If you didn’t know it Brussels sprouts are indeed a vegetable in the category of ‘Super Foods’. Science is only just beginning to understand how many health benefits they contain and it is impressive!
A member of the cabbage family, Brussels Sprouts grow on stalks that can hold dozens of these “little heads” or sprouts. If picked in early fall before the frost, they have a bitter nutty taste. Cold nights, however, actually sweeten the flavour so in this case, a frost is a good thing.
Referred to by many as ‘Brussels Sprouts’ due to their popularity with the Flemish in the 16th century, sprouts have little to do with Belgium and are in-fact thought to originate in Iran or Afghanistan, probably spread by the Persians. They continued to be popular in Roman times; indeed Cato a Roman statesman who was renowned for his love of libations, recommended them as a brilliant hangover cure.
Chefs and nutritionists in Britain are beginning to eulogise the great health benefits of this humble vegetable. Although they are most often found in our supermarkets at Christmastime, sprouts have a growing season of around 10 months in the UK and sales in 2009 increased by almost 10%. Sprout production began in the US via around 1800 after being brought to Louisiana by French settlers.
Weight for weight sprouts contain fantastic amounts of Vitamins including A, B1, B2, B3, B5, E and C; In-fact sprouts contain three times more vitamin C than an orange.
Also rich in potassium and calcium, sprouts even have a compound called sinigrin which has anti-cancer properties that protects us against certain cancers, including colon, by suppressing the creation of rogue cells. On top of that they are packed with folic acid-which is particularly good for pregnant women because it helps to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida.
People’s opinion of a food is often formed in childhood and whether their parents eat sprouts and indeed cook them properly. If sprouts are overcooked and left in hot water before serving they release a strong brassica (sulphurous) smell, which can be off putting.
I’m not suggesting you serve sprouts half cooked, but that you blanch them in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes, then cool then down completely in cold running water and then drain them well. Pop them back into to simmering water for another 2-3 minutes just to reheat them and serve.
Besides serving them on their own you can combine them with various nuts such as walnuts, pecans, almonds and of course roasted chestnuts. For bacon lovers you can also add some diced grilled smoked bacon. Another good taste combination is cheeses that have a nutty flavour such Parmesan, Mature Dutch Gouda, Emmental or even Gruyere. Just grate a little and stir it in.
The other Sunday I was roasting a leg of lamb and I peeled 4 chestnuts per person then tossed them into the pan half way through the cooking. The chestnuts took on a delicious, unctuous, meaty quality…glazed by the meat juices. At the last moment I tossed the chestnuts into my buttered sprouts….mmmm!
New Recipe Ideas
Besides the obvious use as a hot vegetable, sprouts make great coleslaw either on their own or with blanched celeriac. Try cutting them into quarters, roasting them then add to risotto. Or if you’re great at making Carrot Cake try using grated sprouts instead!