Coming to Brussels Sprouts' Defense

In just over 24 hours, the Floptimism Kitchen will move. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to be moving off of the equivalent of my university's Frat Row and into a Real Apartment, where Real People (with kids! And dogs!) live, far from the yards adorned with crushed beer cans and borough police who mail you pictures of your trash cans when they're overflowing and tell you to Be Cleaner Or Else. But all of that is very unrelated to food and cooking, especially considering the one upgrade I will not be making is in the kitchen department - both this year's kitchen and the one I'm moving to are equally and devastatingly small.

No, the reason I'm telling you about this (aside from the fact that I practically can't sleep from excitement) is that this move has prompted me to go on an eating frenzy to clean out my freezer and fridge rather than have to transport it all to the New Place. I am sitting here with an acute belly ache because my poor stomach is just not used to 2 pieces of Peanut Truffle Fudge, 1 slice of Chocolate Fudge Cake and a Great Many Spoonfuls of Mint Chocolate Pudding, all before 8pm. The good news is that I'm making fantastic progress on the junk food stores (and, for the record, I have a lofty fantasy of, once I run out of the junk, not buying more and only baking fantastically healthy desserts with the occasional sinful treat because I am, after all, human); the bad news is that well, I won't be getting my cholesterol levels re-checked anytime soon, to put it mildly.

You might be wondering right about now how my Chocolate Extravaganza at all relates to Brussels Sprouts. You see, I was sitting here, the remnants of my chocolate cake + pudding in a bowl beside me, and the bulk of said chocolate cake + pudding sitting a bit uncomfortably in my all-too-stretched stomach, thinking about what to update about. Do I share with you some of these decadent treats I have been indulging in this week? I considered it, and I don't mean to tease you because all of these things are just enormously enjoyable, but I just couldn't do it. I knew what I needed - a nice, big, healthy, green, salad; plain oatmeal with a sliced banana as the sole sweetener; a whole heaping pile of celery sticks. I scrounged through my recipe backlog - surely I had something redeemable in these files, and sure enough, I found what I was looking for: Brussels Sprouts!

Brussels Sprouts are the perfect food to counter this Floptimism Gluttony I am shamefacedly not at all ashamed to be putting myself through; can you think of something that seems healthier? Nutritionally, there are loads of foods that are better, but think about it. Think back to your childhood. Forget "Eat Your Broccoli;" how about "Eat your brussels sprouts?" What kid does that? What adult does that, for that matter? You say Brussels Sprouts and most people cringe down to their very core, because they are the vegetable that has single-handedly sucked the joy out of eating and given Healthy Food a bad rap.

But it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to walk by those little green bud-like veggies in the produce section and turn away, afraid these lonely little buggers will catch your eye and make you feel guilty for being absolutely revolted. And you don't have to watch your kids turn into little Sarah Burnharts as they choke them down Because You Said So, and wouldn't let them eat that ice cream for dessert until they did. You can learn to love Brussels Sprouts. I know this, because I did. The first time I ate a Brussels Sprout (admittedly approximately 8 months ago), they came from the freezer section and steamed in a bag in the microwave. I ate them, cut up into small little bits, incorporated into my chicken and baked potato to try to mask the bitterness as best I could. The second time I ate Brussels Sprouts, they were baked and marinated in what I can only imagine was a maple glaze of some kind, and the bitter-sweetness blew me away. I was still hesitant, and still ate them tentatively, but I found a new appreciation for these complex little guys that I had never known before. I learned that, prepared the right way, their bitter flavor could be heavenly, refreshing even. 

In a world where sweet and salty flavor compounds abound, I think we lose sight of the nuances of those foods that, like Brussels Sprouts, deny our taste buds that instant gratification we have been programmed and socialized to covet. There is something phenomenal about biting into a ball of bitterness, glazed in something subtle to cut its intensity, but only slightly. Still, I understand when someone says they dislike Brussels Sprouts. Like wine, it is an acquired taste (do you like how I just made myself out to be some snobby, exclusive connoisseur of Brussels Sprouts? "Oh no, it isn't that Brussels Sprouts are bad - you just aren't well-versed in Brussels Sprouts enough to appreciate their true beauty"), and I don't expect Brussels Sprouts haters to just jump on my band wagon because I tell them they should.

This recipe is a good stepping stone. I gravitated toward it because it didn't involve smothering the 'sprouts in maple syrup and bacon, which is the all-too-common Trifecta of Brussels Sprouts recipes, but I actually found it to mask the bitterness even better than said Trifecta seems to (in my experience, anyway). Because of this, I was a little disappointed - I like it when the bitter compounds peek through and remind me of their existence; but for people who want to eat Brussels Sprouts because they think they should, but they  just can't get past that in-your-face flavor, this is a good one to have in your arsenal. The roasting allows for a smoky caramelization, and then a bit of lemon comes in to finish the job. Oh, and the butter and parmesan cheese probably help, too. Regardless, this turns out to be a delicious, flavorful, surprisingly light side dish (I cut back on some of the oil and butter measurements), and one that has the potential to cast Brussels Sprouts in a much more favorable light. So the next time you spot those green little rounds in the produce section, don't speed up and hope you can sneak by before they get you - slow down, and give these guys a chance.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, courtesy of Cast Sugar
Yield: 3-4 servings

The Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed and dried
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper, to taste
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2-4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
The Method
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, halve the brussels sprouts and toss with the garlic on a baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the sprouts and season with salt, pepper, and zest from  half of the lemon. Toss once more to coat, and then dot the mixture with the butter. 

Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes* before stirring and lowering the heat to 400 degrees. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the sprouts are tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before tossing with the remaining lemon zest, juice, and parmesan. This dish can either be chilled or served at room temperature.

*I think mine could have come out of the oven after the first 20 minutes, but this is such a drastic change to the recipe that I left it as is. It wouldn't be a bad idea to keep an eye on them, though, and perhaps stir after 12-15 minutes and only bake for an additional 10 after that.

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