The Secret to Irresistible Brussels Sprouts

Fresh Brussels sprouts shake off their hard-boiled reputation.
By Terra Brockman

With all the heaviness on the holiday table, now's the time to try Brussels sprouts in a light new way: raw and shaved into a fluffy cloud.

Brussels sprouts may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of holiday fare, but they have had an honored place in Britain for centuries, alongside the roast goose or game. Perhaps it was the British tendency to cook vegetables to death that have given Brussels sprouts a raw deal. The solution, naturally, is to eat them raw.

Once they're shaved whisper-thin, simply toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Or get more festive by mixing and matching with toasted nuts (pecans, walnuts or hazelnuts), fruit (dried cranberries, fresh apples or pomegranate), and cheese (shaved Parmesan, cheddar, or even fresh ricotta for a creamy, slaw-like salad).

First, make sure you have the freshest sprouts possible. Ideally look for vegetables grown in cold weather that were recently harvested. Like other members of the vast crucifer family that also includes kale, cabbage, broccoli, etc, Brussels sprouts are very hardy and able to survive even hard freezes. They do this by producing more sugars, which serve as a cellular anti-freeze, and also increase the sweetness of the sprouts.

If you can get a freshly harvested whole stalk, with the sprouts still attached, all the better. At a local farmers market you may see these Dr. Seuss-like plants that are 3 to 4 feet tall, with the elegant, miniature cabbages spiraling up the stalk. Sprouts will keep well this way, and you can break the buds off the stalk as needed.

Brussels sprouts, like all of the cabbage family, are high in vitamin C, fiber and folate. They also have been shown to have beneficial effects in preventing certain types of cancer. But the best reason to eat them is that they taste terrific. Even former sprouts-phobes may not even recognize what they are eating when you serve them these salads.

Brussels Sprouts Salad, Plain or Fancy

Ingredients

1½ pound Brussels sprouts (the freshest you can find)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
salt (more or less, depending on the saltiness of your cheese) 1 cup nuts (optional), toasted, cooled and chopped coarsely (hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans) 3 ounces hard cheese (optional), shaved or cubed (pecorino, dry aged Monterey jack, Parmesan)

Directions

  1. Shave the Brussels sprouts as thinly as possible using a mandolin, sharp slicing blade of a food processor, or a very sharp knife.
  2. Put into a large bowl and toss gently with the olive oil, lemon juice and salt.
  3. Add the nuts and cheese (if desired). Toss.
  4. Shave more cheese on top as a garnish, and serve.

Buttery Brussels Sprouts Salad With Apples, Walnuts and Maple Syrup

Ingredients

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, shredded
2 medium apples, cut into small cubes or chunks 1 tablespoons lemon juice (divided) 3 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ cup maple syrup
Sea salt and pepper to taste
½ cup walnuts (or other nut of your choice)
¼ pound aged cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes

Directions

  1. Cut up the apples and toss with 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a large bowl.
  2. Shred the sprouts and add to the bowl. Add salt, pepper and remaining lemon juice.
  3. Stir maple syrup into the melted butter. Drizzle over sprouts and apples and toss well. Add toasted walnuts and cheddar chunks.
  4. Toss and serve.
Terra Brockman is an author, a speaker and a fourth-generation farmer from central Illinois. Her latest book, "The Seasons on Henry's Farm," now out in paperback, was a finalist for a 2010 James Beard Award.

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