It's hard for those of us who grew up in the 1970s and 80s to understand why Brussels sprouts are back in vogue. Back then, your mother just boiled them until they were a grey, sulphurous, soggy blob. Generations of children were traumatised and vowed never to serve them to their own children.
But fast forward way too many decades, and suddenly the sprout is all about.
In her award-winning book In Praise of Veg, Alice Zaslavsky does indeed praise the Brussels sprout.
"I use the 'willingness to give sprouts a chance' as my Myers-Briggs of friendship test," she writes. "If someone is closed off to sprouts, how are they going to go with aerial yoga, or arthouse cinema, or cat memes? The key is to treat them right.
"Boil the bejeezus out of sprouts (as people are wont to do when they're merely doing what they've seen done before) and you will have yourself an actual fart bomb."
Buying and storing
Ken Irvine, who runs the Ziggy's Fresh greengrocers at the Belconnen and Fyshwick markets, has been in the game since his father opened a fruit shop in Yass in 1953.
"Over the past two years, sales of sprouts are up about 50 per cent," he says.
"A lot of the older vegetables - sprouts, swedes, celeriac, parsnips - are all backing a comeback, they're all becoming cool to cook with again.
"People are discovering new ways to cook with them, the idea of eating them crunchy, not soggy, discovering what flavours go with them."
He says there are two things to look for in a good sprout: tightness and colour.
"You want it bright green and the leaves packed tight around the core," he says.
The best way to store them is in the fridge, loose, in a plastic bag. Try to eat them within three to four days of purchase.
Ziggy's Fresh is a finalist in the Sydney Markets Fresh Awards in two categories, best medium business and best retail presentation, winners will be announced on July 21.
Part of the business' success is the family's desire to share their love of fresh produce with their customers.
Ask Irvine, or any of the staff, how best to serve something up and they'll have some helpful hints.
As for Brussels sprouts, Irvine likes them sliced horizontally, fried in a little peanut oil with sesame seeds.
How to grow them
Michele Barson is the vice president of the Canberra Organic Growers' Society. She says Brussels sprouts are a popular crop across Canberra as they grow well in our cool frosty winters.
For the best results, plant seeds in trays or in the ground in early summer in a sunny spot. Seedlings should go in by January and be planted about 90cm apart for easy harvesting.
"They like a rich soil so add compost, well-rotted manure, and a little lime if your soil is acidic," she says.
"Plants ready to harvest are tall and easily blown over, plant seedlings firmly and quite deep in a small depression so the soil can be mounded up around the stems as they grow. On windy sites plants may need to be staked."
Barson says pests can be a problem and it's best to inspect plants regularly to remove aphids and caterpillars.
"Covering the sprout bed with veggie net or an old net curtain will deter white cabbage moths from laying their eggs on the leaves, their green caterpillars can be hard to spot," she says.
Sprouts will be ready to harvest in six to seven months; in Canberra they are at their best just as early broccoli and cauliflowers are finishing. Start picking bite-sized sprouts from the bottom of the plant while still tight and bright green.
She likes her sprouts in salads, roasted or sauteed.
"Finely shred sprouts, add chopped toasted nuts such as walnuts or pine nuts and julienned apple, very finely sliced radish or celery. You can also add some sultanas or dried cranberries," she says.
"For a more savoury salad, use crumbled fried pancetta or bacon, or some crumbled blue cheese, feta, or shaved parmesan with shredded sprouts. Add French dressing with plenty of mustard and serve with some good bread."
To roast sprouts Barson adds washed, trimmed, and halved sprouts to a baking paper lined tray with other vegetables such as cauliflower florets, pumpkin or sweet potato, parsnip, cooked and peeled beetroots.
"Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with chopped garlic and roast at 180C oven for about 40 minutes. Add broccoli for the last 10 minutes of cooking."
To saute sprouts, lightly steam washed, trimmed, and halved sprouts, then sauté in olive oil or butter. Add macadamia nuts, almonds, or hazelnuts for crunch. Or stir in chopped garlic and anchovy to the warming oil before adding the sprouts.
Are they good for you?
Dietitian Georgia Houston of GH Nutrition is also a fan of sprouts and says they are a bundle of goodness.
They are low in calories and nutrient dense, virtually fat-free and low in salt and sugar.
"And you wouldn't guess but sprouts are a great source of vitamin C," she says.
"This is great when it comes to skin health, it helps to neutralise free radicals, such as those caused by sun damage. It also helps to make the proteins collagen and elastin, which is the new hype. These give our skin a youthful elasticity.
"Vitamin C is also great to help your body fight off the Canberra winter flu."
