sweet, salty and bright Brussels sprouts

brussels sprouts

Until relatively recently, I, like most Brits, had a slightly unfair view of the possibilities presented by a Brussels sprout. I also had been spelling them wrong for years, missing the ‘s’ off the end of Brussel. Sorry about that. I know so many people don’t like them and that’s because they’ve only had them boiled or steamed. They were a bit of a joke, or an endurance test for children when I was growing up. To make a sprout good you need to work at it a bit, but when you do you’ll never look back. Every cooking class I’ve taught this recipe in has contained at least one person who looked uneasy at the prospect of eating sprouts. And you know what, they’ve all had seconds and then made this at home afterwards.

done wood and napkin

I am indecently obsessed by the Brussels sprout salad served at The Lexington House in Los Gatos. As always, when I eat something that I love I won’t rest until I can recreate it at home. But as I don’t have a team of chefs at my disposal, I get the flavours and textures as close as I can using just my one pair of hands and a regular kitchen without some of the fancier restaurant stages. Poor Chef Phillipe at The Lex had me Tweeting him more than once while I was trying to replicate his dish at home. So thank you to him for the inspiration and guidance! Just promise that if you’re in the area, you will go in and order his fancier and more labor-intensive version.

Brussels sprouts are full of vitamin C and so versatile. In this recipe I roast some and we’ll have some raw. This way of treating one ingredient in multiple ways is the most modern way to treat vegetables and also cuts down on waste and on your grocery list! I think this would be a fabulous Christmas or Thanksgiving side. My family loves it on its own, with salmon or as part of a roast dinner with roast chicken or pork.

As a final argument for roasting rather than boiling. I do find that when I boil or steam sprouts my house does smell a bit, erm, farty. Not a good look and pricey if you have to bring out your good scented candles to try and mask it. Roasting sprouts brings out their loveliness and leaves your house smelling of roasted goodness instead.

Ingredients: (serves 2 as a side)

2 handfuls washed Brussels sprouts (around 20 sprouts)

3 thick slices of good streaky smoked bacon

a tiny drizzle of olive oil or rapeseed [canola] oil

1 tablespoon amaranth seeds, or 1 tablespoon of flaked almonds or broken up pecans

½ teaspoons of grade B maple syrup (or honey)

1-1½ teaspoons of red or white wine vinegar

zest of quarter of an orange

Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

optional – micro greens/saladcress, 1 tablespoon plain full fat plain yoghurt or Greek yogurt to garnish

Active prep time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 20-30 minutes

To make:

  1. Heat your oven to 200c (400f).

walnut size to the right (to be halved) or small to the left (to be left whole)

  1. Cut the end off each sprout then you’ll find a couple of the outer leaves will automatically pop off. Set these full leaves aside on a plate (we’ll add them, raw, right before serving). Then, if your sprout is walnut sized or bigger (like the one on the right of the photo above), cut it in half (or quarters if it is a whopper) through the base to top. If your sprouts are smaller, just leave them whole.
  2. Put the dealt-with sprouts on an unlined metal Cookie sheet/baking tin and continue until all the sprouts are done

ready for the oven, some whole, some quartered, some halved, some leaves.4. Lay the bacon on top of the sprouts, drizzle with a tiny bit of oil and shake so that the sprouts are well spread and the bacon stays on top.

5. Put the tray in the oven for 20-25 minutes, we’ll check them half way through.

6. While the sprouts roast, put the amaranth seeds or nuts into a small dry pan, without any oil and toast them on a medium heat for around 5 minutes until they smell toasty. Shake them every minute and turn the heat down if they smell like they are burning. They will go darker, and if you’re using amaranth, some will pop like popcorn (or fairy popcorn as it is known in our house). Set aside.

7. Check on the sprouts in the oven after they’ve been cooking for 10 minutes and give them a shake. We want some of the loose pieces to be looking pretty dark so don’t worry! Take the bacon out of the pan if it is looking crispy, if not return it to the oven with the sprouts for a few minutes. Roughly arrange things so that the most cooked, browner sprouts are at the center of the tray and the least cooked are at the edge – that way they’ll catch up faster. You want crispy bacon and soft, slightly charred sprouts. The smaller pieces of sprout leaves will be crispy, brown crisps (see photo below). If need be, you can get to this stage a few hours ahead of time and pop the tray to one side, just reheat it for 5 minutes in a hot oven just before dressing and serving it.

cooked tray8. When everything is ready, finely chop or crumble your bacon and leave the sprouts on the cooking tray. Sprinkle the sprouts with the chopped bacon, maple syrup, raw sprout leaves, red wine vinegar, orange zest (I use my Microplane fine zester) and stir well. It is important to dress the sprouts while they are still hot so that they absorb the flavour. This is where the magic happens. Taste and adjust the acid, salt and sweetness.

9. To plate up (either individually or on a shared platter), spoon some of the roasted sprout and bacon mixture on the plate. Sprinkle some of the toasted amaranth seeds or nuts on top of that then repeat with the rest of the roasted sprout mixture and some freshly ground black pepper. Be sure that the bacon is shared well as it can fall to the bottom of the tray.

10. Finally finish with a few small blobs of yoghurt randomly dotted around the plate, a generous sprinkle of Maldon sea salt flakes and a scatter of micro greens if using. Taste a little bit and adjust the acid and sweetness, I usually add a final drizzle of maple syrup and red wine vinegar. The vinegar really brightens up the flavours and balances things out. Serve warm.

done concrete


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