Brussels Sprouts. Mmm.
If your only memory of Brussels sprouts is that of a dark green, kinda-mushy vegetable with a farty background, it's no wonder why you hate them. No one should eat Brussels sprouts with a flavor like that.
Brussels sprouts have been misunderstood. They came to the world with cancer-fighting properties, but also with the potential to taste a little funky. Note the emphasis is on potential. It's simply not fair for us to place expectations on any food for it to automatically taste good.
Compare Brussels sprouts (and many other vegetables) to when you first wake up in the morning: you really are truly wonderful inside and out! But fresh out of bed? Not quite. You don't look - or smell - that wonderful. In order to shine as your truly wonderful self, you need a little care: brush your teeth, wash up, perhaps a shave, get dressed in your favorite outfit...BOOM! There's that shining star we know and love!
With damaged and discolored outer leaves, and sulfur-containing glycosides that are linked with cancer-fighting properties but also with a pungent taste, Brussels sprouts can come across a little unsightly, and stanky.
But with the right preparations for a meal: a little washing up, a light trim, and dressed with the right ingredients, they'll be a favorite on anybody's plate!
Why Bother Loving Brussels Sprouts
Solid Immunity, Healthy Vascular System, and Strong Bones
Brussels sprouts are a great food to fill your vitamin C and K tanks. In just a half cup portion, you'll meet 80% of your vitamin C needs, and surpass your daily recommended intake (DRI) for vitamin K! Vitamin C is involved with maintaining soft tissues and strengthening immune system cells, thereby supporting your immune system.
Without sufficient Vitamin K, we would suffer hemorrhagic disease in which we would lose copious amounts of blood, as the fat-soluble vitamin is well known for regulating blood coagulation. In fact, "vitamin K" has been named as such after the German spelling of coagulation: Koagulatión. Vitamin K is also a crucial component with maintaining bone strength. It works together with vitamin D to absorb calcium more effectively.
Boost your cognition with just a half cup of Brussels sprouts! Several studies have shown a link between certain B-vitamin deficiencies and cognitive decline as well as the development of Alzheimer's disease. Around 10% of the DRI for folate, a B-vitamin, is contained in just a half cup, along with trace amounts of other B-vitamins including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and pantothenic acid. Not only will some of these vitamins contribute to a better functioning brain, they also play crucial roles in efficient metabolism.
Brussels sprouts, along with other cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicacea family including broccoli, cabbage, kale and arugula, are well known for their anticarcinogenic power. Between their phenolic compounds and organosulfur compounds, these vegetables are one of many excellent methods you can use to strengthen your body against cancerous threats!
Flavonoids and hydroxycinnamic acids are the most important phenolic compounds present in the Brassicacea family. Not only are they powerful at fighting tumorous growths, they also control oxidation and activate detoxification. Working along with the phenolic compounds are the organosulfur compounds that are accumulated by cruciferous vegetables. The organosulfur compounds, called glucosinolates (GSLs), contain sulfur - the principal element responsible for the pungent flavors of Brussels sprouts and other cruciferous veggies.
GSLs break down to isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are very unstable, and primarily responsible for the chemopreventive effects of Brussels sprouts and other Brassica vegetables. Factors such as the initial GSL concentration in the vegetable, storage conditions, cooking processes, amount of vegetable intake, and human metabolism are variables that can impact the level of bioavailability of ITCs.
Therefore, if you'd like to gain the most chemopreventive benefits from Brussels sprouts, then you'll need to be a little picky with which sprouts you purchase (or harvest!), how you store them, and how you prepare them in the kitchen. See "Unpalatable Cruciferous Nugget to Mind Blowing Delicious" below
Brussels Sprouts Selection
Brussels sprouts grow around a long, thick stem. Most often at the grocery store, you'll find just the sprouts in a bulk bin or packaged in a bag.
Occasionally, you may find a stalk of sprouts. A stalk of Brussels sprouts is one step closer to the freshest you can get, of course with the exception of an old and rotting stalk. Which in that case, you certainly won't buy!
