So, now that I had made and fallen madly in love with roasted, glazed brussels sprouts, I of course went crowing about them to anyone in Fiddleheads co-op who would listen to my yammering. (Co-oper's are such a patient souls, bless them.)
Except for one gentleman who got right to the point, ever so gently: "So you're candying them and covering up the flavor?" (Bless him.) To which I stammered something along the lines of "No, I'm improving them!" before I made some lousy excuse to head to the back of the co-op.
"Well, he did have a point," my friend, Miss Bliss (who would cringe seven ways to Sunday if I used her real name), replied when I recounted the incident to her. "They are a little too sweet."
"Then you don't have to eat them," I said through gritted teeth.
"No, I like them, all right. They're just a little sweet."
*sigh* Everybody's a critic.
But once I'd gotten over my initial defensiveness, it seemed a perfectly reasonable question, and a challenge: what did roasted brussels sprouts taste like without the sweetening glaze, and was I ready for it? And the timing was excellent, as it happened, to find out. In truth my cooking, or more broadly my relationship to cooking and to food in general, has evolved over the past two years, and for everything "there is a season" as the Psalmist sang.
In the springtime it was sauces, all sorts of sauces, as I finally became truly comfortable with the ingredients at hand and what they could do together. "If I put this and this and this in, how will it taste?" became "I'll put this and this and this in, because I know it will taste good." The summertime was about the grill, about cutting the hardwood I found on the land myself, firing up that ancient, second-hand Weber, and letting the maple smoke infuse anything and everything: organic onions, zucchini, portobello caps, all from Fiddleheads, wild-caught salmon filets, local grass-fed beef from Four Mile River Farm, even sage and basil leaves from my garden. Then autumn came slowly, very slowly this year; the grill eventually went cold and was replaced by a new crockpot (slow cooker); the first one I've had since my mom's, as I went indoors and taught myself how to make soups, stews, and stocks, oftimes with scraps, seconds, and discards from the co-op.
Now winter has...well, in truth I have no idea if winter is actually here or not (and would it please make up it's mind?), but the latest season of my culinary journey has come upon me and this time, it's lessons in simplicity. Fewer veggies in the pot, or the wok, or on the salmon fillet. Paring down to the essentials: good extra-virgin olive oil. Freshly cracked pepper. Grey or pink sea salt, oft ground fine in my mortar and pestle. A touch of cayenne, or a dash of cumin. Perhaps some freshly-grated ginger, depending. A few drops of apple cider vinegar as needed. These few ingredients go just as well on roasted brussels sprouts, perfectly respectable and not a hint of glaze in sight, as they do on broiled salmon steaks; these are the items that I'm certain I cannot be without in my kitchen. (Not that I'm surrendering my maple syrup, stoneground mustard, coconut oil, vanilla beans and extract, or bottles of cardamon, cinnamon and coriander any time soon. If ever. "Simplicity" is one thing, "insanity" is quite another.)
Oven-Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cumin
1 lb (approx.) fresh organic brussels sprouts, stem ends pared and halved or quartered, smallest ones left whole)
4 T olive oil
sea salt and black pepper (pref. freshly cracked) to taste
generous sprinkling of cumin to taste (did I measure how much? Of course not.)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F); lightly oil a baking tray. Trim and half or quarter, depending on size, the brussels sprouts; leave smallest ones whole. Toss in a bowl with olive oil to coat, then sprinkle with the salt pepper and cayenne. If any leaves came off the sprouts during the trimming process, add them to the bowl.
Spread sprouts on tray, place on rack in center of over and bake for 15-25 minutes or until fork-tender and slightly crisp on the outer leaves; use your own personal preference of what crispy/tender balance you prefer to guide you. (These can cook in the oven a bit longer than their glazed cousins because there is no sugar on the surface.) Serves four as a side dish. This dish is best served hot, right out of the oven, as the sprouts loose their crispness as they cool.
Note: Instead of ground cumin, try dry-roasting whole cumin seeds in a hot skillet until they begin to "pop", let cool slightly then add to the sprouts, oil and other spices at the beginning.
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Text and photos copyright 2011-2013 Janice Janostak unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.