Monday, 19 March 2007

Brussel Sprouts and then some

Monday night, dinner time, and my thoughts turn - as the thoughts of all good manual labourers do - to the question of food. Last Thursday, for a rock-bottom bargain-basement deal-of-the-century sum, I bought myself 3kg of Brussel sprouts, allegedly winner of the 2002 "Britain's Most Loathed Vegetable" title. I don't like Brussel sprouts much either, nor sea cucumbers. Never have. But I'm not one to let mere matters of palatability stand between me and a good deal.

Since Thursday, I have eaten a prodigious number of sprouts. I have eaten them at home. I have eaten them at work. I have even eaten them in the pub. I have carried sprouts with me at all hours of the day and night, lest the slightest hint of hunger should assist me through what is starting to seem like an undemountable mount of Belgian leafmatter.

My association with the steamed Brussel sprout has so permeated my life over the past few days, that I'm not sure I even want dinner. Those of you passingly acquainted with my customary feelings about dinner will understand that this is dire news indeed.

Thinks self, Why not dress 'em up a bit? Who says a Brussel sprout has to be steamed and naked and sitting atop a large pile of Brussel sprout comrades, emitting a solely Brussel-sproutean whiff?

I consult my cookbooks.

The Classical Cookbook, an inimitable compendium of Odyssean banquet receipts and Pompeian fishcake-making instructions, alludes to no such thing as a Brussel sprout. There's a recipe for Athenian cabbage, but cabbage is altogether a different - and preferable - beast.

Thai Feasting Vegetarian Style, likewise, entirely devoid of Brussel sprout recipes, although I'm thinking that with enough Massamun curry paste, the Brussel-sproutiness could be comprehensively disguised.

The Pooh Corner Cookbook (that's "Pooh", as in Winnie the, not "pooh" as in après-dinner-need-I-say-more): Tigger likes cheese tartlets; Eeyore advises in favour of scalloped potatoes; Rabbit enjoys apple coleslaw, with cabbage. To reiterate: cabbage is not Brussel sprout.

Middle Eastern Cooking: yes, cabbage; no, Brussel sprout.

Chocolate: chocolate almond cake, chocolate tray bake, chocolate and orange cake, chocolate cake, chocolate and vanilla loaf, saucy chocolate pudding, chocolate fudge pears, chocolate zabaglione, white chocolate truffles, chocolate caramel squares, pain au chocolat, blackberry and chocolate flan, oh chocolate, my chocolate. Needless to say, despite Chocolate's several savoury deployments of chocolate (veal in chocolate sauce, for example, which sounds like a downright waste of good chocolate), there is no Brussel sprout.

The Amazing Tomato: tomatoes, in salsas, sauces, and riding aboard onion and blue cheese quiches, but where is the green Brussel sprout? Where is it, tomato? Yes, I'm talking to you, where'd you put the Brussel sprout, eh?

My Fun to Cook: no Brussel sprout.

Sarah Brown's Vegetarian Cookbook: I flick to the index, and sure enough, "Brussels sprout", see page 235. There, on page 235, I find the Brussels sprout sitting in a column headed "food profile", where I read that for every 100 grams of Brussel sprout, I get 2.8 grams of protein, 1.7 grams of carbohydrate, 2.9 grams of fibre, a trace of fat, 18 calories, and vitamins A, B2, Fo, and C. Thanks, Sarah Brown. Sounds scrumpy.

Now is the time for all patriots and gourmands to advise. Is there such a thing as a savoury Brussel sprout, or do I compost forthwith?


JahTeh said...

I find cabbage too sweet and prefer sprouts in stir fry and it makes delicious bubble and squeak with just a touch of curry paste.

Karen said...

Isn't it high time you introduced yourself to your neighbours properly, perhaps proffering a bowl of home-washed brussel sprouts as a gesture of good will? I'm sure those neighbours who are careless of underpants will be delighted to see their own elegant hospitality returned in kind.

(Can't cook, but I'm sure you could guess that already. Checked Margaret Fulton for you and nothing- not even an exotic brussel sprout cocktail for a 1960s soiree)

Nicola said...

I love the much-maligned brussel sprout and feel it is my duty to direct you to some recipes that are bound to revolutionise your views, too.

If that's not enough to tempt you, there's a veritable treasure trove of brussel sprout recipes at (the best go-to recipe source on the net).

Oh, if only tomorrow's lecture was about food . . .

Nicola said...

A little judicious googling has turned up a groundbreaking piece of investigative journalism from the SMH that I only half remembered.

"The much-maligned brassica oleracea may be the victim of prejudice."

The plot thickens . . .

"While 77 per cent of the 500 children polled said they did not like the taste, others said "because everyone hates them" and "it's a family tradition". Some said they hated brussels sprouts even though they had never tasted them."

nailpolishblues said...

I think you set yourself a very hard task and now have the right to give up and compost.

blue_haired_jennifer said..., meet Alexis. Alexis, meet, the method by which I have been teaching myself self-nourishment while stranded in the British wastes.

