In praise of maligned foods

IMG_1045Here’s my policy on trying new foods:  If you can adequately demonstrate to me that any given food is eaten by any community of actual humans, anywhere in the world, on purpose, I’ll try it.  I’m specifying “on purpose” so that I can avoid eating foods that are clearly only considered “food” by necessity.  If something is only eaten because the people who eat it can’t afford to eat anything better or because they live in some sun- or ice-blasted hellhole and there is literally no other food anywhere, I reserve the right to refuse to try it.  But if you take those people and move them somewhere with a McDonald’s and a subscription to the Pie of the Month club and a generation later they’re still eating Grandma’s famous recipe for fried boar nuts, then I’m gonna try me some fried boar nuts if you put ’em in front of me.

There are really not a whole lot of foods that I’ve tried and won’t eat.  I don’t like raw onions under most circumstances (guacamole being a rare exception); cook them at all and I’m all good.  I’m not fond of peas if they’re mushy; peas that are cooked so that they sorta “pop” when you bite into them are fine.  Green beans, baked beans.  And I’ve reaffirmed this week that parsnips aren’t food.

(I’m doing the vegetarian thing again this week, in case you haven’t figured this out yet.  I accidentally ate a piece of sausage and pepperoni pizza yesterday, so I’m doing a bad job.  But dinners have been consistent.)

Let’s talk about Brussels sprouts.  Brussels sprouts, quite possibly the least popular vegetable known to American culture.

I’ve had Brussels sprouts once.  My wife made them.  She is also not fond of Brussels sprouts, so we were both experimenting.  They were boiled.  (EDIT:  My wife claims my mom made them.  This is odd; my mother never made Brussels sprouts when I was a kid.)

spit the damn thing out.  I don’t do that with food, guys.  I don’t care how bad I think something is, I’m gonna finish at least a bite of it before I punch you and refuse to have any more.  My mouth sent me an immediate and unambiguous “this is not food WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING” message and I spit it out as authoritatively as if some miscreant had placed a live bee into my mouth.  I’m not sure it was even in my mouth long enough to register the taste.  Nope.  Not food.  Gone.

Here’s the thing, though:  I can’t always trust myself.  I spent the first year of our marriage saying things like “I don’t usually like shrimp, but…” every month or so until my wife pointed out that maybe I actually did like shrimp.  So when she found a recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts and wanted to incorporate them into Vegetarian Week 2, I decided to roll with it.

They smelled good while they were roasting.  Good sign, I thought.

“They’re not bad,” she told me as I was sitting down at the table.  “Maybe a little bitter.”  She doesn’t like these things either, remember, so I inspected her face carefully for signs of deception.  She was quite entertained when I’d spit the previous attempt out, so this could have all been a ruse.

I speared one with a fork.  Did my best Joe Bastianich impression as I lifted it to my nose, stared at it disdainfully, and smelled it.

And tasted it.


Why the fuck is boiling Brussels sprouts even a thing Jesus they’re goddamn delicious roasted WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I know the picture above doesn’t look like much.  Here’s the recipe:  Brussels sprouts, apples, pears, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, a little olive oil, cinnamon, sea salt.  Mix and roast.  Serve over brown rice.

By the end of the meal I was literally using my hands to pack more food onto my fork.  I could eat this forever.  Same vegetable I spit out when it was served to me boiled.  Delicious, delicious, delicious, go eat some right now.  There’s a teeny bit of bitterness if you eat one solo but they’ve got this awesome nutty flavor to them and combining them with fruit and a bit of cinnamon is bananas good.  Apparently there were supposed to be some (unroasted) cranberries scattered over the top as a last step; I can only imagine that making things better.

Seriously go eat some Brussels sprouts right now.  Just don’t boil them. Why the hell would you boil them?  You clearly already have heat and that’s the only thing you need to roast stuff.

Somebody bring me some lutefisk; I’m on a roll.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

26 thoughts on “In praise of maligned foods

  1. Double dog dare you to eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. I like them, actually, and so does the guy who introduced me to them. You have to choose the right pickles, though. Sweet pickles taste horrible with peanut butter.


      1. When I tried a peanut butter burger it was way to greasy and oily. There’s got to be a trick to it if a restaurant serves it.


  2. you might like a jalapeno bean burger. it’s just mashed pinto beans under the patty. and topped with cheese and peppers.

    brussels sprouts are baby cabbages and very nutritious for us. i roast them (frozen, thawed) slowly in a frying pan with butter and dried minced garlic.


  3. The food that I love but cannot get anyone else to try is red flannel hash (made of beets, potatoes, beef, and onions).

    Thanks for the suggestion for cooking Brussels sprouts. I used to like them as a little kid (no, I’m not joking), but then didn’t when I got older.


    1. Well, potatoes, beef and onions sounds delicious; I don’t really know that I’ve eaten beets enough to be able to comment on the effect they’d have, but I’d certainly eat it to find out.


