One of the great things about living near a place like Washington D.C. is the proximity to great restaurants. That’s the theory at least. As a busy parent, I’ve found that great restaurants are wonderful only if I can overcome the inertia of the “I’m too tired to drive that far for a meal no matter how good it is” mindset that afflicts me most weekends.
Fortunately, one Saturday night a few months ago I managed to overcome my inertia and found myself at a darling of the D.C. restaurant scene, Proof. Now, don’t misinterpret what I’m about to divulge – I absolutely loved the meal I had that evening. I’m sure there was a salad or soup to start, followed most likely by a steak (medium rare, please) as the main course. But the dish I actually remember eating by name was – wait for it –
a salad of shaved Brussels sprouts.
Yes, I know. That’s probably not the revelation you were expecting. But hear me out.
Like many people, I used to detest Brussels sprouts. It is true that they have an abundance of natural substances that help the body detoxify itself, eliminate inflammation, and remove excess cholesterol, all of which make them nutritionally worth eating. These benefits, however, were never enough to outweigh their bitter taste and sodden, mushy texture. Worst of all, Brussels sprouts always announced themselves by the smelly, sulfuric odor that would begin to waft though the house as the dinner hour approached.
Yes, Brussels sprouts were best avoided. But then I learned that the last thing you want to do is boil a Brussels sprout. Exposing a Brussels sprout to heat liberates chemical compounds that cause that familiar sulfuric smell, and the longer the exposure, the more of these compounds are released. Further, when boiling is the source of this added heat, it’s easy to overcook them, particularly when the Brussels sprouts are different sizes (since cooking the larger ones to perfection using means overcooking the smaller ones). Boiling them to excess also causes them to become waterlogged and mushy.
So the key in preparing Brussels sprouts that you would actually want to eat is either to use cooking methods that make it harder to overcook them (such as halving and roasting them or sautéing the leaves) or simply not cooking them at all. The latter is the method of choice, if you will, for my salad.
I start by slicing off the ends of a pound of Brussel sprouts and then peeling off and discarding the outer leaves. I slice each trimmed sprout as thinly as possible using either the slicing blade of a food processor or a very sharp knife, and then I toss the resulting mixture of shredded outer leaves and slice of inner cores in an apple cider-based vinaigrette. After letting the mixture sit for 10 minutes (in order to allow the sprout pieces to absorb the vinegar, which mellows their raw cabbage-like flavor) I add some chopped walnuts and shredded Pecorino Romano cheese.
The end result is a surprisingly delicious salad that is easy enough to make at home but tasty enough to be served in a top restaurant. Who knew?
Brussels Sprouts Salad
1 pound Brussels sprouts
1 ounce Pecorino-Romano cheese,* grated**
¼ cup walnuts, chopped and, if desired, toasted
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, ground
1. To make the dressing, whisk the Dijon mustard and apple cider vinegar together until the mustard has fully dissolved into the vinegar. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture, whisking continuously until the oil is fully incorporated and the mixture appears to have thickened slightly. Whisk in the salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. Cut off the tough end of each Brussels sprout and peel off the outer layer of leaves. Discard the ends and outer leaves.
3. Using the slicing blade (the thinnest one you have) of a food processor or a very sharp knife, cut each sprout into very thin slices. The other leaves will separate and look like you have shredded them. Place the mixture of shredded leaves and remaining core slices in a large bowl. Add the dressing to the bowl, and then toss the contents until the dressing evenly coats the pieces of sprouts. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the sprouts to absorb some of the vinegar in the dressing.
4. To finish the salad, toss the Brussels sprouts with the grated Pecorino-Romano cheese and the walnuts, and serve.
*Like Parmigiano-Reggiano, fresh Pecorino-Romano has a pale yellow color and is sold in chunks. Its flavor, however, is more peppery than Parmigiano-Reggiano, which is mellower and has a nuttier flavor. Although I prefer the sharpness of Pecorino-Romano in this salad, you can substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano if you like. Just be sure to use the kind you find in your supermarket’s real cheese department and not the kind you find in a green cylinder next to boxes of dried pasta and jars of sauce.
**I used a Microplane grater-zester to grate the Pecorino-Romano cheese. One ounce yielded about 3/4 cup.
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