Veg to Table: Sprouts

Illustration: Ellen Blanc

As is inevitable in December, it’s hard not to look back on the year gone by — even if, once again, it’s not quite the joyous retrospective you’d hoped for. While we might find whimsy in our Spotify Unwrapped (which this year summarised my listening tastes rather evasively as ‘happy’ and ‘chill’), the more general timeline of 2021 paints a bleaker picture — with memories of outdoor pints in Baltic conditions, masked funeral guests and Tories chatting solid gold shit, incessantly.

But from beneath my mountain of discarded lateral flow tests, I also remember how blood oranges in February gave me a welcome distraction from all the gloom, as I played around with recipes in the kitchen of a new home. How April, with its artichokes, made me truly embrace the hopefulness of spring for the first time as I picked at a bowl of vignarola one lunchtime. And how I sought carby comfort from Jersey Royal potatoes when June brought me crippling self doubt as work delivered a hefty blow. Then, how as the peak summer months came — and with them more freedom — I found it hard to find the time to write about runner beans, courgettes and fennel, which honestly felt like nothing other than a blessing.

I soon realised that eating my way through the seasons could give structure to my weeks and months when nothing else could — many of those usual milestones STILL meaningless, a year after the pandemic broke out. Will Glastonbury ever happen again?! Will I ever return to the inside of Terminal 3 at Manchester Airport? While the uncertainty remains, the thousands and thousands of words I’ve written on vegetables (and the one rogue fruit, as my boyfriend always reminds me) this year have at least helped me stop yearning for the ease of the future, and to try and find small joys in the present instead— spurred on, of course, by unexpectedly kind words from family and friends, who have always managed to feign interest even after a seven-minute read on celeriac.

Hopefully 2022 will bring music festivals and holidays again (or at the very least, more of that happy and chill), but not before our hyper-seasonal final vegetable brings us out with a festive bang:

Shredded Sprouts with Cranberries and Chestnuts

I’m staunchly of the opinion that not everyone has to like everything—the world would be a very drab and predicable place if that was so. I don’t dislike sprouts myself, but I can understand why others might not embrace the bitter, nutty flavour. And that’s fine!

However, I’m also of the opinion that if any recipe will make you like sprouts, it’s probably this one — purely because here, they’re shredded, which helps temper the pungence and nuttiness that not everyone can stomach. That said, if you still think you’d swerve them if a bowl appeared on the Christmas dinner table, I wouldn’t judge you. Life’s too short.

Serves 6–8 as a roast dinner side

70g pumpkin seeds
Knob of butter
500g sprouts
1tsp sage
50g dried cranberries or barberries, roughly chopped
180g cooked chestnuts, roughly chopped

In a dry pan, toast a pumpkin seeds until they start to pop, and set aside.

Remove the bottoms from 500g of sprouts and peel off any manky outer leaves, before cutting each one in half lengthways, and each half widthways into thin slices.

Next, add the butter to the pan and melt over a medium heat, before tossing in the shredded sprouts with the sage and frying for 5–10 minutes — adding a splash of water every now and again to help everything steam slightly.

When they’ve softened, add in the dried cranberries and chestnuts and cook for another two minutes, before tossing in most of the toasted pumpkin seeds and stirring through.

Spoon everything into a serving bowl, scattering the remaining pumpkin seeds on top.

Crispy Tamarind Sprouts with Peanuts and Shallots

Rukmini Iyer’s Roasting Tin book series provides solid inspiration from all directions, whether you’re veggie, in a rush or simply hoping to broaden your horizons. In The Green Roasting Tin, a collection of vegan and vegetarian one-dish meals, Iyer roasts up sprouts with chickpeas, shallots and spices, before slicking everything in a tamarind dressing and topping with peanuts, chaat masala and yoghurt.

You can find the recipe online via The Happy Foodie, but I’d highly recommend investing in the book — or any of her books, for that matter.

Lemony Smashed Sprouts with Pasta

Elly Pear’s Instagram feed is a huge source of inspiration for me when it comes to vegetables, as she knows how to combine simple — and often inexpensive — ingredients to create maximum flavour. Think Ratatouille and Pesto Baked Eggs or Roasted Crown Prince Squash and Braised Puy Lentils; all the kinds of simple but vibrant meals I really love.

In this case, it’s turning sprouts into a meal with some ready-made tortellini pasta (a shortcut ingredient Nigella also favours in her Tortellini Minestrone), lemon, parmesan and hazelnuts, together making a quick dinner that I’m hoping to try myself some day very soon.

Cacio e Pepe Sprouts

The idea reads like the construct of a trendy food generator, but it’s a mash-up that I think might just work — allowing the sprouts to borrow both the punchy black pepper and the mellow creaminess from the classic Italian pasta dish (which translates as ‘cheese and pepper’). I’m into it.

Sprout Salad with Citrus and Pomegranate

Sprouts can also be eaten raw by shredding them into a salad as you might with cabbage in a slaw. This idea from BBC Good Food pairs them with hazelnuts, cumin seeds, red onion, coriander and pomegranate seeds, all tossed together with a dressing of orange, lemon, vinegar, sugar, olive oil and mustard.

“Brussels sprouts make a great alternative to cabbage or kale in slaws and salads — let them soak up this zesty dressing for a side dish packed with fresh flavours and texture,” recipe author Jane Hornby says.

While it sounds great in its own right, I might even be tempted to throw a few orange segments in there too for extra sweetness and tang.

Chorizo Brussels Sprouts

We’ve all embraced the sprout-and-pancetta vibe, but I’m intrigued by Mob Kitchen’s suggestion of using smoky Spanish chorizo and sherry vinegar instead. I can see the slight sweetness of each counter the bitterness of the sprouts a little, while the paprika-spiked oil that seeps from the sausage meat will give everything a nice and Christmassy red hue.

VEG TO TABLE MERCH

My sister Ellen Blanc, who has so beautifully illustrated the Veg to Table series, has now released a limited range of Veg to Table Merch on her Etsy shop.

Find calendars and prints below, or head to her shop here.

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Journalist currently working at LADbible, with previous experience at Time Out, The Skinny and others.

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Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman

Journalist currently working at LADbible, with previous experience at Time Out, The Skinny and others.

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