Magazine features come and go over the years and often reveal the trends of the time. In the first issue of Bon Appetit I purchased back in 1982 (!) readers could find a column featuring recipes created using a relatively new appliance, the food processor, “Bon Vivant”, a “who’s who and what’s new in the world of food, wine and spirits”, columns featuring cooking for two, wine and spirits, travel and “Too Busy to Cook”, time saving reader recipes.
One column that has lasted all these years is “R.S.V.P.”, reader’s requests of restaurant recipes. Back in 1982 you could find a baker’s dozen of recipes, everything from zucchini nut muffins to sole wellington with a recipe for homemade sausage thrown in for good measure.
In 2015, “R.S.V.P.” still graces the opening pages of the magazine in a paired down format. The February issue has just three recipes, one per page with an accompanying illustration. One recipe in particular caught my eye this month, Kung Pao Brussels sprouts. This recipe comes from Kevin Gillespie, Top Chef “cheftestant” season six and fan favorite. Kevin is presently the chef owner of Gunshow in Atlanta and the author of a best selling cookbook, Fire in My Belly.
I liked the idea of using the kung pao technique with a vegetable. In the elevated role of the vegetable in today’s cuisine, the first real star was kale and recently that title has been handed over to cauliflower, I feel it’s only a matter of time that Brussels sprouts will take over the spotlight. Like it’s counterparts, kale and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts are a member of the brassica family with the same health benefits. They are packed with antioxidants, vitamin C, folic acid and minerals such as potassium, iron and selenium. Their season is from about mid September to March, and as we have learned from other brassicas, those harvested after the first hard frost are the sweetest.
Kung Pao originates from the Szechuan province of China. The classic preparation involves two main ingredients, spicy chiles that contrast with the crunchy, fatty peanuts. Several sources recount the origins of this dish in similar ways with slight variations. It was either created by or it was the favorite dish of the Gong Bao, a high government official in the nineteenth century. I will leave out the part about the chicken needing to be cut into small pieces because of his dental problems or that the name Kung Pao fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution. Or maybe you like the alternate explanation, the name Kung Pao loosely translates as “hot firecrackers”. The recipe calls for chile de Arbol but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to use dried Kung Pao peppers with similar heat that were harvested from our garden.
Rinse the sprouts well and trim the bottoms. Slice in half lengthwise and remove any yellowed or damaged leaves. Toss the sprouts with oil, kosher salt and a generous grind of pepper. At the halfway point I take them out, toss them around a bit and flip the baking sheet in the opposite direction. I took my sprouts out about five minutes sooner than the original recipe called for because I was baking in convection mode. Adjust the heat of the dish to your own comfort level. The dish is supposed to be hot but remember you can always add a little more sambal oelek or another chili pepper, but you can’t take them away.
Assemble the sauce ingredients while the sprouts are baking. Cook the garlic and ginger until deliciously fragrant. Add sambal oelek, chilis and remaining ingredients, thicken with cornstarch and simmer. I found that using half the amount of sugar, 1 1/2 tablespoons, gave the right amount of hot to sweet balance in the dish.
Would I make this again? Definitely and Joe agrees, this sauce could be used with other vegetables, eggplant, green beans or in a stir fry using several vegetables. And that September 1982 issue of Bon Appetit? There’s a recipe for Red Snapper Szechuan, with surprisingly similar ingredients to the Brussels sprouts that looks pretty good to me.
Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
- 2 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled ginger
- 2 tablespoons hot chili paste (sambal oelek)
- 6 dried chiles de árbol, lightly crushed (I used Kung Pao chilies)
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- ⅓ cup unsalted, roasted peanuts
- Preheat oven to 425°F. Toss brussels sprouts and 4 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, tossing once, until softened (but not soft) and browned, 20–25 minutes. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth.
- Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
- Add chili paste and cook, stirring, until darkened, about 2 minutes. Add chiles, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and ½ cup water and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch slurry. Simmer, stirring, until sauce coats spoon, about 2 minutes. Let cool slightly.
- Toss brussels sprouts with sauce and serve topped with peanuts.