If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.
Today: To get the most out of your brussels sprouts, embrace the parboil.
Until recently I had a very tenuous relationship with brussels sprouts.
Roasting them yielded crispy outer leaves, but at the expense of an interior that turned to mush at first bite, with a lingering bitterness. Pan frying soaked up an inordinate amount of oil while risking flavorless, crunchy innards. Slaw was fine, but I obviously do not own a mandoline. So I'd eat the brussels that others made -- especially restaurant sides blanketed in cheese and oil and all other things that make brassicas feel warm and cozy -- but I'd never make them myself.
I generally feel about parboiling the way I feel about dried cranberries: fine for other people, but not to be employed anywhere near my kitchen. Parboiling was for those with too much time. But when Mollie speaks, she smiles, and leans in, like she's telling you a secret you really want to hear. Mollie promised that I could make crispy-not-mushy brussels sprouts. Mollie was right.
More: Serve your brussels sprouts over another recipe that relies on some special boiling: Genius Polenta.
This is not the obligatory plate of brassicas that wallows on the sidelines of your Thanksgiving table as the potatoes and the gravy and the dressing get first billing. It entices with a crisp, caramelized exterior; it is just as black as it is green. And all it requires are a few extra minutes spent waiting for water to boil, plus two ingredients you already have on hand: an onion and a lemon. They don't even need to be whole.
Boiling the sprouts for just 30 seconds takes away their crunch and their bitterness, leaving you with a vegetable that is softened, mellowed, and ready for action. Then comes the good stuff: Your sprouts lie face down in a hot, thin slick of oil until they turn almost-black. They're best quartered, as more surface area means more flavor. You add a lot of salt.
Next, you push your brussels sprouts aside and add diced onions to the pan. It sounds like an afterthought, but keeps the onions from burning and turns them into soft, sweet bits that commingle nicely with the sprouts; they cling to each other once finally stirred together. A squeeze of lemon brightens everything up. You're left with a vegetable which is soft, sweet, salty, and crisped in oil, but has not lost its identity. These are still, undeniably, brussels sprouts -- you've just gotten as much out of them as you possibly can.
Adapted from Mollie Katzen's The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Cooking for a New Generation
1/2 pound medium-sized brussels sprouts, quartered
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
A few pinches of salt
1/4 cup finely diced white or yellow onion
1 to 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Photos by Eric Moran