brussels sprouts

Choux de bruxelles. It was not until I came to know them by their French name that I also found a love for them I had not previously thought possible. Having grown up in a country where brussels sprouts were a target of public disgust, even for those who had never tasted them (myself included), I had come to think of them as the kind of thing that everyone talks about and no one actually experiences.

But then I spent six months in Paris, where I was officially and formally acquainted with the small green vegetable. The first time I experienced brussels sprouts, they were quartered and sautéed with a simple combination of olive oil, salt and water. They were tender, yet still more dense and much sweeter than their full-sized-cabbage cousins. The truth is, my first bite found me instantly in love with them, and I couldn’t think of any reason for the general public to hate them so fiercely.

What could be the source of so much disgust propagated on behalf of such an innocuous food? It took my return to the US for me to more fully understand the downfall of the brussels sprout on my home turf. I came to find out that, during the thoughtlessly boiled vegetable phase that soaked up the middle part of the 20th century, brussels sprouts were dealt with just as you might have expected: they were watered down and cooked to a mushy, mealy, flavorless pulp: a flavor and form completely unrelated to what I tasted at the dinner table in my Paris flat. They had been dealt the same cards as the tiny green pea, whom I had also come to love abroad, though in Spain, rather than France.

When I moved back home, I immediately began a crusade to show the world, or at least my close friends, that brussels sprouts were indeed noble and delicious. I was surprised to find that a few people had already begun to forge the road ahead of me. To assist me in my pursuit, I enlisted one of my favorite cooking companions: the venerable bacon. Not that bacon was particularly new to my repertoire, but its presence was the magical touch that had won me over to the delicious peas I enjoyed in Spain. I reasoned that bacon might have the power to nudge my unbelievers into submission with brussels sprouts, the way it had with me and the peas.

So, I started with bacon and minced onion and fudged the rest, meanwhile working my way into the hearts of my friends and family with my unlikely offering. Many were surprised at the subtle sweetness found in my brussels sprouts and the lack of gag reflex they inspired, though some chose to refrain from a second helping. All tried them, though, which is all I can ask, even if they only did it out of love and sympathy for me, the poor girl who fell in love with the red-headed stepchild of the vegetable family.

 

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

1 tablespoon butter
¼ pound of bacon, chopped
½ yellow onion, chopped
4 cups brussels sprouts, quartered
¾ water or dry white wine (and more if needed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Melt the butter over medium-low heat and add the bacon, stirring often. As the bacon begins to brown, add the onions and sautée until tender, about 10 minutes. Add the brussels sprouts and mix thoroughly, before adding about half of the liquid. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as deglazing occurs, and sprinkle the kosher salt over the top. Reduce heat to low and cover, stirring occassionally and adding the remainder of the liquid as the pan becomes dry. Allow to cook for about 30 minutes, or until the outer leaves of the brussels sprouts become soft and the centers start to brown. Serve them warm, with a heartfelt bon appetit- and you might find more than a few reluctant admirers along the way.

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