  4. Ok. I was raised in the South, bastion of Brussels sprouts. In fact, everything that wasn’t nailed down was boiled or fried, but fortunately times have changed. Your wife’s receipt sounds delicious.Congrats on being a fearless taster! However, I’m still not sure I’m brave enough for a Brussels sprout.


  5. Yessss! Brussels sprouts! And you can roast them with anything, in any combination, yum. You can also just caramelize them (that’s really the good part), and when you’re on meat again do that with a little bacon. Also, best use I know for parsnips, I made amazing soup: parsnips, turnips, carrots, potatoes, a jalapeno, vegetable or chicken broth, simmer until tender; blenderize the shit out of it, and if you want add a cup of milk or soymilk, or less cream, SOUUUP! So good.


  6. Parsnips! Try this–it’s amazing. (I usually use at least one or two potatoes, always onions and carrots, and then any combination of root vegetables is good: jerusalem artichokes, rutabaga, parsnip, carrots, celery root, though I haven’t tried beets or sweet potatoes.)

    Gratinated Root Vegetables
    (It’s Swedish, and meant to go with an elk roast, but I’ve left that part out.)
    6 potatoes
    1 small swede (rutabaga) (200 g)
    1 parsnip (150 g)
    2 carrots
    1 portion celeriac (75 g)
    1 onion
    2 T butter
    2 t salt
    3 measuring spoons freshly ground black pepper
    100-200 ml heavy cream
    1 T chopped fresh thyme
    200 ml grated mature cheese (note: Västerbotten from Ikea is good)

    Preheat the oven to 175 degrees (celsius).
    Peel and cut all the vegetables into thin slices (easiest with a food processor).
    Peel and chop the onion. Grease an ovenproof dish.
    Alternate the different root vegetables and onion in the dish. Salt and pepper between the layers.
    Pour cream over top and place in oven, 40-60 minutes, depending on how thick the layers are. Test with a needle to feel whether the vegetables are soft.
    When approx 10 minutes are left, strew the thyme leaves and the cheese on top.


  7. I never had an opinion about Brussels sprouts until I married my current husband. He liked them and requested I cook him some. I discovered I like them too. Caraway seeds are a good complement. Cooking them until they are a little bit browned (read tiny bit scorched, over cooking carefully done is your friend. Maillard effect and all) really brings out depth of flavor.
    Boiling should never be done to things grown in the dirt.
    I ❤ sprouts!


  8. If you are not allergic to them then most unprocessed organic foods not only taste good when mixed with other good tasting foods but are actually very healthy for you.The true gourmet will eat any food which is in its natural state or mixed in with other foods which dilute a strong taste if there is one such as bitterness and excessive pungency. Happy experimentation and eating!!!!!!


  9. PJs, I won’t pretend that the burger wasn’t a bit of a mess– especially since I have facial hair– but I wouldn’t have called it greasy or oily. The peanut butter cuts the heat of the jalapeños remarkably; it was a really good burger.


  10. Roasted vegetables are amazing! I rarely cook them any other way now (well, except asparagus on the grill). One of the most ethereal vegetables I’ve ever tasted is roasted broccoli. Yes, ethereal. Toss with a little oil, salt, and pepper, bake at 425 degF for 14ish minutes or until well-browned. Take them out, sprinkle a bit of parmesan and lemon juice on top. The florets caramelize and get all lacy and crunchity-delicious. So much better than that soggy steamed garbage. The same treatment for cauliflower is wonderful if you add a little curry powder to the seasoning step.

    When you’re back on the meats, do give Brussels sprouts a try with bacon, like a previous commenter suggests. A week or two ago, I sauteed some sprouts with bacon on the stovetop until browned and then dressed them with a bit of butter (some lilies need gilding). I immediately went back to Costco for the obscenely large binge-bag of sprouts.


  11. My father (an ex Far East POW) who could eat anything, always turned down what he referred to as *tursnips* (parsnips, turnips, mangleworsels etc) saying they were really cattle food. I agree.


  12. You’re so lucky to be able to eat everything. I’m allergic to so many foods. My mother used to serve brussel sprouts with butter when I was little. Yuck! Your recipe does sound tempting thought.


  13. Ok, so I got my ingredients, but I need to know time and temp it was roasted at. Past experience has shown that guessing may not be the best answer for such things.


  14. Yes, there is nothing like roasted Brussels sprouts! We made them last night with onions, walnuts, salt, pepper, paprika, sesame seeds and barley syrup (honey is good, too). With brown rice, fried Jerusalem artichokes and tofu dressing… I’m hungry now


  15. I haven’t had them roasted but my mum makes yummy Brussels sprouts with potatoes & bacon as a casserole… Why anyone would just boil them is beyond me.
    I can’t stand capsicums (bell pepper for you I think). Or beets. Those just taste like dirt to me.


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