I can’t remember where I was the first time I tried Brussels sprouts, but I do remember the bitter flavour made even worse by the over-boiled texture. I was in my early twenties, and having grown up in Lebanon, Brussels sprouts were new to me. It certainly was not a culinary revelation. For many years, I avoided the vegetable, deterred by its sulphurous smell and the soggy memory of our first encounter.
But this is why forgiveness and second chances are so important.
In 2014, my sous-chef at Chic Pea, Jarryd, invented a dish of Brussels sprouts with a falafel crumb. The sprouts were fried in coconut oil, covered with tahini sauce, and a crumb of falafel-spiced chickpeas. Crispy caramel, crunch and spice. I fell in love with Brussels sprouts that day, and I lamented the years I spent holding resentment in my heart for this beautiful vegetable.
After putting the dish on the menu, I noticed that my diners were afflicted with the same aversion I recognised in my old self. Hundreds and thousands of Australians scarred by early childhood memories of the boiled sprout. To convince them to give it a try, I would offer the dish for free if they didn’t like it. I never had to give out a single freebie! The humble Brussels was elevated to an iconic status, and the dish became one of our signatures.
Today’s recipe is yet a different approach to dealing with Brussels sprouts. The Mediterranean has an old heritage of slow-braising vegetables, garlic and onions in olive oil, until the olive oil replaces the water content, resulting in a buttery, caramelised braise that is incredibly delicious. You can use this method with all leafy green vegetables such as spinach or silverbeet; or even with cabbage, kale and, of course, Brussels sprouts. Though not traditional, I like adding some fennel seeds in the mix. It amplifies the sweetness of the garlic and onions and marries well with the Brussels which take on a burnt caramel flavour. Jo has added some tips for her favourite way of cooking this dish, including bacon and leek in the recipe.
You can slice the brussels sprouts by hand, or chop in a Thermomix or food processor, and cook either in a frying pan or in the Thermomix depending on what you prefer. The end result will be softer and less caramelised with the Thermomix method, and hand cut slices fried in a pan do look prettier, but when you’re in a hurry it’s nice to have a quick option! Both taste delicious.
This dish is best eaten warm or at room temperature, so avoid replacing olive oil with coconut oil or other oils that are solid at room temperature. We’ve garnished ours with roasted hazelnuts which add a good crunch. This is by no means mandatory, but it does make for a lovely finishing touch!
Braised Brussels Sprouts, chopped and cooked by the Thermomix method (left); and finely sliced by hand (right) then cooked in a frying pan (below)
Variation from Jo:
We love this dish with the addition of a handful or two of finely sliced bacon, and the white part of a leek. My youngest also doesn’t like fennel seeds, so we leave those out, and we garnish with roasted hazelnuts. I also prefer to slice the brussels sprouts and leek by hand into paper thin slices – you get maximum caramelising that way. We’ve been known to cook up a big batch of this dish on the stovetop and eat only that for a meal (with some kraut on the side) – the whole family love it!