I know they’re a trendy vegetable, but the fact is: with or without the trend, I love Brussels sprouts. That wasn’t always true but then, that wasn’t always true for me and most vegetables. We live, we learn.
So. What do you do when you’re handed something that looks like this?
- Shake it like it’s a set of maracas.
- Check it for alien spawn.
- Eat it.
Happily, “eat it” is correct. Brussels sprouts still on the stalk may look a little daunting but appearances can be deceiving. Or…well, not deceiving, really, because I think it’s pretty obvious what you’d need to do, which is cut them off the stalk. It’s just unfamiliar to the average US supermarket shopper. Normally, I opt to roast Brussels sprouts (with just a little soy sauce and some olive oil…yum!) BUT in the interests of branching out–one can’t live on roasted sprouts alone–I figured I’d try something that involved shredding and sauteing said sprouts. So I made a little sweet and spicy sprout concoction, and it was one of my better ideas. Here’s what I used:
- 1 stalk Brussels sprouts (or a bag of, what 20 or so, for two people?)
- 1/2 cup walnuts, dry toasted*
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon honey
- Salt and black pepper to taste (and I recommend going a little heavy on black pepper, but more on that later)
*You probably won’t need the full half cup of walnuts to make this dish work, but I always prep extra because–not gonna lie–I snack on them like crazy while cooking. Adjust accordingly.
First, cut the sprouts off the stalk and rinse them, then trim them by removing any weird, gnarly outer leaves. You’ll go from the mutant alien arm pictured above to…
…beautiful compact mini-cabbages just waiting for you to have your way with them. They’re much more recognizable this way, not so far a cry from the sprouts my mother used to get in those cellophane-wrapped cardboard tubs (remember those?). Anyway.
I usually take care of toasted walnuts first, for two reasons. Once you get them started, you can leave them alone for a couple of minutes with minimal attention while you tend to other cooking tasks (but don’t wander too far, they will burn easily) AND once they’re ready, the snacking can begin. So. Take your walnuts, put them in a dry pan (as in, no oil), and set them on your stove over medium heat. Let them go–giving them the occasional shake to aid in even cooking–for five minutes or so, until they brown in spots and start to smell toasty and warm. If you think they’re ready, then pull them from the heat, because it’s better that they’re less browned than if they’re burnt. There’s no recipe rescue for a burnt walnut. Once they’re done, set them aside but don’t let them sit in the pan since the residual heat from the pan can push them over the edge. Put them in a bowl.
Slice the Brussels sprouts into thin ribbony bits, and don’t try and use anything fancy like a mandoline for this. You don’t need perfectly even shreds, and you’re just asking to slice into fingertips since the sprouts are so small. Just have at it with your knife, and while you’re at it? Mince the garlic. You’ll have a glorious, fluffy mound of sprouty-garlic goodness that will cook very quickly, once you get it in hot oil.
To cook: Give the shredded sprouts and garlic a stir to make sure they’re all evenly mixed. Put some olive oil in a pan that’s ready to go at a medium heat, then add in the shredded sprouts and garlic. Add in thyme and crushed red pepper flakes, give it all a stir in the pan, and then spread it out so it’s one even layer across the pan. Leave it alone for a three or four minutes. You want the sprouts on the bottom to start to brown, but don’t go too far because once they brown this dish is almost done. Give the sprout mix a stir and a shake to knock loose anything that might be adhering to the bottom of the pan and let it saute for a minute or two longer. Stir in the honey and give that a minute to incorporate evenly through the dish, then add salt and pepper to taste and remove it from heat. I like a lot of pepper, both for its lovely bite and for the subtle woodsy-floral component it brings. Mix in the amount of walnuts you feel is appropriate, and kind of crumble them before tossing them in so you have big, rustic walnut chunks. And that’s it.
You’re done. Really.
The walnuts keep this dish grounded, the sprouts and garlic bring the savory, the red pepper flakes add fire and the honey balances everything with sweetness. This could, possibly, be a perfect dish. I’m not sure. I’ll have to eat a lot more of it to find out.
We served this with two-way fennel and capers with pasta and a crisp green salad, and celebrated the very good fortune we have in available vegetables. Make this. Enjoy it. And when Brussels sprouts stop being trendy, you can still make it and enjoy it and rattle your cane at those crazy kohlrabi-eating kids who don’t know a modern classic when they see it.