The fresher the sprouts, the greater level of nutrition they'll have.
But whether you're selecting a stalk of sprouts or a pound of sprouts-only from the bin, be sure you're choosing those that are firm and have the least amount of yellowing, browning, and damage.
Some yellowing and damage on the outer leaves is normal as these serve as a protective layer to the entire sprout, and which you will remove at the time of culinary preparation. You'll easily be able to spot the difference between a good sprout and a bad one. A good, fresh sprout is beautifully green with tightly packed leaves and minimal discoloration and damage. Choosing smaller, versus larger, sprouts may also come with a touch more tenderness. But size is less of a concern compared to visible discoloration or damage, so if you can't find smaller ones, no worries!
A bad sprout might have a larger quantity of yellowing and browning, have loose leaves, or worse: pitting. The pitting is a sign they've been attacked heavily by aphids which are likely to still be residing in between the layers of leaves! Ewwww!
Although very off-putting, don't let this deter you from purchasing Brussels sprouts ever again. Plan for a different side dish until you can find a better batch.
Alternatively, you may choose a pack of frozen Brussels sprouts, but considering freezing impacts the level of glulcosinolates in sprouts, as well as their texture, you'll be happier you waited to find the fresh ones.
Brussels Sprouts Storage
In most cases, it's never ideal to store any freshly picked produce for lengthy periods of time. Whether you grow your own Brussels sprouts, or you're purchasing them from the market, cook them as soon as you can after they've arrive in your kitchen. Of course, that is ideal.
If you must store your Brussels sprouts under refrigeration, avoid storing them for more than three days. GSL content does begin to decrease after Brussels sprouts have been harvested, but research shows that the loss is greatest after three days, especially after a week.
Again, you'll be able to tell the difference between a good sprout and a bad one. If you're storing your sprouts in the fridge for a longer period of time, you'll certainly notice a color change from the time you first purchased them a week ago - and let's pray not longer than that!
(If you keep getting swept away by accidental food waste, you may need to concentrate more on effective meal planning and give your fridge a little refresh.)
Aside from a lengthy storage time, the greatest lost of glucosinolates occurs between freezing and thawing. Studies showed that the loss of GSLs in frozen Brussels sprouts was an average of 33%, a higher percentage than the average 19% loss associated with refrigeration lasting over seven days.
Therefore, store your Brussels sprouts for less than three days to preserve the maximum amount of glucosinolates and chemoprotective properties.
Unpalatable Cruciferous Nugget to Mind Blowing Delicious
Here's the FUN part: how to make these potentially - potentially! - unpalatable cruciferous nuggets taste mind blowing delicious! The keys to elevating their flavor include using high quality ingredients, and to not overcook them. Overcooking will only accentuate their sulfurous taste and make them worthy of only a garbage can's embrace.
Wash & Trim
The first, crucial step in preparing Brussels sprouts is to wash them under cool water, followed by cutting off their bottom end, and removing their slightly discolored and damaged outer leaves. If you've got larger sprouts, you can't go wrong cutting them in half. The smaller size will speed up the cook time and also lead to a more tender and pleasant chew. Biting into a too-firm B. sprout is likely to lower one's interest, or worse: create a lasting negative memory that's harder to turn back into a positive one! What's especially unpleasant about a too-firm Brussels sprout is the spicier taste that comes with it from the sulfur-containing GSLs that would otherwise be softened with cooking.
Salt has gotten a lot of bad attention related to its cause for high blood pressure (HBP). Before you choose to omit the salt due to HBP, know that there are many factors that contribute to it. Being more picky with which salt you use, which foods you include in your diet, how much exercise you're engaging in, moderating your alcohol intake and avoiding smoking are all extremely important to achieve consistently good blood pressure.
