Sweetly Savoring Brussels

I truly adore chocolate. And every time I taste it I am brought right back to one of the best places I have indulged myself. Enveloped in the old world Belgian capital of Brussels. A city of contrast and history that diplomatically negotiates with itself over competing Dutch and French roots. Some say Brussels is the smaller cousin to Paris. Sort of its “mini-me” to the French.

Brussels (Bruxelles in French) is home to the European Union, the remarkable La Grande-Place (a UNESCO World Heritage site), and the no less intriguing and very amusing Manneken Pis...one of the world's earliest well known "small men". He pre-dated another famous smaller French gentleman by about 600 years (Napoleon). Small, but aggressive, Napoleon was a bold contender in a small package. He was permantently exiled after his loss at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium.

Brussels is an elegant, reserved and understated younger sister to Paris. No less welcoming than the Gaulic capital, she is coy about her petite figure, regardless of her oversized affect on the world.

Belgium is known, and has been over centuries, for chocolate. While major strides have been made in the United States to better appreciate and understand this gourmet extragavance, it is the adherence of old world manufacturing techniques, made in small batches, that delivers such gastronomic delight.

Delicate. Complex. Warm. And very lively. Truly an adult taste. I might be describing a confection from Leonidas. Or a singularly monumental taste of Neuhaus. Or perhaps the quirky Belgian love of french fries and mayonaisse.

But I am not. I am describing Brussels Sprouts.

Cultivated in what is now Belgium since the 13th century, this vegetable is grown in cooler climates from autumn to spring. If you can buy them on the stock they will stay fresh for several days. Cooking the sprouts too long brings upon a bitter taste. A bit like the "Napoleon of Cabbage" (they hail from the same family roots), brussels sprouts are loaded with excellent sources of vitamin A, C and dietary fiber. An alter ego that is laughably small, yet a culinary force that must be paid attention to. Cooked correctly they are delicious and there is no need to exile them from your kitchen.

The word "vegetable" comes from the old French root “vegetābilis” and latin stem “vegetare” which means “to enliven”. A previous trip to Belgium gave us the opportunity to stay at the boutique Brussels Welcome Hotel. Upon entry of the modest exterior the place immediately transformed us from old to new, and back, with a lively display of rooms set in exotic themes from around the world. Strolling through the ancient and reserved capital, a player by design or circumstance in many of the empires over the last 10 centuries, I thought of the the clever English poet Andrew Marvel who authored “To his Coy Mistress” and wrote:

“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide…
…My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.”

My vegetative soul has shown me that brussels sprouts, unlike gourmet chocolate, do not take themselves seriously. They’ve been around much too long to worry about their place in the world. Reserved and understated. Yet bold and enlivening when they need to be. A pleasantly coy alternative with a deceptively delicious story to tell.

Recipe for Brussels Sprouts
with Dijon Mustard Thyme Butter
Serves 4

1 lb brussels sprouts, halved with outer leaves removed
1/4 lb (one stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 T Dijon mustard
1 shallot finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped
salt and pepper

Bring a 3 quart sauce pan of water to a boil. When boiling, add salt and then brussels sprouts. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes at a low boil.

While the brussels sprouts are cooking, make the butter by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl.

Drain the brussels sprouts and then add back into the warm saucepan. Add the mustard thyme butter, coating the sprouts well. Season with salt and cracked black pepper and serve.

This recipe was adopted from Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone".


Lisa said...

I love Brussel sprouts! Yours look wonderful! My favorite way to eat them is roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt. Yum! I will have to try yours.

Elra said...

Oh, I thought you were describing about that beautiful little cabbages, just kidding!
I've been to Belgium and yes I love it, funny I didn't look for Chocolate, but I went straight to the embroidery linen and kitchen tablecloth!
By the way, My favorite vegetable is swiss chard and brussel sprouts is my next.
Hey, I just think of this right now, why is my favorite vegetables all name after a country? Swiss and Brussel? What a coincident! Cheers.

tangstein said...

Brussels sprouts JUST hit our farmers' market in the past 2 weeks - we love them shredded and sauteed w/ a bit of ham. I think your recipe will have to be our next stop, but I think I'll stick to roasting - kids can't seem to like the boiled/steamed ones.... BTW, we LOVE fries w/ mayo - how funny to learn that's not an American thing!

Anonymous said...

We love brussel sprouts in our house! Good post! :)

Nazarina A said...

The brussel sprout is such an unappreciated veg. I love to roast them at very high heat with just the right amount of seasoning. Thank you for reminding me to cook them! Your picture has truly made me decide to go and get them at the Farmer's market right now!!!

Clumbsy Cookie said...

I think brussel sprouts are just fun food! It's mini-me cabagge! I really want to go to Belgium soon!

cook eat FRET said...

i am a brussels sprout lover

and dijon, butter and thyme? i vote absolutely...

Alexa said...

Hello Marc,
Brussel sprouts were my favorites as a child. I use to mash them up into a puree on my plate... they were always cooked the french way which I'm sure you know means until soft. Crunchy or soft, 3 out 4 of my kids hate them... go figure. This recipe looks wonderful and I see it was inspired by one of my favorite cookbook authors. Well done!

Angela said...

Great posting! I love the "mini me" comparison with the French. I usually glaze brussel sprouts but this looks even more sumptuous. I will definitely try this!

P.S. On the chocolate front: dark or milk?

Vinogirl said...

Sorry, but pancetta and horse radish the only way to go with BS!!!

We Are Never Full said...

brussels sprouts are so delish and i still think they get a bad rap! thank you for this new delicious way of making them. we do it with bacon and riesling. this looks so good.

noble pig said...

I just bought some of these brussels today. Sounds like a wonderful recipe.

Kevin said...

Nice Brussels sprouts post! I have been missing the Brussels sprouts and now they are coming back. This sounds like a simple and tasty way to enjoy them.

bren@flanboyanteats.com said...

what a great and easy recipe for those of us watching what we eat ( as I munch on oreos)... these look so tender and juicy. love the recipe!

bren@flanboyanteats said...

hey i wanted to share this post with you, since i just read on someone else's blog that u love plantains!

Stacey Snacks said...

I swear, today I bought a stalk of brussel sprouts, and have never bought them this way before, and then there is your post! weird....
then....I found an article from Chow from August recommending Paris restaurants to someone.
We were there in Sept (I posted all about it) and ate at the Brasserie Il St. Louis, as well as 2 of your other choices!

Great minds think alike! Thank you for the compliment on my involtini.

Lael said...

What an interestingly thorough history of Belgium, Brussels, and Brussels sprouts (even a bit of Napoleon!). I lived in England for a four months and always wanted to get over to Belgium but kept skipping it and going straight to France. Thank goodness I'm young; hopefully I'll still make it. In the meantime, I'm eager to try this recipe! I bought a stalk of sprouts a little over a month ago and bathed them half and half in a covered skillet. And tonight as I was eating kimchi and rice, I remembered a recipe for spicy brussels sprouts (flavored with kimchi). This one might just bump it down on the list, though.

Bren@Flanboyant Eats said...

i love brussel sprouts but just don't cook them enuf. i suspect if i did, i'd get hooked easily. ur picks are great.