Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Under-Appreciated Brussels Sprouts

Just the mere mention of Brussels sprouts and I can't help but think of Calvin from the famous (and brilliant) Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip.  For those of you who are Calvin and Hobbes experts, you know that that kid did not just detest vegetables, but he had a visceral hatred for green vegetables in particular.  There was that hilarious strip where he shouted with the utmost conviction, "Brussels sprouts aren't food, they're ammunition!"  

Truth be told, most kids make a disgusting face and contemplate their quick escape from the table when they discover that these mini cabbages are on the dinner menu.  For those kids whose escape plans went sour and were forced to sit at the table and endure, these bad-rap vegetables probably found their way into one of the dirty wadded-up napkins (when their parents were not looking), which eventually made their way into the trash.  It's unfortunate, because these mini cabbages rock.  They are adorable, fun to eat and when roasted simply until golden and slightly crispy, they are as addictive as popcorn or chips.  As addictive as vegetables can be.

I'm one of the lucky moms out there that at the mere mention of Brussels sprouts, my kids' faces light up.  My kids even suggested that I should always make a double batch so they can snack on them until dinner time.  And when I don't, less than half of what I prepared makes it to the actual dinner table since each time one of my kids (or my husband!) passes through the kitchen, they are secretly pilfering them one by one until so few are left behind.

Living in Israel, I don't often find fresh Brussels sprouts in the supermarket, but when I do, I buy boxes of them at a time.  At some point, I asked my son what vegetable I should make for my Shabbat menu.  He suggested Brussels sprouts and I told him that unfortunately they weren't in season.  He shrugged and suggested I try using the bags of frozen Brussels sprouts.  I decided to give them a try and they were amazing.  If you've got fresh ones at your market, buy those, but the frozen ones are a great alternative.

The way I see it, the trick to making perfect Brussels sprouts is to "keep it simple".  The minute you start mucking around with twenty different ingredients, the minute you mask the simplicity of its flavorful essence and it's yumminess. (Not sure if that's a word, but I'm sticking with it...)
I use five ingredients besides the sprouts themselves - that's it! - and honestly, that's all it needs.  

Garlicky Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4-6

1 bag frozen Brussels sprouts
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, but not peeled (this is important!)
2 shallots, peeled and cut into wedges
2 Tbsp. good quality olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground pepper (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a 9x13 cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Place the frozen Brussels sprouts on the tray (no need to defrost them).  Scatter the garlic cloves and the shallot wedges around the sprouts, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and grind a generous amount of sea salt over the vegetables.  Add pepper if using.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once or twice until golden.  If you like them dark and crispy, roast them an extra 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle with some more salt if necessary and serve right away.  You'll be surprised how fast they disappear!

Note: keeping the garlic cloves in their papery cases keeps the garlic sweeter than if you peeled them and prevents them from burning.  Something about them roasting in their own skins lessens the natural sharpness of the garlic and renders them almost sweet.

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