I have never understood why the poor old Brussels sprout is so unfairly maligned.
Even as kids in our house, when the standard treatment for all vegetables was boil till textureless, we never complained about Brussels sprouts, and to my knowledge everyone in my family still chomps down on them with enthusiasm. But I guess the earthiness could be off-putting for kids, and I suppose the occasional metallic sort of bitterness one can experience has given them a bad name. For many winters now I’ve been simply tossing some Brussels sprouts in loads of olive oil and hurling into the roasting pan with other veg, for as we know well on this blog, a little roasting makes everything taste better. And I’m dying to try the pasta recipe offered by Diana in comments on the cabbage post here.
It wasn’t until I had eaten these babies prepared by my friend Silas a few years ago that I really fell in love with their gutsy flavour. He steams them, then halves and stir-fries them in the wok in very hot peanut oil until they’re quite charred and deliciously crusted with fried bits.
It was this approach that I was inspired by last week after I made the acquaintance of a very fabulous new friend, the chipotle chilli. Now, I am very late to learn of this miraculous ingredient. I was alerted to it by a Twitter chat with the fabulous Kathryn Elliott and some of her friends, about vegetarian substitutes for this and that, and chipotle – smoke-dried jalapeno chilli from Mexico – was mentioned as a good substitute for bacon. I was intrigued, as a lack of bacon would be one of the most saddening things about embracing vegetarianism, I have always thought. So off I went to Herbies Spices to get myself a couple of packs of these amazing chillies.
If you have never smelt a chipotle, you are in for a treat – open the pack and the waft of delicious smokiness is overwhelming. Once I opened that packet I wanted to play with its contents immediately, and given that chopped bacon or pancetta has always been a fab thing to add to Brussels sprouts, I decided to give it a whirl. And I am so glad I did. There seems a kind of poetic justice in the fact that these two ugly ducklings combined – the sturdy, no-nonsense sprout and the wizened, shrivelled lumpy brown chilli – create a thing of such beauty, not only to look at, with the brilliant green and ochre red, but to eat. The chipotle was beautifully smoky, with a mild, rich heat. Its melding with the earthy sprouts and a good squeeze of lemon just gave a great big whack of flavour.
We served it with some good steak and roast fennel. And we’ll be doing so again before too long. This served two gutsers, but could probably go further among those of more restrained appetites. The amount of chilli will depend on the size of the particular one you have, as they seem to vary quite markedly in size, and on the amount of heat you like. Experiment to find your favoured level of warmth.
Brussels sprouts with chipotle
- 250g Brussels sprouts
- ½ one large chipotle chilli, chopped and soaked for a few minutes in hot water
- 3 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
- juice of ½ a lemon
- sea salt
- Steam or boil the sprouts until just tender – mine took 7 minutes – then drain immediately and halve lengthwise, allowing to cool.
- Heat the oil in a wok or non-stick pan until very hot.
- Toss the sprouts gently in the hot oil until very browned, almost charred, but taking care not to mess them around so much they fall completely apart.
- Add the chilli and a little of the water to the mix and stir.
- Add the lemon juice a little at a time, tasting all the while.
- Add a liberal scatter of salt and serve.