Brussels sprouts. The term brings either joy or a shiver of dislike. Similar in look to a cabbage, the Brussels sprout is a winter vegetable that makes a tasty addition to any meal. But many cooks don't know how to treat this vegetable. It has been linked to protection against colon cancer as it contains sinigrin, which has been linked to the destruction of precancerous cells. So consider reading up about the vegetable and adding it to your diet.
Brussels sprouts are most commonly available in winter. They are considered a cool season crop and require a cool but humid environment for optimal growth. Seeds are planted in seed beds and then transported to growing fields, where, once planted, they grow for 90 to 180 days prior to harvesting.
The California central coast provides an ideal climate in early winter as the fog that inundates this section of the state creates a good growing environment. The counties of San Mateo, Santa Cruz and Monterey are the primary locations. Brussels sprouts are also grown in Baja California, with a later planting cycle that typically starts in December and ends sometime in June. Long Island, New York, and Ontario, Canada, are also growing regions. The Netherlands is the center of Brussels sprout growing and export in Europe.
Brussels sprouts are similar in appearance to a winter cabbage, but significantly smaller -- they are only about 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. You eat the "buds" that have grown on the stalk spirally. The stalk grows between 2 and 4 feet long. Stalks produce about two pounds of Brussels sprouts. About 80 percent of the harvested sprouts are frozen and sold in the frozen food section. The remaining 15 percent is sold as fresh vegetables that will last about one to two weeks in a refrigerator.
Brussels sprouts are considered cruciferous vegetables. They belong in the same vegetable family as kale, cabbage, broccoli, kohlrabi and collard greens. It is likely that they were originally cultivated in ancient Rome, and the sprouts as we know them today were cultivated in the 13th century in Belgium.
Brussels sprouts are a classic side dish in an English Christmas dinner. Though less popular in other parts of the world, the greater United Kingdom classically includes them as a boiled side dish served with other winter vegetables and a main dish of either turkey or lamb.
Overcooking a batch of Brussels sprouts makes them smell, the source of many a wrinkled nose when they are offered around the table at holiday time. This is because of the sulfuric smell released when overcooked. Properly cooked, Brussels sprouts contain a distinct, nutty flavor that is enjoyable. Roast Brussels sprouts in your oven to bring this flavor out. Cut them in half. sprinkle with salt and roast until firm, but not mushy at the base. Then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and serve.