That’s the big question on everyone’s mind when it comes to these little, round, green vegetables is: Are Brussels sprouts REALLY from Brussels?
The answer is yes, and no. Brussels has always been a busy hub with lots of activity and while there was some farming done in the city center way long ago (think 10th century), as the city grew, arable land became increasingly rare. In the 17th century, growers in a village called St. Gilles, on the southern side of the center, devised a way to economize on space by developing a vertical-growing cabbage, and the Brussels sprout was born.
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A Local Favorite
The vegetable had success locally, but it took two centuries for it to be exported to the rest of Europe. The ever-fashionable English welcomed it with open arms and it became chic to serve the tiny cabbages at the holidays. The French, however, were more skeptical.
Of course they were. I’ve experienced French skepticism when it comes to food, that sort of look on a person’s face and the shifting of the fork as it prods and lifts the food on the plate (I will never forget an experience I had serving a typical southern American meal to French friends, but that story is for another day). The French may still be considered a bit skeptical when it comes to the Brussels sprout though French cooks and chefs I know approach it the way they approach everything: they make it sublime!
Glory of Winter
Because they know that the Brussels sprout is one of the glories of winter. It can be braised, roasted, deep-fried, or turned into a salad as here where it surprises with vivid color and fresh, lively flavor. It keeps well in the refrigerator for up to one week, and it is loaded with vitamin B9 and viamin C. Que demande le people? Who could ask for more?
Just Two Rules
If you decide to cook it (I have many recipes in my books), there is a cardinal rule: DON’T OVERCOOK. There is another: DON’T UNDERCOOK. So how to tell the difference? A Brussels sprout should remain bright green just beginning to veer towards olive. It should be tender through without being mushy. If it is overcooked, it loses its personality; if it is undercooked it tastes too green and unrefined.
But before you do that, try this salad. You’ll be thrilled with the vivacity it brings to the table, and to your palate!