Brussels sprouts (and yes, that is the proper name whether you are referring to one or many) have been cultivated since Ancient Roman times. In fact, they are of Mediterranean origin. Brussels sprouts, or Choux de Bruxelles, that we know today, were possibly grown as early as the 13th century in what is now Belgium as it seems that vegetables tend to be named after the region in which they were grown.
Brussels sprouts are a cultivar group the same species as cabbage, broccoli and kale. They are cruciferous and belong to the Brassicaceae family and are a cool weather crop that grows best at temperatures between 59-64 degrees F. Harvest time ranges between 90-180 days after planting. The edible sprouts grow like buds in a helical pattern along the thick stalks, maturing from the lower part and up. They form one at a time at the base of a single leaf. Picked by hand, resulting in multiple harvests over the span of a few weeks. Entire stalks may be cut at once for processing, depending on the variety. Sprouts are considered to be sweetest after a frost, which makes them a traditional winter vegetable.
Brussels sprouts are sometimes referred to as the “Christmas killer”. And no, despite what my child thinks, it’s not because of the smell while cooking them! They are insanely high in vitamin K and can reverse the effects of Warfarin, a common blood thinner that works by interfering with vitamin K-dependent clotting factor. Medical reports have described people dying of heart attacks and strokes related to Brussels sprouts consumption. People on this medication should consult their physician before partaking with their traditional holiday dinner.
So why do some many people hate Brussels sprouts and what causes that smell and bitter taste? This is where it starts to get complicated.
Glucosinolates are a class of bitter organosulfur compounds found naturally in a range of green vegetables including Brussels sprouts. When broken down by cooking or damage, these compounds are called isothiocyanates. Sulforaphane, which contains sulfur, is from one of them. Sulforaphane is similar to a synthetic chemical called PTC, or phenylthiocarbamide. In 1931, a DuPont chemist named Arthur Fox accidently released a cloud of PTC into the air of his laboratory, his lab partner exclaimed “what is that bitter taste from?!?”… however, Fox did not taste anything. Spawning more research, Fox discovered that 70% of people could taste the bitterness of PTC, and 30% tasted nothing. It has been proven that the majority of people have inherited a single dominant gene which makes them sensitive to the sulfur protein compounds giving that YUK taste. The PTC test is done in science classes today to help students understand genetic traits
See, there is truth behind your child (or husband) saying “I hate Brussels sprouts!” It’s in their genes. However, farmers (or are they biochemical companies?) are working on breeding the bitterness out of Brussels sprouts to make them more palatable to those of us with the sensitivity, but to what cost to the plant and us? It is believed this bitter taste protects plants against diseases and wards off insect pests.
Glucosinolates are being studied today for their potential antioxidant qualities. Research suggests that it could have a protective effect against neurodegenerative disorders. None of this has been 100% medically proven as of yet.
Have I stimulated your appetite yet? If so, here are a few ways to prepare these Choux de Bruxelles or “cabbages of Brussels”
Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Lemon and Pecorino
¾ cup sliced almonds
1 lb Brussels sprouts
2 oz finely grated Pecorino Romano
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 ½ Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
Spread almonds evenly on a baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 degree oven for approx. 8 minutes or until golden. Remove from heat and let cool.
Trim bottoms off and wash Brussels sprouts. Use a slicer blade of a food processor to shave the sprouts, or use a Japanese mandolin to slice them very thin.
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl, toss and serve
Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Garlic
2 lbs washed, trimmed Brussels sprouts
2-4 cloves garlic (depending on your vampire occupancy)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1tsp salt & pepper (or to taste)
Preheat oven to 400
In a heavy roasting pan, gently toss all ingredients. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, toss with a long handled spoon after 10 minutes. Done when crispy, golden brown.
Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
Caramelized Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Pecans
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 lb Brussels sprouts ( trimmed and quartered)
1 Honeycrisp apple ( cored, chopped into 1/2 “ pieces)
3Tbs. Sherry vinegar
½ cup pecans (chopped & toasted)
3 Tbs. raw, local honey
½ cup fresh parsley (chopped)
Salt & pepper to taste
In a large cast iron skillet, combine olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add Brussels sprouts, season with salt and pepper, cook until sprouts just begin to caramelize, about 4-5 minutes.
Add apples and toss to combine. Cook until apples and Brussels sprouts are caramelized and almost tender, approx 3-4 minutes.
Remove from the heat, add the sherry vinegar, toasted pecans, honey and parsley. Quickly toss to combine, season with salt and pepper and gently spoon onto a platter. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired.
Globalization has triumphed in the produce aisle. More than half the fresh fruits and one third of the vegetables in our supermarkets are imported from other countries. But anyone with taste-buds knows that just because it looks good, doesn’t mean it tastes good.
