These little green power balls are on a roll.
Renowned for their nutrition as well as their sweet, nutty flavor, Brussels sprouts seem to be popping up all over restaurant menus, and their popularity is extending as well to home kitchens, thanks to innovative packaging and marketing.
Milder than cabbage, Brussels sprouts still make a strong statement on the plate and need other robust flavors for balance. As a side dish or ingredient, this winter vegetable complements meaty or full-flavored entrees, but tends to overpower delicate fish or mild chicken dishes.
But as more chefs discover Brussels sprouts, expect their popularity to continue to climb.
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“Food trends start in restaurants,” noted Diana McClean, marketing director for Ocean Mist Farms, a major vegetable producer in Castroville, Calif. “People taste it and they want to try it at home. Shoppers also want something easy and nutritious. You now can buy (pre-packaged) Brussels sprouts and have fresh vegetables on your plate in minutes.”
Ocean Mist has been growing Brussels sprouts since 1924. Fields of Dr. Seuss-style stalks line the roads near its Monterey County packing plant and cooling facility.
McClean has been impressed by what chefs do with Brussels sprouts.
“Roasted Brussels sprouts are very popular right now,” she said. “We’re also seeing a lot of sauteing and grilled Brussels sprouts, which are easy to do at home, too. Restaurants are ‘flash frying’ Brussels sprouts leaves, crisping them up and offering them with dip like chips.
“You can put the whole stalk with its sprouts on the barbecue and roast it,” McClean said.
Most consumers today want their Brussels sprouts with less fuss, she said. Ocean Mist recently introduced a full product line of “Season & Steam Brussels sprouts,” aimed at making this vegetable more convenient for home cooks. “Quick Cook Sprouts” are pre-halved and trimmed, cutting down on preparation time. “SuperShreds Superfood” takes the chore out of shredding Brussels sprouts for slaw, salads and stir fries. Microwavable whole Brussels sprouts come packaged, ready to zap (and eat in five minutes).
Those are “value-added” Brussels sprouts, McClean said, and that’s helped this vegetable’s overall appeal to consumers.
“We’ve seen bulk sales of Brussels sprouts climb steadily from 2010 to 2014,” she said, “but value-added Brussels sprouts are outpacing bulk.”
McClean credits millennials for the pre-halved and trimmed Brussels sprouts trend.
“Baby boomers will still spend time in the kitchen, but millennials want fresh, gourmet, healthy food – fast!” she explained. “Everything comes at the speed of light now. If you can cut time in the kitchen and not pick up fast food for dinner, it’s pretty awesome.”
Brussels sprouts 101
▪ Nutrition: Each sprout contains 10 calories; that adds up to 38 calories per cup. Brussels sprouts contain three times the vitamin C of oranges; 1 cup of sprouts offers 124 percent of the adult recommended daily allowance. Sprouts also are a good source for vitamins A and D, potassium, dietary fiber, folic acid and several antioxidants. Brussels sprouts have about 4 grams of protein per cup, the same as 1/2 cup of milk.
▪ Selection: Look for the brightest green color, uniform shape and similar size. (Like size will help them cook evenly.) Sprouts should feel firm and heavy for their size. Avoid sprouts that look puffy or have black spots or yellow leaves.
Sprouts also may be purchased “on the stalk,” but the same guidelines apply. Look at the 20 to 40 sprouts attached to that 2- to 3-foot stem and choose a stalk with bright green, firm sprouts. Once home, “pluck” the sprouts as needed.
▪ Storage: Keep unwashed sprouts in a paper or plastic bag, stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, for up to one week. Store “on the stalk” sprouts still attached to their stem and remove just before preparation.
▪ Preparation: Rinse sprouts with cold water. Trim stem ends without cutting the base of leaves or the little head will come apart during cooking. Cut a shallow “X” in the base of each sprout; that helps the stems to cook faster. Large sprouts may be cut lengthwise in halves or quarters.
Brussels sprouts may be steamed, microwaved, sauteed, boiled, roasted or grilled. Cook until just tender. Test by inserting the tip of a sharp knife into the stem end.
Steaming is the easiest cooking method and retains this vegetable’s many nutrients. Place sprouts (either whole or halved) in a single layer in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water; cover. Steam for 10 to 20 minutes, testing with a sharp knife for tenderness.
▪ Belgian connection: In the late 1500s, this cabbage cousin was cultivated near Brussels. This vegetable remained a Belgian delicacy until after World War I, when its popularity spread throughout Western Europe. Very popular in Great Britain, Brussels sprouts have been referred to as England’s “national vegetable.”
Debbie Arrington/Sacramento Bee
ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH BACON
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts
4 slices double-smoked or hickory-smoked thick-sliced bacon, diced
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 cups white balsamic vinegar
3 cups olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the bottom (stem end) of the sprouts and trim off one layer of outer leaves. In a medium pan, add the diced bacon and lightly brown. Strain off most of the fat and set the bacon to one side.
Add the Brussels sprouts to the pan and toss with the remaining bacon fat. Roast the sprouts in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes until tender.
Make vinaigrette: Place yolks, mustard, shallot and vinegar in a blender. On medium speed, slowly add the oil; if the consistency is too thick, add a little water. Add salt and pepper to taste. (You’ll have more than you need for the sprouts.)
Toss roasted sprouts with bacon and some white balsamic vinaigrette and serve.
Chef Tony Baker of Montrio Bistro created this restaurant-style recipe for Ocean Mist Farms.
CITRUS SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUTS SALAD WITH LEMON VINAIGRETTE
1 pound Brussels sprouts or 1 pound pre-shaved Brussels sprouts
1 bunch green onions
1/4 bunch Italian parsley
Zest of one lemon
1/2 cup lemon vinaigrette (see below)
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup Pernod
1 cup light olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Trim the end and outer leaves from the Brussels sprouts. Shave using a mandoline slicer.
Wash and slice the green onions on an angle. Wash and roughly chop the parsley. Peel and finely julienne the lemon zest. Combine and toss with lemon vinaigrette.
For vinaigrette: Using a blender, mix together mustard, lemon juice, shallot and Pernod. Gradually add the olive oil while blending. Add seasoning. (This recipe makes 1 cup vinaigrette.)
This recipe was created by Monterey chef Tony Baker for Ocean Mist Farms. He tops it with grilled shrimp.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED PEARL ONIONS AND MAPLE SYRUP
Note: The nuts can be toasted and glazed a day in advance. Store them covered at room temperature. The Brussels sprouts can be quartered a day ahead and kept in a plastic bag lined with paper towels in the refrigerator.
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 to 2 tablespoons maple syrup (adjust for desired sweetness)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, discolored leaves discarded, stems trimmed, quartered
1 bag (16 ounces) frozen pearl onions, slightly thawed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them for about 10 minutes or until fragrant and just a few shades darker.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of the butter, the maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the maple glaze to the hot nuts and toss to coat.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and saute them for about 5 minutes. Add the onions to the skillet, stir, cover and continue cooking until the onions are slightly golden and the Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover, add the salt, black pepper and vinegar and saute, stirring about 2 minutes. Add the nuts and any glaze in the baking pan and saute, stirring, 1 minute more. Serve.
Per serving: 156 calories (57 percent from fat);11 g fat (3 g saturated fat); 14 g carbohydrate; 4 g protein; 272 mg sodium; 12 mg cholesterol; 47 mg calcium; 4 g fiber.
Adapted from Gourmet magazine. Tested by Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen.