IT’S EASY BEING GREEN IN EARLY SPRING
Temperatures are creeping up, but March in the Northeast is still heavy going. And even though there is beautiful asparagus available at my local supermarket, it’s surrounded by bluff, hearty winter squash, rutabagas, and chard, and, consequently, it looks a little embarrassed to be at the same party.
I walk past the showy spears without a second look, heading instead for the brussels sprouts—just as beautiful in their own way, and my favorite green vegetable for swinging into spring.
In the winter, I generally pan-brown them with a little garlic and, if company’s coming, some toasted pine nuts or pecans. That recipe appears in the big yellow Gourmet Cookbook, and I wrote in the headnote that you could almost serve brussels sprouts cooked this way—they’re so caramelized, they’re practically candied—with drinks.
I don’t know why I waffled. You could, most definitely, serve these as hors d’oeuvres; I do, and people go absolutely wild.
But in mid-March, I want something fresher, something that pops in a different way, which is why I’m standing over a cutting board slicing brussels sprouts into thin shreds. The first time Sam saw me do this, he stared in disbelief. “Can you get any more finicky?” he asked. Then he saw that even I, not the speediest of cooks, dispatched a pound of sprouts in no time.
The technique, called chiffonade, isn’t remotely new; literally translated, the French term means “made of rags,” and the fact that some of your strips will be of varying thicknesses is part of the charm (that’s why I avoid using a hand-held slicer). The great thing about brussels sprout chiffonade—basically a lightly cooked slaw—is that it becomes tender in minutes, a boon to anyone who needs to get weeknight suppers on the table without delay. It makes a sprightly side for corned beef on Saint Patrick’s Day and is fabulous with fish on Fridays in Lent. And when I’ve served this to people who tend to ignore their vegetables, they gobble it right up.
As far as the seasonings go, you can use whatever you want. One combo I learned at Gourmet was cumin seeds (½ teaspoon total) plus a drizzle of fresh lime juice (about 1 tablespoon) at the end, which is especially wonderful with pan-seared steak or my standby duck recipe. But you could substitute curry spices or dried chile flakes for the cumin, for instance, or go in a completely different direction with capers and lemon juice, or forgo the butter and make a bacon vinaigrette.
Brussels Sprout Chiffonade
Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
Trim 1 pound of brussels sprouts; cut them in half lengthwise, then cut them crosswise into thin slices. In a large skillet, melt a generous amount of unsalted butter (about 2 tablespoons) over moderately high heat. Wait until the butter stops foaming, then add ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds. Give the cumin a few moments to bloom before adding half of the sprouts and some salt and pepper. Cook the sprouts, stirring and fluffing them every once in a while with tongs until they’re tender—5 minutes at the outside. Shovel them into a large bowl and cook the rest of the sprouts in the same way. (Two batches sound complicated, but the sprouts cook faster and more evenly.) Transfer the second batch of sprouts to the bowl, stir in the lime juice, and tinker with the seasoning.
One last thing. Someone, somewhere, is going to take one look at the cutting board in the photo above and tell me to discard it for food-safety reasons. But it’s a solid piece of maple and just the right size. Most importantly, though, the modern notion that plastic is more hygienic than wood is more controversial than you might think. According to the Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis, a wood board that’s been scrubbed clean by hand doesn’t support the growth of bacteria, no matter how battered it is; a knife-scarred plastic board, on the other hand, will remain contaminated.
The take-away? Always clean a plastic cutting board in the dishwasher, and always eat your brussels sprouts.