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Brussels sprouts

Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Named after the capital of Belgium, where they may have first been cultivated, Brussels sprouts look like diminutive heads of cabbage. The resemblance is not surprising, since both belong to the same botanical family. The golf-ball-size sprouts grow in a tight spiral pattern on thick stalks with a burst of large leaves at the top. The sprouts are usually cut off the stalk before going to market.

Similar to cabbage in taste, Brussels sprouts have a slightly milder flavor and denser texture. Nutritionally, they have the same cancer-inhibiting potential as cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cauliflower) because they contain the nitrogen compounds called indoles and a significant amount of vitamin C. Brussels sprouts also supply good amounts of folate (folic acid), potassium, vitamin K, and a small amount of beta-carotene.

Availability

You can find fresh Brussels sprouts year round, but their peak growing season (and the most popular time to enjoy them) is autumn through early spring. Most are cultivated in California. At harvest time, you can sometimes find Brussels sprouts still on the stem at farmers' markets. Frozen vegetables, very close to fresh in nutritional value, are available year-round.

Shopping

Fresh Brussels sprouts should be displayed under refrigeration. If kept at room temperature, their leaves will turn yellow quickly. Although Brussels sprouts are usually sold in pint or quart tubs, it is easier to choose sound sprouts if you can select them individually from a bulk display. Choose sprouts of comparable size so they will cook evenly.

A bright green color is the best guide to freshness and good condition; yellowed or wilted leaves are a sure sign of age or mishandling. Old sprouts also have a strong, cabbage odor. Avoid puffy or soft sprouts by choosing small, firm, compact ones with unblemished leaves. Tiny holes or soot-like smudges on the leaves may indicate the presence of worms or plant lice. The stem ends should be clean and white.

Storage

Do not wash or trim sprouts before storing them. Except for removing any that are yellow or wilted, do not remove the outer leaves, since these contain the most nutrients. If you have purchased sprouts in a cellophane-covered container, take off the wrapping and examine the sprouts, then return them to the container, re-cover with the cellophane, and refrigerate. Place loose sprouts in a perforated plastic bag. Fresh Brussels sprouts will keep for three to five days.

Preparation

Before cooking, drop the sprouts into a basin of lukewarm water and leave them there for 10 minutes as this step will eliminate any insects hidden in the leaves. Then rinse the sprouts in fresh water. Trim the stem ends but not quite flush with the bottoms of the sprouts, or the outer leaves will fall off during cooking.

Many cooks cut an X in the base of each sprout. This nick helps the heat penetrate the solid core so that it cooks as quickly as the leaves.

Whichever cooking method you choose, test for doneness by inserting a knife tip into the stem end, which should be barely tender.

Boiling: Use 1 cup of water for every cup of Brussels sprouts. Bring the water to a rapid boil in a large pot, add the sprouts, and quickly return the water to a boil. Cook the sprouts uncovered just until tender. Drain them, return them to the warm pot, and shake for a few seconds until dry. A little parsley added to the cooking water can reduce the cabbage flavor. Cooking time: seven to 10 minutes.

Braising: If you cook sprouts slowly in stock, you can reduce the liquid after the vegetable is done and use it as a sauce, thereby conserving nutrients. You can braise the sprouts on the stovetop in a heavy covered skillet, or in the oven. For oven-braising, place the sprouts in a casserole or baking dish and pour in enough stock to cover them. Cover and bake in a 350°F oven. Cooking time: 25 to 35 minutes.

Microwaving: Place 1/2 pound of Brussels sprouts in a microwavable dish; add 1/4 cup of liquid, cover, and cook. Cooking times: for medium sprouts, four minutes; for large ones, eight minutes.

Steaming: Sprouts can be steamed in a vegetable steamer or steam-boiled in a small amount of water. These methods have the advantage of keeping the sprouts intact, minimizing the chemical interactions that cause the sprouts to develop a strong flavor, and maximizing the retention of nutrients. To steam-boil, add the sprouts to 1" of already-boiling water and cover. Steam or steam-boil for one to two minutes, uncover the pot for 10 to 15 seconds to disperse the strong-tasting sulfurous compounds that form when sprouts (and other members of the cabbage family) are cooking. Cover and finish cooking. Cooking times: steam-boiling, five to 10 minutes; in a steamer, six to 12 minutes, depending on size.

Nutrition Chart

Brussels sprouts/1 cup cooked

61
Total fat (g)
0.8
Saturated fat (g)
0.2
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
4.1
4
Carbohydrate (g)
14
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
33
Vitamin C (mg)
97
Folate (mcg)
94
Manganese (mg)
0.4
Potassium (mg)
495


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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