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Image: Tina Tiller
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KaiJune 30, 2023

Ingredient of the week: Brussels sprouts

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

Hating on Brussels sprouts is a time-honoured tradition in this country. But scientific advances, modern cooking methods and copious olive oil means that distaste should really be relegated to the past.

Let’s lay all the cards on the table: some vegetables are more difficult to like than others… and “Brussels sprouts” is in the headline of this article. They’re dense, textured, a little bitter, and pungent if overcooked – so no wonder they’re the classic child-unfriendly vegetable. 

While I’ve grown to enjoy Brussels sprouts to a reasonable degree (and have learnt how to reveal their most delicious selves), I still struggle a little with Brussels. When I buy them, it’s partly because I think I should enjoy them. And I do! They are quite lovely raw and finely shredded in a salad, or caramelised and charred in the oven. Nevertheless, there’s a pinch of “I’m an adult now, so I get the Brussels sprouts”, in every purchase. 

For those who haven’t come around to the culinary merits of the Brussels sprout, here’s another way to enjoy their existence: look up pictures of the Brussels sprout plant. It would be entirely fitting as a Dr Seuss creature – tall, gangly, topped with a loose cabbage-like wig, and with the Brussels sprouts themselves, these tiny cabbage buds, climbing their thick central stalk like bizarre growths. 

A field of Brussels sprouts plants. Individual Brussels sprouts cling to the central stalk which is topped with a mass of leaves.
The alien-like Brussels sprout plant. (Image: Getty)

Actually, it’s not surprising that Brussels sprouts look like miniature cabbages, as they’re a Brassica and a relative of the cabbage, broccoli, and kale. While the plant is native to the Mediterranean, it became popular and cultivated in the 13th century in Belgium – ergo, Brussels sprouts. 

Also, if you think Brussels sprouts are bitter now, listen to this. Modern Brussels sprouts have been cross-bred for low-bitterness, which was only made possible in the 1990s when Dutch scientist Hans van Doorn identified the chemicals sinigrin and progoitrin as the culprits of Brussels sprouts’ acrid flavour. It was this reduction in bitterness that really increased the popularity of Brussels sprouts over the last two decades – so we can thank the Dutch for making these green buds rather more loveable. 

Where to find Brussels sprouts

Brrrr, it’s cold outside – and that means Brussels sprouts are in season, happy as ever in their frosty coats. Generally, Brussels sprouts are bought in another kind of coat (plastic bags), rather than loosey-goosey and priced by the kilo. 

For Countdown shoppers, that looks like either $6 for a 350g bag, or a much better deal of $5 for 500g if you can snag some Odd Bunch Brussels sprouts. At both Pak’nSave and New World, a 400g bag of whole fresh Brussels is $5.99, while Supie offers a 400g bag for $4.50. 

How to make Brussels sprouts terrible

If you’d like to disgust your family or put children off Brussels sprouts for the next decade, boil those buds until greyish, soft, waterlogged, sulfuric-smelling, and bitter. Overcooking through any method isn’t advisable, as that sulphuric odour will arise – but we all know boiling is the easiest way to ruin veg. 

However, there’s more that can go wrong with a Brussels sprout than culinary disaster: as a rich source of vitamin K (which is a blood-clotting factor), chowing down too heartily on the green buds can lead to adverse health effects for people on blood-thinners. Be safe, and consume with care.

A plate topped with roasted Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and garlic cloves paired with bacon, honeyed ricotta, and creamy butter bean on a wooden bench.
Roasted Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and garlic cloves paired with bacon, honeyed ricotta, and creamy butter bean. (Image: Wyoming Paul)

How to make Brussels sprouts amazing

If there’s one safe method for enjoying Brussels sprouts, it’s to roast until crispy, charred, and caramelised. You can just toss with oil, salt, and pepper; add garlic cloves to the roasting tray; or add a good trickle of balsamic vinegar and a spoonful of runny honey as well. Simply seasoned Brussels sprouts can also be topped with grated parmesan or chopped crispy bacon. Recently I made roasted Brussels sprouts, potatoes and garlic cloves paired with bacon, honeyed ricotta, and creamy butter beans – a perfect wintry meal.

Sautéed Brussels sprouts is another great option that can create caramelised surfaces with less cooking time. To prepare your Brussels, remove any loose and damaged leaves, and trim the cut end. I usually slice them in half, especially for roasting and frying, so the cut surface can lay flat on the oven tray or pan, where it will become really crispy and caramelised. If sautéing, leave the Brussels sprouts lying cut side down in a hot, oiled pan for 7 minutes before moving them around.

If you’d like to branch out, a raw and finely sliced Brussels sprouts salad is a great fresh winter side dish – try pairing the buds with strong contrasting flavours and textures, like dried cranberries or finely sliced orange, roughly chopped nuts, lemon juice, crunchy bacon or parmesan. A creamy, zesty dressing is great for complementing and balancing out the bitter flavours. That’s what I’ll be experimenting with this weekend, and I might even squash my last bit of anti-Brussels sprout sentiment in the process!

Wyoming Paul is the co-founder of Grossr, a recipe management website where you can create recipes, discover chefs and follow meal plans. 

Read all the previous Ingredients of the Week here.

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