Unwrinkle your nose and stop saying ‘gross’: It’s time to reconsider the many assets of brussels sprouts

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Fresh brussels sprouts should be bright green, with leaves firmly attached, had have no blemishes or blackness around the edges of the leaves.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

Oh, little layered veg of green,

On you I’ve lately been so keen,

I wasn’t always this excited,

But now my attitude’s been righted.

You’re sweet and nutty when gently cooked,

And I admit to being hooked

On your perfect tiny cabbage looks,

That send me to my recipe books.

That’s the way I started my ode to brussels sprouts for an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food section in September 2009.

As a child, I didn’t like brussels sprouts, a not-uncommon reaction to this vegetable often improperly prepared.

In my house, they were overcooked until they reached an unattractive brown sogginess or were burned, devoid of their proper taste  — quite an achievement for such a hearty vegetable — and gave off an equally unappealing smell.

(This is where the logical reaction is to wrinkle your nose and say “yuck.”)

I avoided them rigorously, until someone, many, many years later, roasted them in the oven with just salt, pepper and a bit of oil.

Once I decided to give them a second chance and try some interesting recipes, I found I quite liked them.

Brussels sprouts, rich in vitamins A and C, have a host of health benefits, not the least of which is being high in fiber and antioxidants. They also aid in digestion and may help lower cholesterol.

With Easter falling on April 1, and overlapping with Passover, consider putting brussels sprouts on your holiday table. You just might convert nonbelievers on to the brussels sprouts bandwagon.

Brussels sprouts are available year-round, but the price fluctuates. The ones I purchased last week were $2.99 a pound.

As always, the recipe is to my taste. Feel free to adapt it to your palate.

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I added several of the ingredients I like most to take a simple recipe to the next level. The red of the diced tomatoes and bell peppers contrasts nicely with the green of the brussels sprouts. I serve this version over pasta.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Onions, Red Bell Peppers and Diced Tomatoes

This is really a stir-fry, cooked to the level of crunchiness you prefer. The brussels sprouts should be a vital bright green, which indicates they are retaining their nutrients.

The first few times I made the recipe, I followed it exactly — just brussels sprouts, olive oil, onion and salt and pepper.

Then I thought why not add a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, red bell pepper and dried red pepper flakes and make it more like a substantial sauce to serve atop pasta. That’s the recipe below.

If you’re feeding a crowd, double the recipe.

Hands on: 15 minutes

Total time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: 4

18 to 24 fresh brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Vidalia or large yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pinch of dried red pepper flakes, optional

Rinse the brussels sprouts and trim off the bottoms. Cut the brussels sprouts through the core in half. If they are large, quarter them. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sprouts, onion, garlic, red bell pepper and sugar and stir-fry about 3 minutes. (Or, you can cover the pan and steam them for about 3 minutes. If you use this method, stir several times.)

Add the diced tomatoes and juice and continue stir-frying for 4-5 minutes or until they soften to your liking. Taste one to check for doneness. If still too crunchy, continue stir-frying 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir again. If you’d like a bit of kick, stir in a pinch or more of dried red pepper flakes.

Place any leftovers in a tightly covered glass or plastic dish. They will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Adapted from “Hip Kosher: 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks” by Ronnie Fein (Da Capo Press, 2008, $16.95, paperback)

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Roasting brings out the sweetness and nuttiness of brussels sprouts. Tauton Press photo

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dijon, Walnuts and Crisp Crumbs

Hands on: 20-25 minutes

Total time: About 1 hour

Serves: 6-8

The roasted brussels sprouts pack plenty of texture and flavor without the topping. So if you want to save the fat and calories, just make the sprouts. This recipe can be easily halved.

Make-ahead tip: You can fry the crumb topping 2 hours beforehand.

For Passover, obviously the bread crumbs can’t be used (substitute matzo meal?), and you’ll have to find kosher-for-Passover mustard. There is such a product as “imitation Worcestershire sauce,” but I’ve never tried it. Maybe just wait and make this recipe after Passover?

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided; more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup olive oil with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the 2 baking sheets.

Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping: Line a plate with two layers of paper towels. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil with butter (or margarine) in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. When butter has stopped foaming, add bread crumbs all at once. Toss to distribute fat. Reduce heat to medium, add walnuts and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. (The crumbs will start to sound “scratchy” when they get crisp.) Dump bread crumb mixture onto paper towels to absorb excess fat.

Transfer brussels sprouts to a serving bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle crumbs over sprouts just before serving.

Adapted from Martha Holmberg’s recipe in “Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 3: A Year of Great Recipes, Tips & Techniques” (Taunton, 2008, $34.95)

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In Belém, Portugal: A massive monument dedicated to Prince Henry the Navigator and Portuguese overseas expansion

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Prince Henry the Navigator holds a multi-masted caravel, a ship that helped explorers increase Portugal’s territory, at the front of the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, Portugal. Kneeling behind him is his brother Prince Fernando (Ferdinand) and behind him navigator Joáo Gonçalves Zarco.

 

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the seventh post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See January 16, 2018 for a post about a visit to Taylor’s port wine lodge in Porto; February 18 about the National Tile Museum and making a ceramic tile; June 2, 2017 about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon; July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto; August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal; and September 3 on custard tarts, a Portuguese specialty.

If the Monument to the Discoveries had been commissioned by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator during his lifetime (1394-1460), the towering structure might have been labeled by some as a vanity project.

Whatever the size of Henry’s ego, hundreds of years later, he’s the dominant figure at the head of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos that tops out at almost 185 feet tall (56 meters) and dwarfs everything else along the picturesque waterfront in the Belém section of western Lisbon.

