Brussels Sprouts: Robust Flavor For Meatless Days

Usually by March, along with impending snowstorms, I am done with Brussels sprouts. They are one of the few green vegetables that are around all winter. While I was trying to not eat meat during Lent, I re-discovered their robust taste. All it took was to cut the tightly interwoven leafy capsules a little differently, and the flavor unfolded in a surprising new way.

Boiling Brussels sprouts releases their sulfur compounds, not always creating an enticing aroma in the kitchen. Roasting the vegetables brings out the flavor, but it can take up to 50 minutes for the leafy heart to soften. When the sprouts are sliced on the bias, just as you would cut an onion, both of the above issues are addressed. Peeling back the outermost leaf and then slicing through the sprouts eliminates having to discard each of the brown or yellowing leaves; they simply fall away and can be picked out. With a quick misting of oil and a flash under the broiler, the sliced Brussels sprouts become a mixture of charred leaves and a softened core with a crunchy, sweet taste.

Rich in vitamin C and K, the grilled sprouts can be combined with hardy mushrooms to add heft to a meatless meal.


Brussels Sprouts And Mushrooms

Brussels sprouts – 1 lb

Oyster Mushrooms – ½ lb

Garlic cloves – 5-6, peeled and sliced

Dried red chili – 2-3

Olive Oil – 1 tbsp, plus misting

Salt and Pepper – to taste

Preheat the broiler

  • Chop the mushrooms roughly and keep aside.
  • Peel the first outer layer of the sprouts. Cut the sprouts thinly on the diagonal. Discard any outer leaf that looks old or brown.
  • Put the sliced sprouts on an aluminum foil. Mist them with olive oil, mixing them so that all the sprouts get coated with oil.
  • Add salt and pepper and mix.
  • Broil for five minutes, turning them frequently. Some of the individual leaves will char, but this adds a smoky flavor.
  • While the sprouts are under the broiler, heat oil in the pan.
  • Add garlic cloves and cook until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the dried red chilies and cook until they stop sizzling, a few seconds.
  • Add the mushroom and cook until soft.
  • Add the cooked Brussels sprout to the mushroom mixture. Mix and season according to taste.
  • Serve with grilled salmon or vegetable lasagna.

Wild Mushroom Soup

Last week, three planets aligned closely with one another in a rare astronomical event. However, due to heavy rains, I missed the show. But on the other hand, everything lined up for the makings of a hardy soup — the cold winds, a heavy downpour, which caused one large wild mushroom to appear at a farmer’s market produce stall, and Ruth Reichl’s response to what would one find in her freezer (homemade stock) all served as an inspiration.

The wild sheepshead mushroom, also called hen-of-the-woods, looks like it could have come from the depths of the ocean. As the name suggests, the mushroom looks like the head of a sheep. Unlike a regular mushroom with one stalk and cap, sheepshead mushrooms grow in a clump with several stems and bracket-shaped layers of caps. They sprout quickly with the rains, and grow under old oak trees. Sheepshead’s moisture-rich stalks break down and thicken stock, which gives the resulting soup an unmistakable earthy taste.

I bought a pound from a four-pound monster mushroom at the farmer’s market, and thawed out the good stock. Excited to cook my first wild mushroom, I was unprepared for an ancient looking creature that crawled out from under the layers of the mushroom’s caps. I did have to remind myself that flavors are nurtured through the good, bad, and ugly facets of nature!


Wild Mushroom Soup

Mushrooms – 1 lb, cleaned and chopped roughly

Butter or oil – 4 tbsp

Onion – 1, diced

Garlic – 6 cloves, chopped

Stock – 1½ pints

Parsley – 1 bunch

Salt and pepper – to taste

Truffle oil – 1-2 tbsp (optional)

  • Heat a pan and add the butter or oil.
  • Add the chopped onions and sauté, until they are transparent.
  • Add the garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the chopped mushrooms and stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the stock. Once it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until the mushroom stalks are tender.
  • Strain the mushroom chunks out and put them through a food processor. Combine the pureed mushroom with the liquid stock.
  • Serve the soup with a drizzle of truffle oil and a few parsley stalks.

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Note: A mix of cultivated mushrooms works just as well for this easy to make soup.