One of my guilty pleasures is to watch cooking shows on the Food Network. Recently I got sucked into a variety of shows focusing on cooking for the holidays. In one of them, Ree Drummond (she of the Pioneer Woman cooking phenomenon) looked straight at the camera and said that she was preparing Brussels sprouts for the holiday dinner because her children demanded it. A moment later, she laughingly admitted, “Not really.”
Brussels sprouts do often grace the holiday table (and yes, Ree’s comments got me looking for them when I went to the grocery store earlier this week). And I’ve found that as I’ve grown older, I’ve ended up liking these strange-looking little vegetables more and more.
So what are they and why do we so often see them served on fall and winter menus? Brussels sprouts are members of the cabbage family and are a hardy, slow-growing vegetable. “The ‘sprouts’ (small heads that resemble miniature cabbages) are produced in the leaf axils, starting at the base of the stem and working upward,” the University of Illinois Extension website stated. “Sprouts improve in quality and grow best during cool or even lightly frosty weather.” According to the North Carolina State University’s Extension Horticultural Specialist Dr. Douglas C. Sanders, these vegetables are closely related to cauliflower, broccoli, kale and collard greens.
Eating Brussels sprouts offer great health benefits. Dr. Andrew Weil (who is a clinical professor of medicine and director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona) stressed that these benefits include supporting optimal functioning of the heart and immune system, reducing the risk of colon cancer and other cancers, promoting healthy elimination and protecting against birth defects. The George Mateljan Foundation’s website also noted, “Brussels sprouts can provide you with some special cholesterol-lowering benefits if you will use a steaming method when cooking them.” The foundation also pointed to research that suggests that this vegetable may have unique health benefits in protecting DNA.
These vegetables are a natural source of folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene and antioxidants. The University of Illinois Extension reports that a half cup of Brussels sprouts has 30 calories, two grams of protein, seven grams of carbohydrates, and two grams of dietary fiber.
Preparation is the key to making Brussels sprouts that are tasty (as opposed to mushy). You have to make sure that you don’t overcook them. “The leaves cook faster than the core, so cut an X in the bottom of the stem for even cooking when cooking the sprouts whole,” the University of Illinois Extension website stated. “As a rule, when Brussels sprouts have lost the bright green color, they are overcooked and have lost a considerable amount of nutritional value as well.” You should make sure that the sprouts are the same size so that they cook at the same rate. And if you have large Brussels sprouts, cut them in half.
Dr. Weil’s recommended recipe is very easy. “For the best taste (and most nutritional value) eat Brussels sprouts that are as fresh as possible,” he said. “And to avoid the mush, try slicing them in half, brushing or tossing with some extra virgin olive oil and roasting at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes, until just browned. Shake the pan once or twice during cooking for even browning.” His recipe closely resembles Ina Garten’s recipe, which I've made and enjoyed before. And for those of you who are fans of Ree Drummond (or who just want to see what recipe for Brussels sprouts that she’d dare feed her kids, here’s the recipe for Brussels Sprouts with Balsamic and Cranberries.
Published On: December 23, 2011