His right hand cradles a multi-masted caravel, the maneuverable, swift ship favored by Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the 15th to 17th centuries. In his left is an unfurled map. His right leg juts forward, as if he’s about to step off the prow and onto the latest piece of land that Portuguese explorers have claimed for their royal house.

The limestone and cement monument, based on an earlier, temporary model, was established in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death. It was conceived years earlier by architect Cottinelli Telmo (1897-1948) and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975), who designed the likenesses of Prince Henry and 32 historical men and women who line both sides of the ramps of a structure that depicts a ship’s prow.

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The monument stands nearly 185 feet tall and was established in 1960 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry’s death. This view is from the west side.

Henry, son of King João I of Portugal (1357-1433) and English princess Philippa of Lancaster (1359-1415), was a man of many interests, spanning the fields of politics, religion, economics and science. His foresight was to pay unimaginable dividends for centuries to come. Less charitable descriptions of him might mention greed and religious persecution (the Christian was strongly anti-Muslim).

Bordered by Spain on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west, any ambitions to expand Portugal’s holdings were bound to involve going to sea and claiming far-off territory.

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Second from last on the west side is Queen Philippa of Lancaster, mother of Prince Henry. As an English princess, she represented an important alliance when she married into Portuguese royalty. Behind her is her son Prince Pedro (Peter). The figure on the right holding the written document is Luis de Camões, who immortalized Vasco da Gama’s exploits in an epic poem. In front of Camões is painter Nuno Gonçalves.

The monument covers the years from 1418 to 1525, when the voyagers and their ships were pioneering new routes to the known world and beyond. Also immortalized in stone are navigators, artists, writers, religious figures and other royalty.

Navigator Vasco da Gama (circa 1469-1524) is featured in a prominent position — gripping the handle of his sword in his left hand and the second figure behind Henry — on the east ramp (facing the Tagus river [Tejo in Portuguese]). At almost 30 feet tall (9 meters), Henry is the largest of the figures. The others are in the 23-foot (7 meters) range.

By the time de Gama left what is now Belém in 1497, with three caravels and a supply ship, King Manuel I (1469-1521) was on the throne. November found da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, then heading up the east coast of that continent. By May 1498, he had crossed the Indian Ocean and put in at Calicut in southwestern India, thus opening up a trade route for fragrant spices such as curry and cinnamon, and the gold and slaves from Africa.

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Directly behind Prince Henry on the east side of the monument is King Afonso V, followed by explorer Vasco da Gama (left hand on sword), explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, who claimed Brazil for Portugal, and Portuguese-born Ferdinand Magellan, who was in service to the Spanish crown.

Also among the explorers on the east ramp is Pedro Álvares Cabral, with his hand over his heart. Cabral, of nobel birth, followed a route to India similar to da Gama’s with a few major differences: His expedition sailed with 13 ships, and it called in first on the east coast of Brazil, where he took possession of the country for his king in April 1500. (He originally named it Island of the True Cross.)

Portugal not only colonized the largest country in South America (it declared its independence in 1822), but gained access to, in addition to other riches, gold mines and sugar cane plantations, and transported slaves from Africa to work them.

In service to the rival Spanish crown after a disagreement with Manuel I, Portuguese-born explorer Ferdinand Magellan (circa 1480-1521) led the expedition that was first to circumnavigate the globe. Fernão de Magalhães (in Portuguese) is also on the east ramp of the monument, right behind Cabral. His route, with five ships and 270 men, went west from Spain in September 1519, down the east coast of South America and in October 1520 into the eponymous Strait of Magellan, the passage between Tierra del Fuego (and its islands) and the mainland.

Less than five months later — March 1521 — they had reached the Philippines. In late April, Magellan and some of the sailors were killed in an island tribal skirmish. Only one ship made it back to Spain, in September 1522, under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano.

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Part of the Compass Rose, showing caravels and some 16th century “discoveries.”

On the spacious square leading to the monument is an attractive red-and-black Compass Rose, a gift from South Africa, measuring about 165 feet (50 meters) in diameter. Some sources say the design is composed from inlaid limestone; others say it’s marble.

At the center is a maplike element illustrating the continents, with dates and named caravels showing the explorers’ main 15th- and 16th-century routes. Cobblestones in alternating waves of tan and black surround the Compass Rose.

Past the Compass Rose, heading toward the river, several steps lead to the interior entrance of the monument, where visitors can climb 267 stairs or take an elevator to the viewing platform (included in the entry fee) and a panorama of the Belém area. Exhibits and a film are on a lower level.

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Part of the square and the entrance side to the monument, including the sword of Avis on a stylized cross. Technically, this is the back of the monument.

Also from the entrance side, an enormous, multistory sword of Avis centered on a stylized cross. The website says these symbols indicated “the growth of the empire and faith.”

In addition to the monument, there is much to see in Belém, including the Torre de Belém (tower built 1514-20); the very grand and imposing white limestone Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery), home to the tombs of Camões and da Gama, an archaeological museum and a maritime museum; a war memorial; the 16th century Palácio de Belém, the working residence of Portugal’s president; Antiga Confeitaria, famous for its custard tarts (see September 3, 2017 post); and other sights.

Quick reference: Monument to the Discoveries, Avenida Brasilia 1400-038. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays October to February, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. every day March to September; closed January 1, May 1 and December 25. Admission: 5 euros (about $6.15); check website for discounts. No cost if just looking at the exterior Compass Rose and figures on the monument. http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt