When I first starting dating the hubby, about 800 years ago ;), he abhorred Brussels sprouts with every fiber of his soul. Why? Apparently his grandma really liked them and would cook them on a weekly basis, except when I say “cook” I really mean “boiled.” In fact, just remembering the smell of the hallway to his grandma’s home would make him gag. Needless to say, I was not allowed to even look at a Brussels sprout much less contaminate our home with them for the longest time. So why does cooked cabbage (Brussels sprouts are a type of cabbage dating back to Roman times but became associated with Belgium as they were the largest producers just in case you had a burning desire to know) smell like something crawled into your kitchen and died? Well grasshopper 😉 cabbage and other veggies like asparagus give off dimethyl sulfide when cooked creating that malodorous sulphur-y aroma. Ack, then why would you ever cook cabbage?? Actually, if you cook it till it’s just tender but not overcooked, you don’t end up releasing the dreaded dimethyl sulfide. And, even without the smell, limp mushy cabbage is pretty unappealing anyway don’t you think? Anyhoo, since granny liked to make sure her food was good and cooked, that pretty much put the kibosh on Brussels sprouts in the hubby’s formative years. But, as often happens in our household, I have cravings for a certain somethin’ somethin’ and cook it for myself which usually ends up with the hubby coopting it for himself, usually by taking food literally off my fork [cough *bully!* cough.]. You see, just cooked Brussels sprouts are slightly bitterly sweet with tender leaves and a crunchy core. They go well with savory, salty, or starchy foods so pair them with pancetta, parsnips or hazelnuts… whatever your taste buds desire, you really can’t go wrong. And thus Brussels sprouts were reinstated and all rejoiced 😀
In general, I tend to prefer to either sauté or roast my veggies? Why? Not only does that bring out the flavors better by browning them (Oh, Louis Maillard, you genius, you!) but you can also caramelize the sugars and unlike boiling, sautéing or roasting usually doesn’t leach off all of those nutritious vitamins and minerals. These humble little sprouts contain 120% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin C, 8% of vitamin A, 2% of calcium, 3g of fiber and 2g of protein, not bad for a mere 4 Lilliputian sprouts. Wait, isn’t browning the same thing as caramelizing? Um, nope. Browning as a result of heating, also known as the Maillard reaction, can occur at room temperature but tends to occur best between 300-500F. The sugars and proteins (usually amino acids) on food go through a series of chemical reactions requiring heat or energy to create melanoidins. Melanoidins are large molecules made up of polymers (chains of the same molecule linked up together) that have a brown color but more importantly have attached flavor molecules. Yum. Caramelization is sort of the opposite effect, complex sugar molecules are broken down using heat into simpler sugar molecules (ie sucrose is turned into glucose + fructose) which then polymerize (the same simple sugar creates long chains) creating caramelin, a large molecule with a slightly bitter flavor we associate with “burnt” sugar in addition to that sugar taste. So this recipe involves not one, but two nerdy scientific reactions to give you healthy veggies 🙂 If you don’t have a splitting headache now or want to read about more fascinating cooking chemistry, go have some fun at Your Mother Was A Chemist: Science in the Kitchen [pushes up glasses.]
2 tsp toasted sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil (I used sesame oil for the slightly smoky flavor)
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch by 2 inch lengths
1/2 tsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp dried thyme
1 lb Brussels sprouts, old outer leaves removed, stems trimmed, and halved lengthwise
Preheat oven to 400F.
In an oven-safe skillet heat oil over medium heat till aromatic but not smoking. Add carrots and sauté for 2-3 minutes to release their juices (yes, it’s called “sweating” but it just seems sort of weird to me when referring to food). Stir in brown sugar, salt, thyme, and Brussels sprouts and remove from heat. Roast in oven for 10-15 minutes till Brussels sprouts are lightly browned and can be easily punctured with a fork. Serves 2.