We are incredibly lucky to be living in one of the most fertile valleys in the Northeast. The soil in the Rondout Valley is called unadilla silt loam. It is a mineral rich, glacially deposited topsoil ideal for growing fruits, vegetables, and grains. Our region’s farms produce a wide variety of seasonal crops which are bursting with flavor and personality. Here is our Autumnal locavore’s dilemma.
We have so many varieties to choose from; butternut or hubbard? – or should we try kabocha, acorn, buttercup, golden nugget, delicata, pink banana, neck pumpkin, turk’s cap, Long Island cheese, cushaw, cocozelle, Rouge Vif d’Etampes and many, many other squash and pumpkin —which are technically in the same family “cucurbitaceae” varieties—in various colors, shapes and sizes. What does this all mean?
The name “squash” comes from the Narragansett Native American Indian word “askutasquash”. Originally believed to have been from Central America or Mexico, humans have used their hard shells as containers for utensils and have eaten the flesh, flowers, and young shoots raw or cooked for almost 10,000 years. Learning from the Native Americans, European settlers adopted squash as a staple in North America. They baked the squash and then cut and mixed it with animal fat, maple syrup or honey.
Saving Seeds and Pollination
The reason we have so many varieties is because people learned to save seeds from squash with the unique qualities they preferred. Many different varieties developed all over the world. Squash are pollinated by insects, so in order to avoid unwanted hybrids, you must make sure that the plant was pollinated by another member of the same variety. The first generation of fruit gets its characteristics from the mother plant, so you will indeed enjoy the delicata you had planted. But say your delicata squash was pollinated by a sugar pie pumpkin, the genes within the seeds will be altered and the following year, when you grow that seed, you will get a pumpcata, or is it a delikin? You need at least ¼ mile between squash varieties to avoid Frankensquash (unless you like that sort of experiment, who knows? You may come up with a fabulous cross that you can name after yourself … Pink Jenana d’ Etamps perhaps?).
Did you know the seeds are edible of all squash and pumpkins? The seeds are an excellent source of magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as iron, protein and fiber. So don’t compost them with the stringy guts… Here is what to do with them.
2 cups raw, rinsed and dried squash or pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ tsp sea salt
After cutting open the squash, scoop out the “guts”. Pick the seeds out of the stringy fiber and toss them into a colander. Rinse under cold water, then pat dry with a tea towel. Spread the seeds into a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Mix it around until all the seeds are coated. Place into a preheated 350 degree oven and roast in the oven, stirring occasionally until they are lightly golden. Allow to cool before snacking. Pumpkin seeds are best soon after roasting.
Curried Coconut Squash Soup
1 medium kabocha squash ( about 3 lbs)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 ribs celery, sliced
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 ¼ teaspoon cumin
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 can coconut milk
3 cups unsalted vegetable stock
2 teaspoons salt (more or less according to taste)
Hopefully the squash you just harvested the seeds from is a kabocha because curried, coconut squash soup is on the menu tonight and the kabocha, with its thick, solid, waxy, orange flesh that is ideal for soup. Take the two sides of your squash, rub with olive oil and place on a baking tray inside a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes (or until completely soft).
Saute the onions, celery & garlic in olive oil in a heavy bottom, 8 quart soup kettle until golden brown. Sprinkle the spices into the kettle and saute until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Slowly add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.
Once the squash is soft, place the roasted flesh into the pot with the vegetables (I leave the skin on the squash for added vitamins & fiber, but you can remove it if you prefer). Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and partially cover for 8-10 minutes.
Turn the heat off, and add the coconut milk. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add salt & pepper to taste. Serve with chopped cilantro & a squeeze of lime juice.
Maple Cinnamon Roasted Neck Pumpkin*
8 cups cubed Neck Pumpkin (*butternut squash can be used as replacement if you can’t locate this graceful giant at your local farmers market. This squash is ideal because it is tender and juicy, yet holds its shape), about 3 lbs of peeled cubes
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
2 pinches cayenne
Preheat oven to 425
Line a baking 2 baking trays with aluminum foil (or use a silpat silicone liner so when the sugars caramelize it won’t be too hard to clean) Spread out the cubes evenly on the trays.
Drizzle the squash with 1 tbsp olive oil and maple syrup per sheet.
Sprinkle each sheet evenly with ¼ tsp cinnamon, salt & pinch of cayenne
Toss the squash on the sheets with clean hands to coat evenly
Place the pans in the preheated oven and roast for 30 minutes, switching racks halfway and cooking until all the squash is tender. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and turn on the broiler. Take turns placing each sheet under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to caramelize (be careful it does not burn! The sugars cause it to brown very fast).
This dish is delicious served warm or cold. As a side , or tossed onto a bed of raw spinach and dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice.
No matter what you call it – squash or pumpkin, our valley is flush with these disparate cucurbits this month. Whether you carve a jack-o-lantern or create a delicious meal, get out there and support our local farmers buy purchasing from your local farmstand.