By Cassie Damewood

Brussels sprouts are rarely found at the top of someone's favorite vegetable lists because they are naturally bitter and most cooks just steam or roast them, then toss with butter, salt and pepper. However, with a little creativity in the seasonings, Brussels sprouts can easily be transformed into tasty side dishes.

seasoning for Brussel sprouts
credit: olgakr/iStock/GettyImages
seasoning for Brussel sprouts

Sweet and Savory

To offset the natural bitterness of Brussels sprouts, add a little brown or white sugar after cooking. Balance the sweetness with a tablespoon each of minced garlic and onion, then sprinkle with crushed red pepper flakes. For a fancier balancing solution, stir some capers and balsamic vinegar into the sprouts. If you keep your sprouts simple, definitely add caramelized onions and chopped garlic (at the end to prevent burning). Stir into your cooked, halved sprouts and you're good to go!

Cheese and Sauces

Shave hard cheese such as Parmesan, Pecorino or Romano on top of hot buttered Brussels sprouts to add texture and zip. Another option is to coarsely chop cooked sprouts, top with a gratin of butter, white cheddar and cream, then bake until crispy and bubbling (so good). Or you could make a cheddar-cheese cream sauce and fold it into halved, cooked sprouts right before serving. For variation, use Swiss cheese in the sauce or make the sprouts zesty by using pepper jack cheese.

Fruits and Nuts

Make gourmet Brussels sprouts by tossing roasted sprouts with pomegranate molasses, topping them with lime and orange zest, then flavoring the dish with vanilla-enhanced sweet butter mixed with toasted pecans. Mix currants, raisins or toasted nuts into tender-cooked sprouts for added flavor, or add a texturizing combination of both. Fresh cranberries bring out the earthy flavors of Brussels sprouts and add color to the presentation.

Meaty Additions

Like many green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts benefit from crisp meaty toppings. Crisp-fry pancetta or bacon, chop into small pieces and sprinkle it on the sprouts right before serving to prevent the meat from becoming soggy.

Tips and Hints

For a unique presentation, blanch fresh or frozen Brussels sprouts until the leaves are pliable and peel them into a bowl. Serve the tender leaves alone or as part of a wilted spinach-bacon salad and dress with a sweet-and-sour vinaigrette. Liberally salt steaming liquids for Brussels sprouts, as they lack any natural saltiness.

Tip: To make large Brussels sprouts cook faster, cut an X in the root end with a paring knife prior to cooking.