It’s difficult to think of a vegetable given a harder time than the humble sprout. However if you look beyond the vociferous haters, there is a quiet uprising of sprout believers who (quite rightly) think it’s bonkers to only eat them on Christmas Day. Of all the edible brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower, swede and broccoli, Brussels sprouts have retained most of the bitter flavour inherited from their wild kale-like ancestors. It is the harnessing of this bitterness that gets sprouts singing through a dish: contrast it with the sweetness of velvety chestnuts; pair it with the acidity of balsamic vinegar, the richness of honey, and the toasty crunch of pine nuts, or balance it with cream and bacon in an oozy gratin. Vegbox customers on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/riverford) have come up with some creative suggestions too, like Brussels sprouts curry, and tempura-battered sprouts served with a chilli dip. The key is to avoid creating the sulphurous mush so deserving of playground mockery by using light cooking only; think swift simmer, rapid roast, or flash stir-fry.
Perhaps another barrier to Brussels sprouts entering the fold of favourite veg is the effort needed to prep them before they even see a pan; there may be a couple of dodgy outer leaves to peel back, and perhaps a cross to cut into the base of the larger ones to ensure even cooking. However, repetitive tasks like this are often what makes cooking a relaxing experience for many; the hands are kept busy, freeing the mind to swap concentration and stress for a meandering ponder.
As a crop, Brussels sprouts can be a challenge to grow organically. The buds are borne in a hypnotically ordered DNA-style double helix on a tough trunk that supports a dense canopy of leaves above. The latter is the root of the problem, trapping a layer of humidity and providing the perfect breeding ground for the slugs, aphids and fungal diseases that plague the crop when it is not sprayed with a barrage of chemicals. A fair amount of hand selection is needed at harvest and our sprouts are never cosmetically perfect, but the slower growth does tend to make them taste better. It’s been an excellent year and the crop is looking very strong, but 25 years of growing veg has taught us not to relax until we’ve got them all on your doorstep!