It’s possible that the Brussels sprout is the world’s most divisive vegetable, which is a truly impressive accolade for what is basically a miniature cabbage. But the reasons for its poor reputation are perhaps understandable, as their small size not only concentrates flavour but also makes them very easy to overcook, especially using traditional and simple methods such as boiling. And an over-boiled Brussels sprout does – without doubt – taste genuinely awful. On the other hand, when they are bought fresh, seasoned well and cooked with even just a little bit more imagination, they can reap wonderful rewards.
I always think of the Brussels sprout as typifying British winter vegetables, probably because of its close association with Christmas dinner, and seasonal characteristics that include long dark nights and freezing, damp weather. For many of the same reasons, it is not a vegetable that I would immediately associate either with the US in general, or with Southern California in particular. As a native of Northern Europe (Belgium), the Brussels sprout just doesn’t seem exotic – or sunny – enough for that. So, I’ve been surprised to learn that it actually comes into season as early as September, although October is more usual. As for not being exotic enough, it is certainly distinctive, not least when you think about the superb peculiarity of the plant itself, where sprouts burst from a thick stalk that is topped by a mass of unruly leaves, that in turn resemble a cabbage that appears to have exploded.
Anyway, it was with utter delight that I found Brussels sprouts making a very welcome appearance at Santa Monica Farmer’s Market this morning. I first noticed the tall stalks and leafy heads as they extended out from shoppers’ baskets, and although I easily found hundreds of the individual sprouts on a number of stalls, they had all – disappointingly – been separated from their stalks.
But I did find them eventually, just two plants left on a smallish stall tucked away on one of the side-streets. I think that the stall-holder was a little taken aback by my obvious enthusiasm for the humble Brussels sprout, but I left as one very happy shopper. I haven’t decided how I’m going to cook them yet (although it will probably involve cheese), but I’m definitely going to have them this evening while they’re as fresh as possible. I’ll post more tomorrow, including details of the recipe.