What’s little and green or large and white and often passed up in the produce department?
Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
Many home cooks eschew these veggie choices for a whole host of reasons, from past experience to no experience.
Cauliflower is white — sort of like broccoli’s anemic cousin — and it tastes vaguely of cabbage — so what’s to like?
Brussels sprouts are tough-looking mini-cabbages that in the wrong hands stay tough and taste bitter — not a selling point.
However, with a little insight and a few good ingredients, both can be transformed into amazing eats. As a bonus, both are packed with nutrients.
“Ooh, ooh, ooh — they are such delicious, nutritious vegetables!” enthuses Kate Jerome, former Urban Farm director at Gateway Technical College.
Brussels sprouts and cauliflower are a subspecies of Brassica oleracea, along with broccoli, kale and cabbage.
“All Brassicas are high in fiber, low calorie and low fat. They are sources of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron,” says Jerome.
Of the two, cauliflower is the less bitter or “cabbagey” tasting. This lends its to a wide range of cooking applications, from blue cheese soup to cauliflower pie.
By contrast, Brussels sprouts have a pungent flavor which can be either accentuated or attenuated, depending on your diners’ palates.
“The absolute best way to dress up these vegetables is to roast them with olive oil and garlic. A bit of bacon added at the end or a dash of Parmesan makes them sublime,” Jerome says.
Another tack to take is to complement sprouts with a tame-but-tasty topping such as an Alfredo or bearnaise sauce.
For other cooks, the way to play the sprouts is to counter their slight bitterness by caramelizing them with an oven roast. Several recipes suggest adding bacon after roasting, resulting in a combination of flavor points: sharp, sweet and salty.
A simple oven roast with bacon is a veggie dish favorite of Lauren Poyner, home chef, and yes, daughter of this reporter. “Their flavor is a little smoky and sweet from being caramelized in that bacon fat; yum!” she writes.
Sprouts can also be enjoyed raw in salads. The key here is to shave them very fine into ribbons. They can be added to an omelette or salads (for an effect not unlike that of a cabbage slaw).
Choosing good Brussels sprouts is also important, said Poyner.
“A tip for picking good ones is that if they look really ragged, pass on them. But mostly it’s not a big deal because once you cut off the nub of a stem, you can peel off the top few leaves so the ragged ones are gone.”
This also, of course, ensures that your sprouts are fresh tasting and ready to cook.
Picking good cauliflower, on the other hand, is not an issue. Unless it presents with black specks (pass), what you see is what you get with a head of cauliflower.
When I was young, my mother prepared cauliflower by steaming it and topping it with brown butter sauce — the easiest sauce on planet Earth (and among the tastiest, considering, well, it’s butter).
As cuisine becomes more cross-cultural and kitchen savvy evolves, however, cauliflower has gained a whole new culinary presence.
In addition to discovering cauliflower can be curried (super yum for those attuned to that spice spectrum), some home chefs have begun to use cauliflower “rice” as a high fiber, low carb alternative to regular rice.
As a noun, rice is usually used to describe a cereal grain that is actually the seed of a grass species. But as a verb, to “rice” means to run a food through a very fine sieve.
Cauliflower rice is thus of the second variety — cauliflower that has been riced, or chopped into very fine pieces. It has become popular as a texture replacement for grain-type rice. It can be added raw to dishes to be cooked, or cooked and served with other meal components.
Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are also tops when it comes to storage longevity. Dense and dry, they keep their texture and freshness in ways that tomatoes, leaf lettuce or even broccoli do not.
Jerome suggests either one or both in a ready-to-eat chopped salad mix. This is “a base of finely chopped vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sweet peppers, carrots — any vegetables that will hold up for a few days,” she said. “Don’t dress until ready to eat. Take out a serving size and add onion, cucumber, nuts, seeds, cheese if you wish. Dress with a vinaigrette of choice or simply brighten with a splash of lemon, lime or orange.”