As a child – a particularly picky one – I was socialized to hate Brussels sprouts at an early age. Along with its good ole companions, spinach, anchovies and broccoli, Brussels sprouts seem to belong to a category of foods that are usually loathed by children and, as such, are often depicted as putrid and offensive. In TV shows, parents are always telling children, “Finish your broccoli,” rather than, “Finish your rice.” And there is no vegetable that evokes the same pinched nose reaction among the younger set more than a lump of wilted spinach.
I remember the first time I had spinach during my late elementary school years. I’d always thought that I wouldn’t like it because of what I’d seen on television and read in children’s books. I was shocked to discover that it didn’t taste as foul as I imagined – in fact it was very palatable – far more so than some of the other foods I detested at the time (onions, cheese, steak, fish, tomatoes, eggs, bananas, cereal with milk).
In spite of my spinach awakening, I still found myself avoiding Brussels sprouts throughout my teen and college years. I hated the way they stunk up the kitchen when my mom would steam them for dinner and would happily accept any other steamed green in its place. It wasn’t until recently that I started to come around to the cruciferous vegetable, but initially only in its roasted form.
Even though I’ve encountered some great sprouts in the past year (the version at Pizzeria Ortica was particularly memorable), I’ve been shy about ingesting them on a regular basis at home. I consider them “fine,” but always tend to gravitate toward other vegetables when I’m at the farmer’s market or store. Or at least I did before I met my friend Ashley’s boyfriend’s mother’s recipe for sautéed sprouts. Her boyfriend prepared the dish at a recent dinner party I attended at Ashley’s place, and I was immediately smitten. I heaped the warm salad of thinly sliced sprouts, shallots and hazelnuts on my plate and didn’t hesitate to go back for more. Long after I left the party, I was still thinking about the simple side – I had to make it at home.
Because the dish had left such an indelible mark on my tongue, for my reinterpretation, I knew I wanted to turn it into a main course so I could eat a giant mound of it like I’d wanted to do the night of the party. I marinated some tofu in a maple syrup and apple cider vinaigrette and tossed in some thin slices of pink lady apple for textural contrast. I added a touch of the vinaigrette at the end rather than stirring in a pat of butter like Ashley’s boyfriend Elliott had done, and then served it as a giant salad.
I’ve gone through 4 pounds of sprouts in the time since this recipe made its debut into my life. And it’s already found a place on my family’s Thanksgiving menu. There’ll be no more sulfurous steamed sprouts at our house – and no more pinched noses either.
Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad with Maple-glazed Tofu and Apple
Serves 1 as a main or 3 as a side
8-10 Brussels sprouts (depending on size), outer shells removed and sliced into thin pieces
3 ounces extra-firm tofu, cubed
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped
½ a small Pink lady apple, sliced into thin pieces
Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt, to taste
Whisk together dressing. Pour half over cubed tofu and set aside to marinate for 20-30 minutes.
Heat large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the tofu, reduce heat to medium and pan fry, stirring frequently, until browned on all sides. Set aside.
Clean out pan, and return to medium-high heat. Add a splash of olive oil to coat the pan, and then toss in the shallots. Sauté until slightly translucent (approximately 3-5 minutes). Add the Brussels sprouts, salt and red pepper flakes and sauté on medium heat for another 5 minutes or until sprouts are wilted and slightly caramelized. Toss in the tofu cubes, apple and remaining dressing and stir until all ingredients are well integrated. Serve immediately. Top with hazelnuts.
Other serving suggestions: Sauté shallots and sprouts in bacon fat and add the rendered pieces of bacon when the apples are tossed in. Could also incorporate dried cranberries.