Ancient lore holds that eating Brussels sprouts bestows psychic protection. This may explain why they’ve risen in popularity as a holiday vegetable.
We compare ourselves to that perfect Thanksgiving image Norman Rockwell painted, featuring the family matriarch holding a ginormous roasted turkey while others engage in gleeful conversation.
That blissful image is a myth. We all know that an American rite of passage is surviving a Turkey Day meltdown. Maybe it was the third-degree over grades and a lecture about what to do with your life, or an announcement of an engagement to someone not up to snuff. It could have been an intergenerational debate about Lady Gaga versus Madonna. Even if it started out as a tantrum about a new in-law who sullied Grandma’s sacred mashed potato recipe with a handful of diced olives, we’ve all witnessed more drama than the movies released in theaters that day.
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So any cruciferous vegetable that may ward off negativity is a good thing.
For months, I’ve been searching for the Holy Grail of Thanksgiving Brussels sprout recipes and may have found it. Compared to boiled sprouts, which can turn mushy and lose their mojo, the ones in the following recipe are sliced, tossed with ghee and roasted to bring out a nutty flavor.
Strictly speaking, “ghee” is to “clarified butter” like “Champagne” is to “sparkling wine,” but for our purposes, the terms are interchangeable. This golden butterfat is a tad sweeter than butter and has a caramelized flavor — “superbutter,” as one of my taste testers described it.
As if that’s not enough, the recipe adds another enchanting ingredient: fish sauce, the epitome of umami, which means “pleasant savory taste.” In 1908 a Japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda isolated umami as a taste distinct from the previously identified four: sweet, sour, salty and bitter; but it wasn’t until the 1980s that savory became recognized as “the fifth taste.”
So slather Brussels sprouts with ghee, add savory fish sauce and a few other special ingredients, and you have a powerful talisman to ward off table scenes that could harsh the holiday vibe. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
WARM BRUSSELS SPROUT SLAW WITH ASIAN CITRUS DRESSING
2 ¼ pounds Brussels sprouts
3 tablespoon ghee, melted
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ghee
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 small shallot, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons coconut aminos
1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
1 ½ tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
To make the slaw, preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit with the rack in the middle position. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Trim away the stems of the sprouts and remove the outer leaves that come off easily (these can be saved and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit to make Brussels sprouts chips).
Slice the sprouts very fine or pass them through the slicing blade of a food processor. In a large bowl, toss the shredded sprouts, melted fat, and salt. Mix well with your hands and spread the shredded sprouts evenly on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping and tossing every 5 minutes, until nicely browned and tender.
In the meantime, make the dressing. Melt the ghee over medium heat in a saucepan. Add the ginger, shallot, and garlic, and saute until fragrant, about a minute. Add the saucepan. Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat and simmer the dressing for 5 to 8 minutes, or until it’s slightly thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sesame oil.
Once the sprouts are done roasting, toss with the sauce, scallions, cilantro and sesame seeds before serving.
Recipe by Michelle Tam, food blogger and author of “Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans”
From the book: “The Fish Sauce Cookbook: 50 Umami-packed Recipes From Around the Globe” by Veronica Meewes; 128 pages, $19.99. Published by Andrews McMeel, 2015.
What you get: Recipes cover soups, salads, meats, sides, cocktails and desserts; plus, how to make homemade fish sauce. What looks really good: Kimchi Stew with Tuna and Ramen Noodles, Mussels in Coconut Chili Broth and Apple Fritters with Fish Sauce Apple Marmalade.
In her own words: “This cookbook came to be thanks to the often family-run companies who’ve kept the tradition of handcrafted fish sauce alive, as well as the inspired work of the many talented chefs who contributed recipes. We are paying it forward by donating a portion of the proceeds to the MilkCare Foundation (milkcare.org). This 501(c)(3) volunteer-run organization serves abandoned, homeless, and underprivileged children in Vietnam.” — Veronica Meewes