Brussel sprouts are enjoying a new popularity thanks to the Paleo diet. If you roast vegetables, you know they come out tasting amazing — crispy on the outside and tender inside with flavor enhanced, as if roasting released their natural oils and churned them into butter. I love almost every vegetable glazed with a light layer of coconut oil and cooked in the oven except for brussel sprouts. To me, the crispiness that everyone who spoke of them marveled about tasted like dryness. I could not wrap my tastebuds around those beautiful roasted baby cousins of cabbage no matter how tasty an internet recipe picture might appear. That made me feel guilty. I knew I should try harder to like them.
It was the guilt that drove me to try braising them in a pan. Guess what? They looked as if they had been roasted, but they were juicier. Problem solved! The first time I had braised brussel sprouts with bacon, apple and dried cherries for dinner as a side dish, I wanted to make them again the next night. They were that good. The flavors and textures, crisp, sweet, tart, bitter, meaty, blended into a delight my palate had never experienced.
I love when I can be reformed into a lover of something I was never a fan of, such as my new cruciferous friends that are loaded with cancer resistant glucosinolates. The fiber in brussel sprouts is more easily bound to acids in the digestive tract when brussel sprouts are steamed or braised. Avoid overcooking as they can develop a bitter taste. Brussel sprouts also have cholesterol reducing properties when not prepared slathered in butter. Their high sulfur content makes brussel sprouts a great detox food for those on a a clean, whole food diet. They are also high in Vitamins A and C, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
Unlike many foods with confusing histories, brussel sprouts, by all known accounts, seem to have a history that matches their name. They were a crop raised in a region near Brussels, Belgium. Their popularity rose after World War I, when people across Europe began to cook them. Currently, the majority of U.S. brussel sprouts are cultivated in California.
3 cups brussel sprouts
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
1 apple (Fuji, Honeycrisp, Ambrosia), chopped
1/4 cup dried cherries
4-6 slices uncured bacon or uncured turkey bacon
1 tbsp. coconut oil, ghee or olive oil for braising (coconut oil if following a paleo diet)
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
2 tsp. Grade A pure maple syrup (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook bacon in a skillet until brown and crisp. Since uncured bacon doesn’t crisp or brown like regular bacon, my trick is to drizzle a little maple syrup over each piece to help it achieve the desired color and texture. I’m sure drizzling it over regular bacon would also prove delicious. Drain bacon and set aside once cooked.
2. Slice the ends off the brussel sprouts. Slice them in a variety of ways – halved, quartered, sliced thin – to provide a variety of sizes which adds visual interest and a difference in texture.
3. Melt your fat of choice in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the brussel sproutsand red onion. Add a splash of apple cider vinegar and stir for a few minutes, until you notice the vegetables begin to caramelize.
4. Add the chopped apples and dried cherries. Tear pieces of bacon and drop them into the pan. Continue to stir for a few more minutes. I wouldn’t cook this dish longer than 7-8 minutes total, but as ranges do differ, cook until the brussel sprouts are browned on the insides and slightly (not completely) tender.
5. Spice with red pepper and salt as desired.
6. Enjoy as a side dish or as a meal. These brussel sprouts are great to take for lunch!
Note: When we were shooting the photos of the dish, we wound up adding chopped mango, red peppers, green onions and Tajin seasoning. All of that just increased the flavor, so if you think of another ingredient you just know would be great in there, add it! Don’t be shy.