Alternative uses, however, are endless. Dangle them, like corks, off a hat; make remarkable earrings; experiment with the cosmetic benefits of laying a leaf or two on your eyelids; use them as props for lecturing schoolchildren; have several on hand at a time as projectiles against unsavoury persons. See? Endless! (Do not make one a pet and take it for walks. That's strictly for Newtown.)

TimT said...

I KNEW my addiction to Tory magazines would come in useful. I refer you to this article which appeared in the Christmas Spectator. The author goes to Brussels and finds a secret brotherhood devoted to the sprout...

For their banquet, the brotherhood dresses up in velvet robes and consumes such delights as venison with sprouts, sprouts with bacon and the 'Boulette des Kuulkappers' (a meatball wrapped around a single sprout, like a giant savoury gobstopper).

It also advises this is the best way of cooking:

Weckx, a longtime deputy mayor for culture in the borough, offered a secret. No native of Brussels would dream of eating a plain boiled sprout, as the British do. 'We cook them twice, or three times, really. The first time, you cook them in water and throw the water away.' That first water is positively toxic, insisted Weckx, a veterinarian by profession. 'You rinse them with cold water and cook them a second time, and they are a great deal more pleasant.' Finally, the twicecooked sprouts are sweated with butter and diced bacon, by which time it is safe to assume they barely taste of sprouts at all.

As for myself, I am rather taken with the fact that in the local dialect, they are called 'sprotches', and note for the record that sprouts have often been confused with cabbages:

The brotherhood takes a dim view of suggestions that the Brussels sprout is a relatively modern import from Asia. Weckx points to the tantalising find of a menu from a 12th century Flemish nobleman's wedding, which talks of 'choux d'Obbrussel'. Obbrussel is the old name for Saint-Gilles, but the reference is ambiguous. In modern French, 'choux de Bruxelles' may stand for sprouts, but the phrase only literally means 'Brussels cabbages'. Those 12th-century nobles may have been dining on sprouts, or cabbage.

Sprouts are, in fact, a kind of cabbage.

If any of these recipes fails to inspire, perhaps just make a kind of vegetable stew? Or do something in white sauce - that stuff is overpowering, it even makes cauliflower... bearable.

alexis said...

JahTeh, you find cabbage TOO SWEET?!?! I think we may have slightly different notions of what constitutes too sweet. (For me, it's a bathtub full of undiluted sucrose.) Thanks for the bubble and squeak tip; sounds like it could be a good 'un. And I'm sure the local veg emporium has a special deal on the 10kg bag of potatoes.

alexis said...

Nicola, thank you thank you thank you. That Orangette business is a beacon of palatable sproutiness in a boiled-sprout-ridden world. Anything sauteed in poppy seeds and lemon juice is going to work. Excellent.

Tomorrow's lecture, you say! What's it on? I've been reading Samuel R's Pamela, for the first time ever, and getting all wistful for an eighteenth-century lit course. Hope it goes splendidly.

alexis said...

Tim, "the Brotherhood of the Cabbage-cutters" - ! There's a story, waiting to be written.

alexis said...

Jennifer, you're absolutely right, the non-culinary uses for the Brussel sprout are innumerable. I was thinking last night, as a draught crept in under the front door, that a smallish Brussel sprout or twelve would make a fine doorsnake substitute.

alexis said...

K, brussel sprout cocktail sounds just the ticket. But how do you ferment them?

TimT said...

Is Samuel R's Pamela equal or merely prequel to Henry F's Shamela?

alexis said...

Shamela - as you probably know, T - is Fielding's parody of Pamela, which was, needless to say, written first. I haven't read Shamela yet, but I want to. I enjoyed Fielding's Tom Jones. Can't say whether they're "equal". Knowing Fielding and Richardson, I'd say they're very different kettles of herring.

Karen said...

Alexis, have you read Clarissa? I got to page 1015 and couldn't take it anymore after that.
But I do love Fielding.

TimT said...

If you love Fielding, what are your opinions of Batting?

English literature awaits your answer!

TimT said...

On this subject, here's a poem by Wendy Cope. They're selling copies of her book 'Serious Concerns' at Readings, and I highly recommend it.

The Cricketing Versions (for Simon Rae)

“There isn’t much cricket in the Cromwell play.” (overheard at a dinner party)

There isn’t much cricket in Hamlet either,
There isn’t much cricket in Lear.
I don’t think there’s any in Paradise Lost -
I haven’t a copy right here.

But I like to imagine the cricketing versions -
Laertes goes out to bat
And instead of claiming a palpable hit,
The prince gives a cry of ‘Howzat!’

While elsewhere the nastier daughters of Lear
(Both women cricketers) scheme
To keep their talented younger sister
Out of the England team,

And up in the happy realms of light
When Satan is out (great catch!)
His team and the winners sit down together
For sandwiches after the match.

Although there are some English writers
Who feature the red leather ball,
You could make a long list of the players and the books
In which there’s no cricket at all.

To be perfectly honest, I like them that way -
The absence of cricket is fine.
But if you prefer work that includes it, please note
That now there’s some cricket in mine.

