Monday, December 9, 2013

Triple Umami Brussels Sprouts Stir Fry with Cashews

Whole Foods Market Cooking recently ran Your Best Brussels Sprouts Recipe Competition and it got me thinking about Brussels sprouts a bit more than usual. Not that I need that much of a push when Brussels sprouts are concerned, because these little “cabbages” are one of my favorite vegetables. No, no, no, my thought process was of a different kind. To tell you the truth, I am somewhat worried that the spotlight is on and that Brussels sprouts are becoming a little bit too fashionable. Remember the kale story? I used to like kale, until it was turned into chips and juice, until it was immortalized via the National Kale Day and until it broke the world record for the number of raw salad recipes on the Internet. Even Miss Pain, my six-year old daughter, who does not eat any green foods period unless badly tricked into it, came back from the supermarket the other day proclaiming kale to be “awesome”. So far “awesome” was reserved for the American Girl Dolls, sequined tights and anything pink colored. I have a problem when Pain uses “awesome” to describe her level of liking. I hope you see my point.

I am digressing, so back to my original thought process. For decades out of favor and the worst enemy of children across the planet, mainly due to horrific sulfurous taste it exhibits when abused by overcooking -- I know because I was a kid once -- Brussels sprouts is experiencing a kind of revival moment now. I see an increase in Brussels sprouts dishes on the web, TV and in the restaurants. The pile of Brussels sprouts in my local supermarket has reached new highs, plus, since last winter one can also buy entire Brussels sprouts stalks the size of an average New York City kitchen. And, according to the producers in California, the demand for the stalks is increasing, which definitely raises the reddest of the red flags. Could I be wrong in my observation? Is it only me, me in my kale induced paranoia who suddenly sees Brussels sprouts everywhere?

I decide to probe deeper into this issue, this time via more scientific methods. I devise a test to benchmark the popularity of different ingredients on various Internet cooking sites. I carefully compile the list of websites to be as diverse as possible, in order to reflect a variety of opinions, tastes and cooking behaviors. In pursuit of total objectivity, I include the sites I love and trust, the ones I will peak at from time to time, as well as the sites that do not quite land on my reading list. You don't expect me to tell you which ones are not the faves, don’t you? I won’t, so let’s proceed with the experiment. Brussels sprouts belong to a mighty fine family of cruciferous vegetables, counting as its cousins the mighty cabbage, the mighty broccoli, the mighty cauliflower, the mighty radishes, the mighty arugula, somewhat less mighty kohlrabi, collard greens and the ubiquitous kale. In the course of our scientific testing, we will count how many recipes there are for each of these ingredients on each website from my extensive and painfully constructed list. We will then poll the results and compute the popularity rank for each ingredient (say broccoli) within each source (say Food & Wine), as well as the average rank for the ingredient across all sources.

I spend about half day polling the web and processing the valuable data. You are probably thinking, doesn’t she have better use of her time, and you are probably right. The results are back and interesting. At the first glance the results look fine, just as one expects them to be – the mighty cabbage still being the most popular cruciferous (average popularity rank 2.2), followed by broccoli and arugula (average popularity ranks 3.1 and 3.2, respectively), then cauliflower and radish. The omnipresent kale is at the unremarkable sixth place. Sprouts are close to the bottom of the list, followed only by the collards and pathetic kohlrabi. The results should be reassuring, except that my rankings do not at all capture “kale is the new black phenomenon” we all agree is very much real. I look at the rankings again and then the realization dawns. It is the bloggers (foodgawker) and the trusted home cooks (food52) who seem to be contributing more kale recipes than anyone else! I cannot say if they are the culprits for the craze or the instantiation of it, nevertheless in these two cohorts, as they would say in the scientific research, the number of kale recipes shoots through the roof. (I am too guilty as charged, having posted a recipe for Sri Lankan Kale Mallung back in August.)

Kale phenomenon confirmed, I proceed to check how the bloggers and the trusted home cooks feel about Brussels sprouts. And here I am greatly relieved of my fears, because in their obsession with kale both the bloggers (Brussels sprouts popularity rank 6) and the trusted home cooks (Brussels sprouts popularity rank 4) seem to be leaving my little cabbages alone.

And as for the Whole Foods Market Cooking competition... In case you are wondering, my entry was Triple Umami Brussels Sprouts Stir Fry with Cashews. It reflected my love for shredding Brussels sprouts into shreds, the fact we had extra cashews in the pantry and my very own recent obsession with umami. And I dare criticize the kale obsessed?

Triple Umami Brussels Sprouts Stir Fry with Cashews

* 14 oz Brussels sprouts
* 1 to 3 red bird’s-eye chilies, thinly sliced, depending on your heat preference
* 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced
* 1/2 cup cashew nuts
* 3 tbsp oyster sauce
* 2 tsp soy sauce
* 1 tbsp ketchup
* 3 tbsp vegetable oil suitable for frying

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the cashews in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the baking sheet into the oven. Roast the cashews for about 15-20 minutes. Make sure you stir the cashews every five minutes or so to prevent them from burning. Remove the cashews from the oven when they are golden and let them cool completely.

2. Wash the Brussels sprouts and dry them carefully. Shred or cut the Brussels sprouts into superfine slaw. (I highly recommend cutting by hand, because it will produce the finest slaw possible, which is a must for this dish. It will take about 15 minutes of knife work for one pound of Brussels sprouts.)

3. In a small bowl mix the oyster sauce, soy sauce and ketchup. I call this the triple umami sauce.

4. Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or large sauce pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, throw in the garlic and chilies and stir-fry quickly for about 30 seconds, until garlic is golden and fragrant. Add in the Brussels sprouts and stir-fry for about 8 minutes. Stir the sprouts constantly to prevent them from sticking to the pan. The sprouts are done when they are in between soft and crispy and still bright in color. Add in the umami sauce and stir-fry for another minute until the Brussels sprouts are evenly coated.

5. Remove from heat, throw in the cashews, mix and serve over steamed white rice.

Serves 4


  1. Loving your scientific approach to ingredient popularity! I haven't seen whole Geisel sprout stalks in my corner of Australia, but maybe that will be the litmus test for cake pop-style trendiness??

  2. Absolutely stunning blog. I love your props! Found you via G+ Food bloggers page. Nice to meet you!

    1. Hi C. Hawkins, thanks for stopping by... Nice to meet you!


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