Sometimes, when I’m stumped and fresh out of ideas in the kitchen, I’ll turn to my husband for suggestions. “Honey, how should I prepare the potatoes tonight?”, I ask. The words have barely left my mouth when he swoops in with an answer: “Boil ‘em”. Okay. “Well, how about the turnips?”, I again, mistakenly ask. His response: “Boil ‘em”. Oy ve. I glance over at a bowl of perfectly hued, Brussels Sprouts and decide I’m not gonna go there. I should know better. You see, I’ve learned the Irish hold the gold standard for two very different, yet distinct, traditions: Guinness Drinking. And Vegetable Boiling.
Time and time again, when those innocent, delightful miniature cabbages tiptoe their way into our home, they’re met with an untimely death in an unimaginative bath of bubbling water. Now, I’m all for taking one for the team, but frankly, I’m one mushy sprout away from invoking a permanent embargo.
Thankfully, Lady Luck intervened one fateful Autumn night on the streets of New York City.
We were strolling through the West Village and popped into Perilla, Harold Dieterle’s acclaimed neighborhood joint. On top of being mildly obsessed with Top Chef, I had heard a lot of good things — specifically having to with the Wild Boar Belly and Spicy Duck Meatballs. We sat at the bar, as we always do, eager to see if it would live up to the hype. Well, well, well. Did it ever. Life altering, to say the least. Plus, it had absolutely nothing to do with the Boar or the Duck.
Instead, it had all to do with a reluctantly ordered, measly side dish of Brussels Sprouts. No, wait…correction: Brussels Sprout LEAVES (it’s all about the leaves, people). Or better known as The Best Side Dish Ever. Roasted to perfection with the tastiest blend of toasted nuts and dried cranberries. Salty, sweet, crunchy, nutty — delicious overload. How could my regularly boiled friends could taste this different — this bloody good? I wanted to bury myself into the plate, and stay there for the Winter. A ferocious fight to the finish, no doubt, was about to ensue. My husband beguiled me with distractions, as we played tug-o-war with the plate in a quiet frenzy, seeing who would prove victorious over the last fork-full. The urge to place an order for a second round (or kick him in the shins) was unbearable.
In the end, we resisted. But have been spellbound since. Caramelized Brussels Sprout Leaves with Candied Nuts. Especially now, as the holidays grow near and the sprouts are at their peak, it’s the perfect wintery dish — healthy, festive and down-right addictive. For all you sprout haters out there (present company included), this might just do the trick. And with each bite, I’m reminded of a night I sat in one of my favorite cities, in one of my favorite neighborhoods, during my favorite time of year, obsessing over my (new) favorite vegetable, with my absolute favorite person in the world. The Sound of Music is a constant in the house this time of year, so besides raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, these are a few of my favorite things.
Feel free to substitute in your favorite nuts, seeds, raisins, craisins, etc. Hazelnuts, pistachios or pumpkin seeds are sure fire winners. In fact, I almost never make this dish without hazelnuts, but sadly — the markets were completely out of stock when I arrived for my weekly fix. Please report back — I’d love to hear what fabulous concoctions you come up with.
Inspired by The Best Side Dish Ever at Perilla
Music Pairing: Julie Andrews, My Favorite Things