5-A-Day: Roasted Brussels Sprouts

It seems to me that many winter vegetables get a bum rap. They’re hearty enough to withstand the cool to cold weather so they’re either thick-skinned, thick-leafed, or buried deep in the ground. This means they often require a bit more preparation to clean, peel and cook, but the pay-off is worth the extra effort.

We love winter greens, squashes and root vegetables as much as their more highly-touted spring and summer cousins. And among the best in season now are Brussels sprouts. At this time of year they are especially sweet, whether cooked or raw. And if you are lucky enough to live near the California Monterey Coast, where you can buy whole stalks directly from the growers, or near a Trader Joe’s, where you can buy really fresh sprouts still on their stalks for only $3.49, then you are in for the best treat of all: Roasted Brussels Sprouts on the stalk!

OK, so the roasting-on-the-stalk bit might be a little over-the-top, but wouldn’t this be a great way to serve them for a dinner party or buffet table. (Many thanks to the Trader Joe’s associate who shared the idea of roasting on the stalk.) It’s quite a dramatic presentation, and each guest can cut away the sprouts directly from the stalk. But even if you remove the sprouts prior to roasting, the concentrated sweetness and tender bite of roasted Brussels sprouts will win over even the most ardent cruciferous-veggie-hater.

Whereas 2 years ago we discovered the delight of roasted Kale Crisps, this year we’ll be converting friends to these sprouts. The best part for the cook is that they are unbelievably easy to do: toss in oil, lay on baking sheet, sprinkle with sea salt, roast in 350F/180C oven for 20-35 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. I like to leave the sprouts whole, even when they’re not on the stalk, but if you elect to cut them in half, you can roast them even more quickly.

If roasting on the stalk, remember to give them a good dunk in vinegar-water solution (2 TBL vinegar for every quart/liter of water), then a rinse in clean running water and let them dry completely before roasting. I use a slightly lower oven temperature when roasting the whole stalk so the leaves don’t burn before the centers cook, about 325F/170C. Lay on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, season, and roast for 40-60 minutes, rotating the stalk and turning the pan around at intervals during roasting to ensure individual sprout heads don’t burn. Unlike the Kale Crisps, these sprouts should not be crunchy!

Why bother with Brussels sprouts, you ask? Because they, like most cruciferous veggies, are high in fiber and powerhouses in terms of beneficial nutrients. In study after study, cruciferous vegetables have been linked to reduced risks of heart disease and different types of cancer, including colon, lung, prostate, breast cancers. WebMD calls cruciferous vegetables the “Super Veggies.”(a) We’ll call them the “Super Crus.” And the top 3 Super Veggies? Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli — the Über-Super Crus! This is food as medicine at its best!

So if eating healthy or trying new foods is on your new year’s resolution this year, put some or all the “Super Crus” on your must-try list — most are greens, some are root vegetables, a few (wasabi and mustard seeds) are seasoning agents: Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, mustard greens and seeds, horseradish, collard greens, broccoli rabe, Chinese broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, bok choy, mizuna, napa cabbage, turnip root & greens, rutabaga, tatsoi, arugula, watercress, red radish, daikon, wasabi.(b)

Now, if you’ve read through that list and are thinking to yourself, “Ick” or if memories of sour, grey-looking vegetables filled your mind’s eye and nostrils, I hear you. I really do. Often the vegetables on this list are over-cooked, and by that I mean, boiled to death. When over-cooked, they can emit a strong odor — sulphurous and heady, and pretty unpleasant all around. The odors come from the very same nutrients and phytochemicals that provide all the health-protecting properties for which the Super Crus are so touted.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Roasting, gentle steaming, pan-frying, flash-cooking are all methods that generally keep the vegetables delicious smelling and tasting. So please don’t give up on Brussels sprouts or any of the Super Crus just yet. Give this or any one of the recipes below a try. And if some of these vegetables are just plain unknown to you (Choi Who?), these recipes will also provide quick, easy and tasty introductions to some of the more tender Asian greens in the family Brassicaceae.

If you enjoy South Asian flavors and really want to give Brussels sprouts a go, also tryBrussels Sprouts with Coconut & Mustard Seed (2 Super Crus for the price of one, photo above).

More posts featuring cruciferous veggies:
Kale Crisps
Sesame Chinese Broccoli with Wolfberries
Greek Plasto (Greens with Cornbread Crust), the slow-cooker version and the original
Choi Sum with Spicy Garlic Sauce
Indian-spiced Daikon, Carrot & Cauliflower Pickle (another two-fer)
Tian of Roasted Potatoes & Chinese Mustard Greens
Roasted Belgian Endive
Purple & Squeak (Red Cabbage & Okinawan Sweet Potatoes — it’s very purple)
Warm Spiced Cabbage Salad (with or without the fish)
Greens & Cheese Pie
Flash-Cooked Watercress
Garlic Braised Chinese Mustard Greens
Aloo Gobi (Potatoes & Cauliflower)
Namasu (Daikon, Cucumber and Wakame Salad)
Sauerkraut Soup

(a) WebMD.com, “The Super-Veggies: Cruciferous Vegetables,” by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
(b) wikipedia.com, “Taxonomy of Common Cruciferous Vegetables