The humble sprout is much maligned but it’s a delicious vegetable (if cooked properly) and as one of the ‘cruciferous’ group of vegetables (along with, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli) may help to protect the body from cancer. I can’t stress this enough: The key is to not overcook them. If you’ve had bad experiences with them, the chances are that an inexperienced cook has ‘nuked’ them within an inch of their lives, rendering them limp and a slightly yellowy green colour. In this state they take on a nasty bitterness and are very unpleasant to eat. Cooked correctly however they should be soft but still retain some of their ‘oomph’ (my technical term, roughly translated to mean ‘some of their body and structure’) and will still appear green.
To prepare them for cooking: Remove the tougher and loose outer leaves (usually only one or two in number) and rinse in cold water. I know opinion is divided nowadays but I still like to cut a little cross in the base of them because I find it helps to cook them evenly and quickly. I then cook mine in one of those foldaway steamer baskets, placed in the bottom of a pan with a little bubbling water underneath, lid on, for 8 – 10 minutes. Timing depends on the size of the sprouts so do keep an eye on them and check for readiness by poking them with the tip of a sharp knife. If you prefer, you can of course boil them for an equal amount of time.
To serve: Again, I’m a fan of these little veggies so for me, serving them steaming hot with freshly cracked black pepper is all that I need, but non die-hard sprout fans might also like a knob of butter!
If I still haven’t quite convinced you, here is a very nice recipe for sprouts with a little extra crunch, nuttiness and interest – perfect for Christmas and Thanksgiving lunch and dinners.
Serves 8 people Preparation time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 15 minutes
1 kg / 2 lb 4 oz Brussels sprouts
50g / 2 oz white bread, preferably ciabatta
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for serving
25g / 1 oz flaked almonds
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
Remove any tough leaves and trim sprouts, then steam for 10 minutes until tender.
Tear the bread into crumbs. Heat a large frying pan and pour in the olive oil. Add the bread and fry until just crisp.
Tip in the flaked almonds, garlic and lemon zest, then cook gently until everything is golden (be careful not to burn the garlic).
Place the sprouts in a serving dish, season, then toss with the crumbs etc. You can, if you wish, add a little extra olive oil to finish.
These can be prepared ahead: Cook the sprouts the day before to the ‘al dente’ stage (in other words, until almost but not quite cooked). Remove from the heat and then cool quickly by draining and then plunging into a bowl of iced water. Drain and set aside in the fridge. You can also make the topping a day in advance and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. To serve: Microwave the sprouts for 1-2 minutes or cook in boiling water to re-heat (being careful not to overdo it). Warm the topping mix then toss with the topping as above.