Sprouts are high in fibre and full of vitamin K which helps to keep blood and bones healthy.
Research also suggests that the healthy compound glucosinolate which is found in sprouts (they contain the sulphur which results in the rotten egg smell when they are over-cooked) is broken down in the body into isothiocyanates. These help activate cancer-fighting enzymes in the body. Brussels sprouts have been shown to contain higher levels of glucosinolates than broccoli and cauliflower.
1970s dinner party sprouts
The title of this dish is codswallop, actually - these sprouts are extremely unlikely to have featured at a 1970s dinner party, seeing as this era still saw green stuff boiled into oblivion, and because these parties were about showcasing flavours and ingredients that weren't your run of the mill weeknight meat-n-three - like, say, soy sauce and caraway seeds. The ultimate compliment was a request for The Recipe, which would oft-times be handed over handwritten, and is how my in-laws (ergo, me, and ergo, you) came to be in possession of Rob's rump marinade. It's originally for lamb fillet (and delicious, if you're that way inclined), but Brussels sprouts are so savoury and, well, meaty that this marinade works equally as well with them. Indeed, you can serve it alongside any main you like, and it still feels like a party.
500g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 tbsp peanut oil roasted peanuts, roughly chopped, to garnish (optional)
chopped red chilli, to garnish (optional)
Rob's rump marinade:
2 tbsp honey (preferably runny)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp caraway seeds
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
1. Preheat the oven to 220C, with a heavy baking tray or roasting tin inside.
2. Meanwhile, in a shallow dish, stir all the marinade ingredients together until combined. Arrange the Brussels sprouts, cut side down, in the marinade to help it soak in.
3. When the oven has heated up, give the brussels sprouts one last stir through the marinade. Wearing an oven mitt, take the hot tray from the oven, line it with baking paper, then pop the brussels sprouts onto the hot tray, from outside in, using a pair of tongs in your other hand to turn them cut side down again; reserve the remaining marinade in the bowl.
4. Roast the sprouts for 10 minutes, or until the top leaves are basically burnt.
5. Pour the peanut oil into your left-over marinade to loosen it off, then drizzle over the roasted sprouts.
6. Toss them into a bowl and smugly serve, scattered with peanuts and chopped red chilli if you like. These sprouts are sure to turn even the most bullish Brassica denier into a believer.
Preheating the tray helps give more of a golden crust on the sprouts. Feel free to skip lining the tray before using if you like to live dangerously - it'll give you more colour on the sprouts, but will take some cleaning. Soaking the stains in vinegar and bicarbonate of soda followed by a good scrub should do it.
I like to use an appropriately sized storage vessel for marinading purposes, so that I can pop the leftovers in there and save on washing up!
If you decide to give the marinade a whirl with lamb, try using lamb eye fillet rather than rump, and pull back on the honey; one tablespoon should suffice.
Dietaries: Sub in maple syrup instead of honey to turn this one fully plant-based.
Brussels sprout slaw
Is it possible to have too many slaw recipes? I doubt it. What sets this one apart are the shapes and colours of Brassicas at your disposal. Kalettes are a thing of beauty, a frilly fop of kale, as though shrunk to miniature. If you can't find these, or purple sprouts, just stick with the regular green ones. Thinly slicing with the shape of your chosen cabbages and sprouts will create a gorgeously spacious salad to pop on the table, with plenty of "wow" factor and minimal energy. Just do me a favour and watch those fingers on the mandoline.
2 tbsp chardonnay vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 bunch of chives, finely sliced
300g purple or red brussels sprouts, or Kalettes (kale sprouts), thinly sliced using a mandoline
100g red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 red apple, cut into matchsticks
30g parmesan, finely grated
1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
dill sprigs, sunflower
sprouts or micro herbs, to garnish
1. Place the vinegar, olive oil, mustard and chives in a bowl and whisk to combine. Add the brussels sprouts, cabbage and apple and toss to coat. Stand for five minutes to soften slightly.
2. Scatter with the parmesan, hazelnuts and chosen garnishes and serve.
For vegans: Shave enough fresh macadamia nuts with a fine microplane and they'll turn into a fluffy cloud of parmesan cheese-like proportions. Your vegan friends will love you.
Shortcut: Shred the cabbage using a food processor, mandoline or sharp knife. Toss with some Kewpie mayo, snipped chives or spring onion (scallion), and season to taste. This quick version works best with wombok.
Serves 4-6 as a side dish.
- Recipes from In Praise of Veg: A modern kitchen companion, by Alice Zaslavsky. Photography by Ben Dearnley. Murdoch Books, $59.99.