February 26, 2017 Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon Caper Dressing and Asiago Cheese

The last two days have brought us very pleasant but unseasonable temperatures in the seventies. While opening a window to let some fresh air in I spotted two pansy “volunteers” that had sprung up close to the house but not in an area where we normally plant anything. On a walk down to the garden I spotted the first dandelion. An early spring? Looks like even though the temperatures are going back into the forties by this evening. A few days of warmth is not enough to show evidence of new life in the garden. There are some beet greens and radicchio under a cold frame and I will take it on Joe’s word that there is miners lettuce and some kale in the greenhouse. I did see a bit of green in the circle garden, the beginning of the rebirth of the Chinese chives. In a month or two we will be pulling them out by the bucketfuls but for now it’s nice to see that first poke of green, letting us know that spring isn’t that far off. Until then my produce is from the local supermarkets and club stores.

This Brussels sprouts salad is simple and delicious with a satisfying crunchy texture. The sprouts can be sliced in no time in the food processor, I used a 2 mm (thin) slicing disk or with a mandoline; trust me use the guard. If you want to work on your knife skills, slice them by hand. The dressing couldn’t be simpler, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper and capers. If you always wondered what those little green things are, capers are the unopened flower buds of Capparis spinosa, a prickly perennial shrub like bush, native to the Mediterranean and some parts of Asia. The buds are harvested, dried in the sun and then pickled in vinegar, brine or salt. The size of a caper can be as small as a green peppercorn, and as large as a small olive. The largest ones are usually served as part of an antipasto platter, the small ones are referred to as non pareils (French for without equal), the size best suited for this recipe. Many recipes call for rinsing them first but I would say taste them and decide for yourself. Rough chop the capers and add them to the dressing. Shredded Asiago cheese compliments the salad with it’s creamy nutty flavor. Finish the salad off with toasted slivered almonds and garnish with thinly sliced scallions. Leftovers are even better the next day.

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon Caper Dressing and Asiago Cheese

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, core ends trimmed. damaged outer leaves removed
  • ½ c extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ c lemon juice
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • ¼ c capers, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ¼ t kosher salt or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2/3 c Asiago cheese
  • ½ c toasted slivered almonds
  • 2-3 scallions, sliced thinly on the diagonal

Directions

  1. Shred the Brussels sprouts using the slicing disc of a food processor.  You can also slice them by hand with a well sharpened knife or a mandoline slicer. Place shredded sprouts in a bowl large enough to toss them in.
  2. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, capers, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour about two thirds of the dressing over the sprouts and toss. Add the toasted almonds and Asiago cheese and toss again. Taste and add more salt if needed and additional dressing if needed. Garnish with chopped scallions and serve immediately.
Add shredded Brussels sprouts to a large bowl and toss with dressing and other ingredients.

Pansies that came up in February.
The first new growth of garlic chives. My garnish for the next Brussels sprout salad.

November 28, 2016 Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Walnuts

dsc_8394aA delicious side dish for holiday entertaining, canalized Brussels sprouts with apples and walnuts brings out the best in this often maligned vegetable. When Brussels sprouts are cooked in a heavy bottomed saute pan,(think cast iron)  they get brown and toasty. When they are cooked in some bacon fat, it even gets better. I save bacon fat in a container in the freezer for moments like this. If you don’t store up bacon fat like me, a combination of butter and olive oil will do just fine. Start by getting the pan hot and adding your fat of choice.  When I added the quartered Brussels sprouts, some of the leaves popped up in the pan like kernels of popcorn. Get some golden color on the Brussels sprouts before you add the chopped apple. I chose a Honeycrisp because of its super crisp texture and sweet juicy flavor. Feel free to substitute your own favorite, a Gingergold or Mutsu would work well here too. It will take a little more time in the saute pan to cook the apple and tenderizing the Brussels sprouts. Please note I said tenderize, not turn to mush, they should still have a bite. While the sprouts and apples are still warm, add the toasted walnuts and dried cranberries. Pour the dressing of sherry vinegar, honey, mustard and just a touch of olive oil over and lightly toss. Serve warm or at room temperature. Make it your own by substituting dried cherries for the cranberries, toasted almonds for the walnuts and a fruity balsamic for the sherry vinegar and honey. Maybe some crispy bacon too. Looks like I just created another recipe that I need to try.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Walnuts

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T bacon fat (can substitute olive oil)
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, outer layer removed and quartered
  • 1 Honeycrisp apple cut into small dice
  • 1 c walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 2 T sherry vinegar
  • 2 T honey
  • 1 t Dijon mustard
  • 1 T olive oil
  • ¼ c dried cranberries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

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Directions

  1. Heat a large heavy bottomed or cast iron skillet with butter and bacon fat over medium high heat. Add Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper and cook until the sprouts start to caramelize, about 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add apples, toss to combine and cook until the sprouts and apples are caramelized and almost tender, another 3 minutes or more. Remove from the heat and add the walnuts and dried cranberries, toss lightly.
  3. In a small bowl combine the sherry vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard and olive oil. Pour this over the Brussels sprouts and toss lightly.
  4. Remove to a platter and spoon any additional liquid from the pan over the dish.
  5. Season again with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

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February 11, 2015 Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

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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.

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Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

Serves 6

  • 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

Directions

  1. 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.
  2.  Meanwhile, mix cornstarch and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl until smooth.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Toss brussels sprouts with sauce and serve topped with peanuts.
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Dried Kung Pao peppers from our garden.

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