(A note - subsequently added? - points out that there is, in fact, cricket in Paradise Lost: “Chaos umpire sits,/And by decision more embroils the fray.” Paradise Lost, II, 907-8.)

prude said...

You gets the brussel sprouts, but them in half. Then you skewer them with bits of boiled egg and tofu, and then you put on some eggplant, and then you lightly fry them. Then you prepare a dish of rice with vegetable stock and chopped up leek and lemon zest and parsley/basil (chopped up too), bake it for a while, then you take it out, then lie the skewers in that, then you bake it a little longer.

Then you dress with dill and pepper.

Hmmm. Actually I just made all that up. But I find when you make up recipes off the top of your head and put in stuff you like unless it is very poisonous, either it turns out outrageous disgusting or very yummy. You could be lucky and it turn out the latter.

(If all else fails, drown with something like some chocolate sauce, a lot of it, and it probably turn out excellent. You won't taste anything else. Unless you has used African style chilli sauce, lots of it.)

Karen said...


You're obviously a punster of great talent, as that one just rolled right off, without any strain whatsoever. I enjoyed the poem but must confess that there are only a few sports I can watch without pain and, sadly, cricket isn't one of them. I do like the idea of a cricket match in Paradise Lost very much though. I wonder how angels play cricket without bodies!

Mrs Mean said...

"I wonder how angels play cricket without bodies!"

Karen, I ponder more on how they play harps and do ice cream, yoghurt, white chocolate and soap commercials without bodies. But each to their own.

I think Shane Warne would have done better without the bodily urges, in fact.

alexis said...

I have read Clarissa. Clarissa is how I spent the whole of January 2000. I was young back then, and I had a lot of spare time. I consider it one of my more major life achievements.

alexis said...

Cricketing jargon deserves considerably more consideration. All that talk about maiden overs and sticky wickets, it's a wonder any punster can resist.

alexis said...

Prude, thank you for your thoughtful culinary suggestion. I'm a bit squeamish about egg-on-stick, but I have no doubt your recipe would serve many a stauncher stomach very well.

Wool Spaniel said...

The simple things are often the best. Take the offending foodstuff. Slice it. Lightly sautee it in butter (or vegan-friendly alternative) and garlic. Eat it.

This works for the choko ("futility expressed in the form of a vegetable"), the escargot (I'm told), the cuisses de grenouille (I'm told), the octopus (I'm told), and, no doubt, for the sprout.

Actually I really like steamed Brussells Sprouts, so long as they are not too old. But I think if you were to post all your leftovers to Sydney they would have lost their youthful appeal by the time they arrived.

prude said...

"I'm a bit squeamish about egg-on-stick"

You is welcome Alexis. I tries not to think about the sexual implications and swallows it down.

Karen said...

Alexis, I bow down before your superior stamina! January 2000 was not wasted at all, for you will always have the fact that you have read Clarissa and you will always be able to tell people that you have, whereas I endured 1015 pages and can't say anything at all. But didn't it make you want to throw the book across the room, no doubt punching a hole in the wall in the process?

From what I understand (and this must be true, for I saw it on TV), the angels have had to cut back on the ice cream, chocolate, etc in favour of light cream cheese. Perhaps they have a new pin head they're hoping to fit into? I like to think about angels as pruriently as possible, and angel cricket without bodies strikes me as harbouring particularly rich opportunies for prurience of an almost Miltonian degree.

TimT said...

Presumably LBW wouldn't be a problem, but perhaps EBW (ectoplasm before wicket) would present a difficulty.

catri said...

re the humble sprout

a) surely she is not to be placed in the same category as the vile sea cucumber

b) like wool spaniel, i advocate garlic and butter or olive oil, plus salt and white wine. hang on, that's my answer to any savoury cooking question.

alexis said...

Karen, I loved Clarissa. I suppose if you spend that much time with an epistolary novel, there's no resisting its charms. It gets very (well, comparatively) pacey towards the end: at least one major plot turn every two hundred pages. Clarissa is raped, while unconscious, and then develops anorexia, and dies, and Lovelace dies in a duel, and even then Richardson can barely bring himself to end it all.

Also, of course, her surname is "Harlowe", a homophone for this blog's.

alexis said...

Awright, comrades, in the interests of putting a close to matters Brussel sprout, here is my resolve: olive oil, salt, garlic, poppy seed, lemon juice, heat, frypan, and a dash of sprout. Voila! Thank you for your manifold suggestions, your poetry, your digressions, your links, your august presences, and your defence of Le Petit Chou, whose heart is verily gladdened as he sits in my vegetable crisper with all his Belgian mates singing his little cabbaggy heart out.

Penny said...

Steamed, then sauted with a bit of grated ginger and citrus (pref. orange) zest and roasted sesame oil. Still recognisably BSs, but a fraction more palatable.

Friend said...

If only you had a(n eligible) spatula, you could make brussels sprout pancakes. Luckily with the plethora of sprouty suggestions, culinary and otherwise, proffered above, you look set to get through those 3 kgs in no time without need of resorting to pancakes. Happy eating!

alexis said...

Thanks, Penny-lou. Sesame seed oil makes everything grand.

Friend, brussel sprout pancakes? Hm.

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