Conversion, they say, comes from within. That may be true, but it doesn’t happen without time and a boatload of external influence. My own recent conversion was born out of a dinner conversation with a friend.
Conversation topics were far and wide, though at some point we began sharing food preferences and dislikes. I shared my loathing of Brussels sprouts, to which she responded with incredulity and the myriad ways she prepares those shrunken-head cabbages. I rationalized my resistance as a minor flaw compared to more serious personal short-comings. Besides, I had learned to eat broccoli, I stated proudly. This declaration was met with the stony stare of the unimpressed.
Still, this culinary one-upmanship launched me on a trip down the memory lane of my childhood dinners. There were six mouths to feed in our house. My exhausted mother survived by making preparation quick and convenient. Meat loaf, fish sticks, and pork chops were typical main dishes – no major problem there. Vegetables were another story. Frozen green beans, spinach, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts alternated with canned peas and asparagus. Brussels sprouts were, for me, Enemy #1, with broccoli running a close second.
Said vegetables were frequently overcooked, causing them to take on a brownish-green tint they were never meant to possess, and lie there on the plate, victims of culinary abuse. Except for the Brussels sprouts. They held up under the most severe forms of heat torture, sustaining their general structure and doing everything but cackling at you from the plate.
Such dinners wreaked havoc with my gag reflex, my behavior echoing the universal disgust reaction of infants upon tasting an unpleasant food: drooped eyes, flared nostrils, shoulder rise, and the final tongue thrust to expel the offending matter.
My parents worked to save the meal by encouraging us to add vinegar to spinach and Miracle Whip to broccoli, for example. My broccoli resembled majestic white mountain ranges you might find in a wall calendar. I tried my brother’s nose-plugging method, applied in an effort to suppress the sense of taste while eating. This was only marginally successful. I later employed a short-lived effort to eat the feared food first. The time-honored solution, of course, was to initiate catchy dinner conversation while scooping the vegetable into the waiting napkin placed strategically on my lap.
Time, of course, was the only real solution to this vegetable problem. With age and a little maturity I came to enjoy fresh versions of many green vegetables, so I wasn’t a total loser. But the Brussels sprouts things just wasn’t happening.
Until I decide to do the thing I feared most.
No, not going to work without make-up.
I decided to turn over a new leaf — to yank on the big girl pants and eat a Brussels sprout. Perhaps two. I emailed my friend to request one of the recipes she’d described. She complied readily and supportively, aptly dubbing the recipe, “Green Balls of Doom” to commemorate my childhood experiences.
The recipe was straightforward, although the requirement to slice the little creatures without severing a finger and bleeding out on the kitchen floor proved challenging, initially. After comforting the cat and ducking those that shot like cannon balls from the cutting board and ricocheted off the cabinets, I developed a rhythm, catching the offending rollers before they could topple off the counter. In a few more minutes, there they lay, coated in olive oil, cayenne pepper, and brown sugar, snuggled between thick slices of bacon.
About a half hour later they were atop the stove. I had warned my husband about this new food item, extolling the virtues of open-mindedness. Chicken was the main course for dinner. The Green Balls of Doom served as the vegetable, with a green salad for back-up, in case of a failed experiment.
Pow! They were delicious! The complimentary seasonings were a perfect combination, the cayenne pepper providing a good kick. No flared nostrils! We high-fived, congratulating ourselves on having expanded our herbivorous horizons. They even re-heated nicely the next evening.
I graduated that night. I joined the Enlightened Community of Brussels Sprouts Eaters. Admittedly, my reaction reflects the zealotry of the newly-converted. That will be tempered with time.
I giddily reported my conversion to my friend, who was surprised and impressed. A month later, I took another important step in Brussels Sprouts Cool by ordering them while out to dinner one evening. Since then I have begun collecting recipes. Did you know you can even prepare Brussels sprouts chips? Sounds a little like trying to spread peanut butter on corn flakes, but intriguing nonetheless.
I am living proof that there is hope for all of us.
Conquering squash is next.
Brussels Sprouts with Spicy Bacon*
12 Brussels sprouts; extra virgin olive oil; kosher salt; cayenne pepper, to taste; 2-3 slices apple wood smoked bacon, cut into lardons; optional: 2-3 tbs. Turbinado or light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut Brussels sprouts into half lengthwise, from top to bottom. Peel off darker out leaves, if needed. Toss the sprouts with olive oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Set aside.
Mix together cayenne pepper and Turbinado sugar (cayenne pepper alone, if desired). With bacon strips laid out, cover both sides of slices with pepper/sugar mixture, to taste. Cut into 1″ – 1 1/2″ strips. Separate and add to Brussels sprouts.
Place Brussels sprouts and bacon pieces into large baking dish on middle rack of oven until tender. about 20-25 minutes. Move around once or twice during cooking time. Fat from bacon will suffice for keeping sprouts from sticking to pan.
Test sprouts about 15 minutes into cooking time, as they may need a bit more salt. Use cayenne pepper to personal taste. They can also be placed under the broiler for 1-2 minutes to crisp up, if this texture is preferred.
*Used with permission