10 September 2007

Brussels Sprouts

Steve bought Brussels sprouts, which I adore. Like any vegetable from that family (cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.), the Caraway seed is an excellent, and tasty addition, as it counteracts that sweaty socks smell that sometimes comes out when you're steaming or cooking these vegetables. Mind you, I'd never just steam a vegetable and call it a night! I toast spices (“popping” spices) in oil, then add the vegetables, let them get brown and toasty, then add any liquids, as needed. This is exactly what I had planned. Because I was feeling lazy at that moment, I had Steve remove the stem ends, and cut each sprout into fourths (lengthwise). What this does is gives you more surface area for each sprout to come in direct contact with heat, and more places for it to get toasty brown and lovely.

There I was, raring to go. The sprouts were cut up, I had a tomato roughly chopped, and my skillet was slowly coming up to the full, raring to go heat that I like it to have when I pop spices. And then it struck me: no caraway seeds in the pantry! Ordinarily, I would have gotten annoyed, and put the brakes on the dish right then and there, but I figured that I can just as easily experiment and improvise like I keep telling others to do, of course! So there I was, looking at my mother's masala dabba, trying to figure out what exactly to use. Duh! Cumin seeds with a hint of fennel, and lots of sesame seeds to offset the edge of the fennel seeds! I couldn't believe that I’d been so rigid in making Brussels sprouts! Just because I've always made it one way does not mean that I have to follow that same exact method for the rest of my life!

There's actually a story behind my Brussels sprouts recipe. My friend Dana has a five year old daughter, who is an adventurous eater, and an absolute ball of energy. I swear, that child stacks on a few centimetres every time I see her! I'm not too fond of children as a general rule, but little Noodle (our nickname for Dana’s daughter) is actually an adult who is still a bit on the short side. She can talk your ear off, and have you rolling with laughter for hours (that she'll cheerfully join in, of course), and adores having her uncle Dino and uncle Steve over to play (and cook, of course!). I definitely chatter on about Dana and Noodle—and how I would go over to their house to cook—in the book.

So there I was, in the car with Dana, on the way to her house for the umpteenth time. We were chatting about this and that, and nothing at all, as you do. Whenever the two of us get together, that first hour or so is filled with mandatory gossip, of course. She was telling me how Noodle is getting to that age where her school mates are starting to express their disdain for all things vegetable. Now Noodle, having grown up in Dana’s house, has been open to eating everything from Ethiopian food, to Burmese, to Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, Mexican, and anything else that grows from the ground. She's gone to restaurants and ordered a stir-fry of broccoli, and shocked the waiter when she finished off the entire bowl on her own.

Unfortunately though, she had also started picking up the other little children’s bad habits of disliking things they'd never tried (or, in many cases, never tried cooked properly). To combat this, Dana put forth a challenge by having a large container of Brussels sprouts waiting for me when I got to her house. She told me what she was facing (giving something to a four year old who was being brainwashed by the idiot television and school to think that vegetables are evil), and that she'd never much cared for them herself. This was, to say the least, cause for alarm on my part, because I am adamant that people learn to enjoy vegetables and fruits before moving on to other more complex things.


Out came the caraway seeds, the oil, the other spices (yes, the recipe is in the book, of course!), and the skillet. I started to make the dish completely dry, but noticed that it was too hot for the sprouts and the spices, which is why I splashed in a bit of white wine, covered the lid, and let it simmer for a bit to steam through. I really do not care for undercooked Brussels sprouts. Finally, I finished it off with a hint of nutmeg, and a pinch of cinnamon, to round out the flavours, and a bit of salt to finish it off. The verdict was, of course, unanimously positive. We all loved it, and Dana requests that I make it whenever I come over, which I happily oblige (since cruciferous vegetables are good for you, of course!) in the guise of doing it for her (although my hands go into eating the final dish as well).

Whoo! That was a diversion if ever I saw one! Back on track, though. In the past, when I'd made Brussels sprouts, it was decadent, in that I never added anything extra to it. This time, because I was turning the recipe over on its head in any case, I decided to cut up a tomato, and add it to the roasting sprouts. I was not looking to get the tomatoes broken down, as I do in a traditional soup or stew recipe, but rather to have more bulk in the dish. A splash of water, and a quick steam later, the sprouts were done to a turn.