Brussels Sprouts: Tiny Yet Mighty

You say brussels sprouts, I say Brussels sprouts, she says brussel sprouts. What’s in a name? That which we call a rose…a rose cabbage, that is. This is what the Germans call these baby brassicas (“rosenkohl” = rose cabbage) that may be the funkiest and prettiest vegetable you’ll ever see growing. A tall, single leaf-topped stalk supports 20 to 40 buds crammed together like peas with no pod.

Brussels sprouts lovers, like myself, get excited about these mini cabbages this time of year because they become sweet and tender after a frost. As I look out my window, we’ve got more than frost on the ground here in Minnesota, but the first layer of white crispies showed up not too many days ago. Because the primary commercial supply of Brussels sprouts (I’m going to capitalize, since they did originate in Brussels, Belgium, after all) comes from the coastal area of California, it’s best to seek local sources for the best flavor and texture.

Whole plants can be stored in a root cellar, as can root plants, making Brussels sprouts harvestable during the cold months. While most of our local farmers’ markets have battened down the hatches for winter, I spoke with the produce folks at Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli, who said that they currently have Brussels sprouts from several local farmers.

The Baby of the Family

Brassicas, a genus of plants from the mustard family, include rutabagas, turnips, kohlrabi, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts tend to be more astringent and have a higher sulfur content than their siblings, which is why many children (and adults?) run for cover when these little nuggets are being cooked. To make matters worse, it’s easy to overcook Brussels sprouts, making them mushy. No wonder they often get no respect.

If blanching or steaming Brussels sprouts, it’s best to trim the stem ends and then cut an ‘x’ into the base of each to allow heat to penetrate and to cook them more evenly. To avoid the mushies, cook until just tender, but still vibrantly green. Admittedly, blanching or steaming isn’t my favorite way to enjoy Brussels sprouts. Not even close. I used to cut them in half (after trimming the ends) and toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast in the oven until brown. So yummy. My new favorite way is to quarter them and sauté until brown. Even yummier. If I want to get fancy, I prepare the recipe below. Heavenly!

Find a Way to Love ‘Em

Just like those dark leafy greens that I’m often proselytizing about, Brussels sprouts are another vegetable that can get me on my high horse. And just like dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts can be added to stir-fries, soups, salads, and casseroles. Basically, get ‘em into anything and everything, people, because they are major cancer fighters

According to Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, “Among vegetables, there’s no question that the cabbage family gets the prize. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts are the richest in cancer-inhibiting elements.” To repeat a quote from my Simple, Good and Tasty post, Ravishing Radishes, according to Dr. David Servan-Schriber, author of Anticancer, “Cabbages contain…powerful anticancer molecules and are capable of detoxifying certain carcinogenic substances. They prevent precancerous cells from developing into malignant tumors.” From Dr. Andrew Weil, world renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, “High in fiber, Brussels sprouts are wonderful for the digestive tract and lowering the risk of colon cancer. They are high in folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, and beta-carotene, and contain vitamin B6, thiamine and potassium.”

I’m proud to say that this weekend, I converted my sister into a Brussels sprouts lover. They were sautéed and tossed with pasta and morels, and she exclaimed, “Are these Brussels sprouts?! Oh my gosh, they’re delicious.” See? You too can learn to love ‘em.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Pancetta

1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved (quartered if large)

2 oz pancetta, visible fat discarded and pancetta minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss together Brussels sprouts, pancetta, garlic, oil, and salt and pepper to taste in an 11- by 7-inch baking pan and spread in 1 layer. Roast in upper third of oven, stirring once halfway through roasting until sprouts are brown on edges and tender, about 25 minutes total. Stir in water, scraping up brown bits. Serve warm.

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Jill Grunewald is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Counselor, health writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. Her practice, Healthful Elements, focuses on bio-individual health and whole-foods therapy, with specialization in the endocrine system and hormones, particularly thyroid and adrenal health.