Alhambra Farmers Market
Rabbits can be voracious eaters, and following all these Chinese New Year celebrations, I find myself seeking more and more vegetables at Alhambra's Sunday morning farmer's market. I settle on the ones I used to hate: brussel sprouts.
As a kid I felt like an oddity, because I never understood why my friends hated vegetables. To be fair, I was never a picky eater (school portraits will prove it), and most kids are only interested in things fried, salty and sugary. I'm lucky to have had parents who cooked often, building my appreciation for vegetables at an early age. Bok choy, Nappa cabbage, green beans and spinach were common at our dinner table, but the one green that never appeared was the brussel sprout. Now this can be from a lot of factors: market availability, uncommon ingredient to Chinese cuisine, but it wasn't until high school that I had my first experience. When I finally did, at a potluck in high school, the experience was horrible. The sprouts were mushy and smelled bad. I finally understood what all my classmates were groaning about for years.
Walking around Alhambra's Farmers market brought back the traumatic memories, as there are at least two stands selling abundant amount of brussels. While they don't have an overwhelming scent to catch your attention, their color and shape are hard to miss. This was a great opportunity to confront my past, as well as jumping on the brussels bandwagon. The round sprouts have been riding a wave of popularity thanks to food blogs and big name chefs. And it's about time.
I learned that by picking fresh, you can save yourself the heartache of overcooking. The strong sulfur odor and mushy textures I experienced as a youth can be blamed on this common mishap (it doesn't help that the dish would have to be reheated, making overcooking absolutely inevitable). But I learned brussel sprouts also have a delicate, nutty flavor with a slight cabbage bitterness. A long, drawn out cooking method will destroy these flavors, as well as demolishing cell walls which release Sinigrin, the source of the pungent foul odors. You can thinly shred raw Brussels in a cole slaw, or pan fried with a bit of bacon fat. Brussels owe a lot of their recent popularity to bacon (as pointed out by food author extraordinaire Mark Bittman), but they can definitely hold their own if their friendship ever breaks off. A quick steam or zap in the microwave will cook it enough to remove overly raw/green flavors, which can then be used in a warm brussel sprout salad. Brussels sprouts do very well in dry heat, either roasted with red onions, grilled and brushed with a mustard vinaigrette or stir fried in a wok like bok choy. But my go-to preparation is pan fried til golden in a cast iron pan with rendered duck fat.
Have you had a horrifying Brussel sprout experience? Or do you have additional tips and favorite recipes? Let us hear them in the comments, or send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org