Quick, think of a horrifyingly disgusting vegetable.
Did you think of Brussels sprouts? Chances are pretty high that you did. For many of us, the thought of the wee cabbagey orbs of hard-packed leaves conjures childhood memories of over-boiled, mushy, stinky obstacles to dessert.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
Right now, the cold-weather-loving sprouts are hitting the stalls at farmers' markets all over the city. And they're popping up on the menus of area restaurants that make local and seasonal offerings their mission, such as Legume, in Regent Square.
Trevett Hooper, Legume's chef and co-owner, is a fan of the much-maligned veggie.
"Like [with] all vegetables," he says, "before people say they don't like something, they should really make sure they've had it prepared well."
Certainly, the cruciferous knobs have a bad reputation, even though they are high in fiber, vitamins A and C, and folic acid.
"The reason they get a bad rap is because they're prepared so poorly in childhood," explains Hooper, who confesses he, too, used to hate Brussels sprouts. "Most people have had them frozen and [then] cooked to death." That unpleasant sulfur smell is released only when they're overcooked.
That was definitely my experience, but seeing a two-foot-long green staff with sprouts budding off for three dollars at the East Liberty Farmers Market was too intriguing for this newbie home chef to resist. After searching for better preparations than simply over-boiling, I've become a fan of cutting the sprouts in half lengthwise, tossing them with plenty of olive oil and salt, and roasting them in the oven: Delicious. Who knew?
And, according to Hooper, Brussels sprouts are downright hip ... sorta.
"Food trends are kind of always looking backwards in a way -- things go in cycles," he says over the phone, while preparing for his venue's fall-harvest dinner. "Old-fashioned things are kind of in style. Just the way offal was kind of popular a few years ago, some of these 'joke' vegetables are coming back."
Plus, he adds: "Now with the recession, it's a comforting vegetable. They make us think of our grandmothers. There's a certain nostalgia."
The time is now to give Brussels sprouts another try. No dessert until you do.