets that keep getting hit with fork-shaped meteors.

Steamed Brussels Sprouts with Mustard-Dill Sauce
1 pound of Brussels sprouts
1/2 teaspoon of water
2 cups of water
4-5 tablespoons of chopped fresh dill
4 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
ground pepper to taste

Rinse the Brussels sprouts under cool water. Slice them in half from stem to top. Place them in a steamer and bring the water (with salt added) to a boil. Let them steam for about 7-12 minutes. You'll know they're done when they turn a very bright green and a fork can pierce the stem end easily. Turn off the heat.

Stir the dill into the mustard. Slowly add the olive oil in while you stir. Adding it all at once will make it almost impossible to get the oil to marry (or blend with) the mustard. Feel free to use a hand-mixer or blender if you wish to speed up the process, but make sure to add the oil in a slow drizzle. Taste and add pepper and salt if necessary. Pour this over the hot Brussels sprouts. Left-over sauce will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. It also goes great with salmon, which happens to go great with Brussels sprouts.
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

Broiled Brussels Sprouts
1 pound of Brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Cumin seeds

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half from step to tip. Place them in a bowl. Pour the other ingredients into the bowl and toss to coat evenly. Heat your broiler and place the Brussels sprouts on your broiler pan with the cut side up. Spoon any extra sauce over the sprouts. Set the pan about 6 inches away from the flame and cook for about 5-7 minutes or until a fork pierces a stem-end easily. You could also put these on skewers to grill them; I would suggest not cutting them in half to prevent them from falling apart on the grill.
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

Bacon-Braised Brusselss
5-6 strips of bacon
1 pound of Brussels sprouts (fresh is better, but frozen will work, too)
1/2 of a medium yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
salt and pepper to taste.

In a large skillet over medium heat cook the bacon until it starts to get crispy. Remove the bacon to a layer of paper towels and let it drain. Add the chopped onion to the skillet and cook for about 5-6 minutes until the onions start to turn brown. Cut the Brussels sprouts in half from stem to tip, rinse in cold water, pat dry and add to the skillet. Be careful not to get popped from water hitting the bacon drippings. Add the broth and sugar and stir to combine. Let this cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until a fork pierces the stem-end easily. Crumble the bacon over the sprouts, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 4-6 servings as a side dish.

Brussels sprouts raise negative childhood memories for many people. But don't be frightened by mushy memories of cold Brussels sprouts drowned in as much butter as your mom would let you get away with. With a little care, they can be quite tasty. Trust me.

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