Brussels sprouts’ flavor, sweetness, and tenderness improve with exposure to frosts, so you will often find fresh stalks of Brussels sprouts available after your first local cold snap. Native to the Mediterranean region, Brussels sprouts first appeared in northern Europe during the fifth century. They were later cultivated near Brussels in the 13th century, which is where they got their name from, and also why Brussels sprouts are always spelled with a capital ‘B.’
Brussels sprouts are an excellent source of vitamin K, C, and B, and contain many essential minerals including iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Excessive consumption should be avoided by those taking anticoagulants due to high vitamin K levels. Also, unlike most other green vegetables, Brussels sprouts are rather high in protein. The protein, however, is incomplete as it lacks the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Combining a serving of Brussels sprouts with a serving of whole grains, brown rice, or quinoa will make the protein complete.
Buying & Storing
When buying fresh sprouts, look for either individual sprouts or sprouts still on the stalk. Buying Brussels sprouts on the stalk often has the added benefit of staying fresher for longer and retaining more nutrients post-harvest. Also, the stalk is very similar to the stalk of broccoli and can be used in many of the same ways. Whether you’re buying individual sprouts or a stalk of sprouts, look for any damage or brown holes from cabbage worms. You want the sprouts to feel “full” when you touch them as that means they’re fully developed.
The fresher the sprouts, the better the flavor, so refrigerator storage should not exceed a day or two. Remove any damaged or irregular outer leaves and store fresh unwashed sprouts in plastic bags in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Although not ideal, sprouts should retain their integrity in a refrigerator for up to 1 week. After that point they will begin to lose some nutrients, their color will change, and they will increase in odor. Brussels sprouts may be frozen for long-term storage. Simply blanch them, rinse in cold water, drain, and let dry. Spread on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. After they’re frozen, pack into air-tight containers or freezer bags.
Preparation – rinse and cut off the tough bottom part of the sprout, and peel off the two outermost leaves. For most cooking techniques, Brussels sprouts can be left whole, halved, or quartered. Boiling will cause Brussels sprouts to lose some of their nutritional value so steaming, stir-frying, or roasting are generally preferred. The leaves cook faster than the core, so cut an X in the bottom of the stem for even cooking when cooking the sprouts whole. As a rule, when Brussels sprouts have lost the bright green color, they are overcooked and have lost a considerable amount of nutritional value as well.
Boil/Blanch – submerge in salted boiling water, and let cook for approximately 4-6 minutes or until tender, but not mushy. If blanching, you’ll want to cook them closer to 6 minutes (but still watch their tenderness), and then place them into a bath of ice water as soon as they are tender to halt the cooking process. Boiled sprouts can be eaten warm with garlic butter or mustard, while blanched sprouts can be marinated, added to salads, or frozen.
Steam – place on a steamer rack in a pot with about an inch of boiling water. Cover the pot and steam for approximately 5-7 minutes, or until they are tender, but not mushy. Eat them warm as you would boiled sprouts, or let them cool and eat cold in grain salads.
Roast – toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast at 400°F for 30-40 minutes, or until the outer leaves crisp and brown, and the sprouts are tender. Roast with dried cranberries, cooked bacon, or slivered almonds for added flavor.
Sauté – toss with olive oil or butter, salt and pepper, and sauté in a saucepan until tender. Add other veggies or proteins for a delicious stir-fry, or simply eat as a side with a balsamic glaze.
Soup – add sprouts to hearty soups or puree cooked sprouts with onion, garlic, and chicken stock for a Brussels sprout soup. If adding sprouts to soups, cut the sprouts in half or quarters so that they cook all the way through.