Pretty Dishes

Unpopular Greens
January 16, 2011, 1:10 pm
Filed under: Recipes

It’s likely that you have had a bad experience being served or preparing bitter or overcooked greens, as many people have. It’s unfortunate that one mushy mouthful as a child (or even as an adult) can render some vegetables unpalatable for life.

Spinach is usually a candidate for a swift move into the “delicious” category since its uses are so versatile and its appearance in dishes hard to escape. Anyone who was forced to eat canned or boxed spinach as a child might initially forgo spinach as an adult, but a bite of a refreshing salad or hearty soup or lightly wilted side is usually all it takes to win them over.

Mustard greens, kale, and chard are a step lower than spinach in the world of greens since they are somewhat mysterious; they are large, dark, leafy, and known for bitterness and are therefore frequently avoided on principle. They aren’t very pleasant eaten raw as they can be somewhat tough and strong, so they required some blanching or sautéing (often with a fatty companion such as pork or cream) to make them more enjoyable. I wasn’t even familiar with these greens until I was an adult shopping at farmers markets and found them in abundance. They are quite popular at restaurants featuring local, seasonal cuisine. Still, it took me a while to work up the courage to prepare any on my own, and chard was the first (and still a favorite) for its mildness.

But the really unpopular one, the one that consistently tops “most hated vegetable” lists and causes countless diners to crinkle their noses in disgust, is the dreaded brussels sprout. All it takes is one awful, sour bite or a sulfurous waft from the stove top for eaters of all ages to turn away from brussels sprouts forever. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that—their reputation is so formidable that many have never even tasted them.

I was in the latter category. I can’t remember a single instance of eating brussels sprouts growing up (probably because my parents harbored a hatred for them), but that didn’t stop me from avoiding them at all costs. They get such a bad rap, how can you not?

I don’t recall my first experience trying brussels sprouts as an adult (it must not have been too traumatizing), but at some point they accompanied a meal I ordered in a restaurant. They were expertly prepared—halved and lightly sautéed until just crisp and caramelized on the edges. I didn’t realize how amazing they could be!

Frequently the root of the problem is boiling. Do not boil brussels sprouts. I repeat, do not boil brussels sprouts. They can be prepared that way and still be edible if they are not overcooked, but you are doing yourself and your guests a disservice. (Not to mention that boiling leaches most of their beneficial nutrients, so you aren’t really getting much out of them.)

Buy them fresh. Buy the smaller ones, and be sure they are firm and tightly closed with few blemishes. Steam them if you must, but I truly feel that until you have tried sautéed or roasted brussels sprouts, you have not eaten brussels sprouts at all. Their full potential is realized with a little olive oil or butter and browned edges. They become mild and slightly sweet. A splash of lemon juice or vinegar really rounds them out. They are absolutely delicious.

I realize you may not take my word for it, but please, do yourself a favor and try the recipe below. It’s fast, simple, and inexpensive. Pair it with a favorite juicy roasted meat. If you still hate brussels sprouts, fine—at least you can say you gave them a fair chance. If you don’t try, though, you will never know what you’ve been missing.

Brussels Sprout Hash with Caramelized Shallots

There is nothing more important when making this than tasting as it cooks. You want the brussels sprouts to be bright green and just a bit crisp, not yellowing and wilted. Always err on the side of undercooking them—you can put them back on the burner for a little while just before serving if they aren’t perfect yet.

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter, divided
1/2 pound shallots, thinly sliced
Coarse kosher salt
White pepper
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts, stalk ends trimmed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water or vegetable broth
Squeeze of lemon juice

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until soft and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar. Stir until brown and glazed, about 3 minutes.

Meanwhile, halve the brussels sprouts lengthwise. Cut them lengthwise into thin slices. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sprouts; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until just browned on the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the water and remaining butter. Sauté until most of water evaporates and sprouts are tender but still bright green, about 3 minutes. Stir in the shallots, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with lemon juice before serving.

And just for good measure, here is a nice kale recipe I made recently.

Mustardy Kale with Bacon

1 1/2 pounds kale, stems and center ribs discarded, cut into thin slices
3 bacon slices, chopped
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons grainy mustard

Cook the kale in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, 7 to 10 minutes, and then drain.

Cook the bacon in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until crisp, about 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper towel to drain. Discard all but 1 1/2 tablespoons of fat from the pan, then cook the scallions until soft, about 2 minutes. Stir in the kale and mustard, and cook over medium-low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until very tender, about 5 minutes. Serve topped with the bacon.


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