Die, Demon Cabbage, Die! (I Will Make You Like Brussels Sprouts)
And yes, it’s Brussels sprouts, not Brussel, because Brussel isn’t a thing, and Brussels is a real place in Belgium, and this is important, historically. Because it was in Brussels that, in 1815, an occultist named Amandine Olivier first conjured these tiny demon cabbages into existence. Amandine got drunk one night on a rare Belgian liqueur called Le Pipi du Diable, and then he cast a 9th-circle summoning spell which brought a woody stalk of sprouts — once used as Baphomet’s walking stick — over through the fontanelle separating our world and the Hell-world, and on this stalk were the first Brussels sprouts.
That’s important to know, because for a very long time, I thought Brussels sprouts were bullshit. I assumed, quite correctly, that they were little demon cabbages. I mean, I was right. They are. They’re like if you took a full-size cabbage, with all its implicit cabbageness, and then you used some kind of magic(k) to compress that cabbageness into something roughly the size of a golf ball. For a long time I had assumed that their best use was to freeze them and slingshot them at your enemies as they besieged your home. I also assumed that if you broke one open, angry fart ghosts would be released to wreak havoc on the world of the living.
But I have since learned that Brussels sprouts are not bullshit.
Well, not always. Most people don’t know how to cook them. I don’t know exactly why, but in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, people didn’t realize that sometimes the best way to treat a vegetable was to SCOURGE IT WITH FLAME, roasting those motherfuckers until they’re crispy and delicious. Instead people steamed vegetables, or worse, boiled them, and it is this latter preparation that plagued many of us, I assume, in our childhoods. Asparagus is a lovely spear of deliciousness, except when you boil it, in which case it becomes less a spear and more a fallen log long gone rotten in the woods. Veggies in this form become mushy, sad things — almost as if they have been pre-chewed in the mouth of a mournful widow.
Thing is, you can still roast Brussels sprouts and they can still turn out a hard, angry, bitter result. They can still emerge from your FIRE BOX still maintaining their demonic veneer. And so, many people — after long having learned to love difficult vegetables — still hold onto the belief that they do not, and will not, like Brussels sprouts.
Not in a box.
Not with a fox.
Not in some socks.
Not with the pox.
And I am here to change that.
And you will thank me.
You will lay a garland of laurels upon my brow, for I will be the champion who has rehabilitated the demon cabbages and given you a new FACE SENSATION inside your FACE. You will like it so much, you will try to send me money, and I will say nay, do not send me money, but buy my books, for I am a humble word-herder, nay, a simple and unassuming penmonkey seeking readers in this dark and tangled world.
Let us begin.
First, you need Brussels sprouts.
I suspect this is already where you resist.
DO NOT RESIST. Go. Get them. If you want the best, wait until the season where your local farmer’s market has them.
You want to buy ones that are not discolored and surly. They should be green and firm, not mushy or brown. They should also not have mouths and eyes. If they have mouths and eyes, the eggs have hatched, and now they are not merely sprouts, but rather, sproutlings, and they will bite off the tips of your fingers and thumbs because that is what they like most to eat.
Also, smaller sprouts are better.
Bring them home.
Show them your knife.
It is vital you show them the knife. You must hold the knife to them and let them know what’s coming. These are demon cabbages. Eggs from the devil’s own cloaca. They must be shown that humans control them — you have summoned them, and only the blade can truly tame them.
Now, cut off any stemmy bits. Up to a quarter inch into the sprout.
Then peel the outer leaves. The outer leaves are the exoskeleton. They are often tough and unpleasant and you must be rid of them. Get to the tender, soft leaf-meats within. One layer is usually good, but if they’re big-ass sprouts, maybe another layer down is necessary.
If the sprouts are small, bisect them.
If they’re larger — say, nearer to a golf ball size — then quarter them.
Scream at them as you cut them. Curse at them.
Then, let them sit and think about the horrors they have wrought.
Now, get your HELL BOX up to temperature.
I go 425, but if your oven runs cooler, go 450.
As the COALS OF HELL begin to fire, it’s time to make our sauce —
4TB of real maple syrup
3TB of fish sauce
a blob of minced garlic
a bloop of minced ginger
the juice of half a lemon
the juice of half an orange
bit of salt
bit of pepper
four tears from a sad yeti
a bad dream
a good dream
and ten whispered promises that you will break
Already I feel you resisting.
It’s the fish sauce, I know. You’re thinking, why the fuck am I taking delicious maple syrup and mixing it with heinous fish sauce, and you’re right, fish sauce is heinous, if you go by the smell. The smell of fish sauce is like brined corpse-feet. Have you ever seen how they make it? Don’t. Don’t look. Spoiler warning: it’s dead fish. Left to get worse than dead fish already are. Left to break down into liquids. And then they just tap that briny death-keg and — ploomp — there’s your fish sauce. And I know, I know, Brussels sprouts are already bullshit, and now I’m asking you to put rotten fish slurry in there, too?
Your trust will be rewarded.
(Real-talk: fish sauce also kicks up soup. Chicken noodle soup is amazing with even one tablespoon of fish sauce into the pot. Failing your ability to use and possess fish sauce, you can instead use Worcestershire sauce. Which, ha ha ha sucker, is also fish sauce. But seriously: if you want to take nearly any soup or stew and kick it up a bit with an umami-bomb, use a little fish sauce and use a little sherry vinegar.)
Put this whisked concoction into a small saucepan.
BACK TO THE SPROUTS.
Get them in a bowl. Mix them with olive oil. Get them lubey, like they’re fooled into thinking they’re going to a vegetable orgy. Then, once sufficiently lubed, get them onto a cookie sheet onto some non-stick foil. Sprinkle salt over them.
Roast them for 20-30 minutes.
You want them brown and crispy, but not black and coal-like.
While the demon cabbages are being transformed by the fiery alchemy of your HELL BOX, get that saucepan on the stove, and turn it onto medium heat, and you want to reduce the sauce down — like, what, halfway? I dunno. You don’t want it loose and liquidy — you want it to become syrupy, like the maple syrup once was. Enough to coat the back of a spoon, but not so much that it, well, burns into some kind of napalm tar.
When the sprouts are out of the oven, get them in that bowl.
Then pour your reduced sauce over them.
Mixy mixy mix.
Then shove them into the BONE CAVE that is your MOUTH.
I mean, let them cool down first? Don’t just cram molten-hot Brussels sprouts in there, that’s fucked up, what’s wrong with you.
But once cool, eat them.
And then send me your infinite gratitude.
Oh! Here’s the other thing:
That sauce is also good on other roasted veggies — particularly other cruciferous veggies like broccoli. (They call these vegetables “cruciferous” because they crucified Jesus. It’s true, read your Bibles, kids.) If you want to mix other veggies in with the sprouts, you can: onions in there? Sure. Bacon in there? Sure. (Bacon is too a vegetable, shut up.) Note though that this does not require bacon — bacon, which I love, is also a cheat. You can stick bacon in a lot of terrible things and make them better. No, this recipe is good without it, and it is not required.
But it is nice.
(Last thought: this sauce also does well in fried rice.)
(And you can make it into fried breakfast rice with an egg overtop and Spam in there and okay fine bacon too, just shut up and make it.)
Go eat your vegetables.
And buy my books, thank you.