Brussels sprouts are rarely found at the top of 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 are easily transformed into tasty side dishes.
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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. For simply flavored sprouts, caramelize onions, add chopped garlic at the end to prevent burning, then stir into halved cooked sprouts.
Cheese and Sauces
Shave hard cheese such as Parmesan, Pecorino or Romano on top of hot buttered Brussels sprouts to add texture and zip. Coarsely chop cooked sprouts, top with a gratin of butter, white cheddar and cream, then bake until crispy and bubbling. 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.
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. To make large Brussels sprouts cook faster, cut an X in the root end with a paring knife prior to cooking.