The vegetables I grew up around came in tin cans, warmed up in the microwave under a paper towel. Both of my parents grew up poor in the 1960s, a time of tray tables and TV dinners, so their veggie instincts didn’t often veer toward the crisper.
After a childhood poking around at graying peas and mushy corn, I was sure I didn’t like vegetables beyond the occasional salad. Brussels sprouts, my eventual veggie soulmate, weren’t even a blip on the radar. I entered my 20s confident that I just wasn’t a veggie kind of gal.
Then, at 22, I took an internship at a newspaper in southern California, which meant a summer surrounded by bounties of the freshest produce in the country, overflowing lush and green from the shelves of the Fresh & Easy near my office. It seemed wrong not to at least give it a try, so I bought green beans, mushrooms, avocados and plump tomatoes to toss into tarts and crepes and quickly discovered that I am, in fact, a veggie kind of gal. All this time, I’d just been eating veggies prepared the wrong way.
It was a whole new world of cooking possibilities: cauliflower flash fried in agrodolce with pine nuts, asparagus wrapped in Brie and prosciutto, and, of course, Brussels sprouts. Those little guys most famous for smelling like flatulence and being shoved off of plates on The Brady Bunch.
Against all odds, I converted from lifelong veggie skeptic to Brussels sprouts evangelist.
Most people hate this divisive little veg because they’ve never had it prepared the right way.
Like me, much of the world seems to have awoken to this underrated vegetable in recent years, as national trends veer toward farm-to-table and fresh produce and gourmet eateries from New York to New Orleans have put their own spins on the dish.
When I sit down for sushi at Umami Japanese Bistro or gumbo at the recently revamped Pelican House, I know the first order of business is a Brussels appetizer. They’ve embraced these sprouts as they should be: cooked to perfection, doused in enhancing and bright flavors and packing a punch in every bite.
Forget steaming (which brings out that pungent smell). Slow roast them in an oven with olive oil and garlic. Cut them in half and sauté them with shallots and crispy pancetta. Let those outer leaves get a little charred and crispy—that’s the Brussels umami. I’ll force anyone who comes into the sanctuary of my kitchen to just try a Brussels sprout. So far, every guest has accepted the gospel of the sprout into their heart.
If I’m out for dinner, we’re ordering the Brussels sprouts. I don’t care how certain you are that you hate them—you’ve probably just never had them seasoned or cooked with care. I’ll grab your hand across the table and say, “Trust me. I’m a Brussels sprouts truther.”
So, ask yourself: Have you ever truly given the Brussels sprout a chance?
WHERE TO TRY IT
Stroubes Seafood & Steaks
Everything is better with bacon. Order the savory, smoky bacon Brussels sprouts side to share with the table or hoard for yourself.
The Pelican House
A star of the redesigned appetizer menu, The Pelican House’s crispy Brussels sprouts are tossed in a sweet and spicy pepper jelly and topped with pecans and Parmesan cheese.
The Overpass Merchant
A small plate of fried Brussels sprouts served up in a springy, refreshing lemongrass vinaigrette is perfect with a pale beer at this gastropub.
Umami Japanese Bistro
Beware: this small plate of flash-fried Brussels sprouts comes with a sweet chili sauce so addictive you’ll be licking the dish when they’re gone.
A smoky, spicy, and slightly fruity flavor from Rocca’s Calabrian chili vinaigrette makes the crispy Brussels sprouts small plate sing.
This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.