If there's one thing to avoid, it's table salt, also called iodized salt. Table salt contains additives. It has more of a metallic taste and is not ideal for any type of cooking. Resolve to use only Kosher or sea salts. These will have a cleaner taste and help to season dishes more effectively. One of salt's benefits is to enhance a food's natural taste. By sprinkling a little Kosher or sea salt over your Brussels sprouts, you will find a subtle sweetness! So don't skip using salt, as this is one element to properly balance the sprouts' bitterness.
One of fat's roles is to carry flavor. Some fats are flavorful as they are, others are more mild. Which fat you choose to use with Brussels sprouts will depend on what flavors you'd like to convey the most.
Pork fats, such as bacon and pancetta, are common favorites to pair with Brussels sprouts. These are an example of fats that are already very flavorful as they are, and are perfect to use if you're working on converting someone into a lover of sprouts. Yes, these fats are the types that health professionals recommend you avoid most often. And you will, if eating a healthy diet is something you practice daily! When you make eating a healthy diet a priority, Brussels sprouts with bacon or pancetta won't be an every day thing for you, so if that turns out to be your favorite preparation, you may continue enjoying them on occasion!
You may also find you love Brussels sprouts with butter, cream, or cheese. These are also very flavorful fats as they are, they pair wonderfully with the sulfur-rich veg, and may also be another good option to try if you're working on converting a Brussels sprouts hater.
More mild tasting fats like olive or avocado oil can pair nicely with Brussels sprouts as well. Though you'll want to take extra care to include other great flavors like lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, or wine - red or white. These acidic, or sour, flavors will be another crucial element to balancing bitterness, and you can even use them with those richer fats as well.
Lemon or white wine go great with butter and cream, and balsamic vinegar or red wine could work nicely with both mild oils as well as pork fats.
Here's a little hint: research has shown that red wine paired with Brussels sprouts (you choose: using red wine as an ingredient, drinking red wine, or both!) helps to decrease their perceived bitterness. Just another fun tool to add to the box!
Seasonal fruits including cranberries and apples are also traditional ingredients to pair with Brussels sprouts. They lend both sweet and tart flavors which only add more depth to your final dish. You may even add some nuttiness to your dish with pecans, walnuts, or sliced almonds.
Noticing any clues in relation to balancing the strong flavors of Brussels sprouts? That's right! Toss them together with a handful of ingredients that lend well-rounded flavors including salty, sweet (apples, wine), sour (lemon, vinegar, cranberries), bitter (the sprouts themselves! and wine), and choose your favorite fat to carry all those across your palette at once. YUM!!!
Best Cooking Methods
Now it's not just a matter of what ingredients you're using. The final element to producing an amazing Brussels sprouts dish is in how it is cooked!
Placing care around how to preserve Brussels sprouts' nutrition is just as important as how to create a dish that hits all the right sensual notes from visual appeal, aroma, texture and taste, collectively inducing the flow of salivary juices.
Many compounds can be destroyed by cooking, including flavonoids, vitamin C, carotenoids, and GSLs. The most effective form of cooking for preserving GSL content was shown to be sautéeing for 3-5 minutes. Oven-steamed and sous-vide methods have shown a significant loss of vitamin C yet a rise in phenolic compounds and carotenoids. Blanching and boiling are also methods in which significant vitamin C and GSLs were lost.
Altogether, longer cooking times and storage times (that's storage before cooking and after cooking) were shown to lose the greatest amount of nutrition.
What this boils down to for you is to play around with all sorts of methods. Eat and enjoy!
You may blanch or simmer as a pre-cook method to roasting or sautéeing, or you might simmer a bit longer and call the sprouts cooked - finish with some good butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt and freshly cracked pepper and call it delish! Never underestimate the power of a simple dish.
Sautéeing or roasting are always crowd-pleasers as they caramelize natural sugars and produce a crispy exterior. Perhaps you'd like to finish your sprouts under the broiler with a little Parmigiano or Gruyère after you've cooked them in wine and cream.
Just don't leave too many leftovers. Though, as you become a Brussels sprouts pro, that probably won't be a problem for long.
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