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12.05.2005

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eat your brussels sprouts 
how to cook Brussels sprouts (and like them too!)

by Yee-Fan Sun
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continued from page 1

Picked well and cooked properly, Brussels sprouts have a lovely firm-tender texture and a mild, slightly nutty-sweet flavor. With their gorgeous green color and adorable spherical shape, they also look mighty cute adorning a plate. Plus, they really are good for you -- like broccoli and cabbage, which are part of the same family of veggies, Brussels sprouts are high in fiber, anti-oxidants, folic acid, potassium, vitamins K, C, and more excellent stuff. The culinary potential of these mini cabbages has been long appreciated by the Belgians -- a people who make some of the best chocolate in the world, and must surely know a little something about good eats -- hence the naming of the sprout after the country's capital. Meanwhile, here in the UK, Brussels sprouts are a traditional winter holiday favorite, a must-have side dish that sits alongside a big roast turkey at Christmas dinner tables all over the country. So why, then, are Brussels sprouts so denigrated by folks back home?

The answer is easy: most people who claim they hate Brussels sprouts have only had badly cooked sprouts. See, in the hands of a clueless cook, the Brussels sprout can be a terrible thing indeed. Let those Brussels sprouts boil to death and the end results will be mealy, bitter and sulfurous (overcooking causes an excessive release of sulfur from the sprouts). If your memories of Brussels sprouts are of a pile of gray, squashy, smelly veggies sitting unappetizingly on your plate, rest assured: this is not how Brussels sprouts should be. Learn how to cook Brussels sprouts the right way, and you just might discover that the veggie Mom used to have to bribe you to eat is actually (gasp!) really good.

for the pickin'
Brussels sprouts at the market can come loose, packaged in pints or quarts, or still attached to their stalks. While the stalk-attached variety are supposed to offer the freshest sprouts (and look pretty nifty to boot), I generally buy my Brussels sprouts loose. It's slightly cheaper than buying them on the stalk, and moreover, I like having the freedom to rifle through the individual Brussels sprouts and pick out the best of the bunch.

There are a few things to look for when you're selecting Brussels sprouts. A good sprout should be firm, compact and bright or deep green; I also tend to prefer smaller sprouts, no more than 1" in diameter, as they cook faster and tend to taste better. If you see any sprouts with black spots on the outside, don't buy them; the spots can be a sign that buggers have infested, or just that the sprouts have been sitting around too long. It's also a good idea to choose sprouts of a similar size, to ensure that they all cook evenly.

Once you bring the Brussels sprouts back home, don't just store them at room temperature, as the leaves will yellow -- not so pretty. Pop the sprouts in the fridge until you're ready to use them; they should stay good for 3-5 days.

prep school
Once you're ready to cook up your Brussels sprouts, a little prep work is in order. If you've bought them on the stalk, cut off the heads at the stem. For each Brussels sprout, pick off any wilted, browned or otherwise damaged outer leaves. Place the Brussels sprouts in a bowl, and top with lukewarm water. Let them sit for 10 minutes or so; this should draw out any insects that have set up roost inside the leaves. After the sprouts have finished soaking, rinse them in fresh water. Pick off any wilted or otherwise damaged outer leaves; shave off some of the dried-out stem end, leaving enough stem intact to keep the outer leaves attached.

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