Fear the Sprouts

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sprouts needn't haunt finicky eaters



They look innocent enough: like miniature, Barbie-size cabbages. But then, how many ax-murderers aren't described by neighbors to have "seemed like a really nice man"?

This Halloween, you can have your creepy poltergeists, your wicked witches, your Freddie Kruegers ad nauseum.

A childhood run-in with brussels sprouts will forever haunt my memory.

It was dinnertime. I was 11 years old.

They sat in a row - three little vegetables on my plate.

I stared at them, hating their tightly closed leaves and their little root stub, hating their smell and hating their taste. I despised those brussels spouts. According to my mother, I had to eat them before I could leave the table.

It had been a gorgeous blue-sky summer day. The kind of day when you head out after your cornflakes and stay gone until dinner. I had flown up the driveway on my bike seconds away from being really late for supper, my stomach grumbling.

But now the meal was over - mashed potatoes and fried pork chop devoured; the cup of milk, finished. The other chairs around the table were empty. Only I remained, having a stare-down with three ghastly green bulbs.

Our house was unusually quiet. No blaring television, no radio, just the sound of my mother puttering in the kitchen.

My means for escape lay enticingly on the grass. I could see it from the window; my blue Schwinn; it would deliver me to my friends and our ballgame at the vacant lot.

"Eat them and you can go," my mother said.

She wasn't getting it - I had tried to eat them. I stabbed one with my fork and brought it to my mouth. I even bit. Pungent odor filled my nose and the taste brought forth a gag.

How can someone eat these things? I was horrified and amazed. To me this was a sickly combination of rotten eggs and dirt.

I just couldn't do it. I wouldn't. I would not chew up even one of these disgusting things.

Tick, tick, tick, went the clock on the wall. I was impatient for release.

A plan began to form in my devious adolescent mind.

"Mom," I called and she appeared.

"All I have to do is eat these and I can go, right?" I said this in my best "giving in" voice.

"Yes," she told me, "you don't have dishes tonight, so you can leave."

"Ok," I said. "I'm going to eat them now and then I'm going to go meet Kay. I'll see you later, Mom."

I watched her turn and go.

Holding my breath, I placed the brussels sprouts, one by one, into my mouth. I stood in the doorway, and set the empty plate on the sink, nodding my head as my mother looked.

"See?" she said, "Not so bad, right?" I gave her a closed-mouth smile, opened the back door and stepped out. Scanning the backyard, I jumped off the porch, breathing through my nose. I spit them out on the side of the house, three little brussels sprouts. Yuck.

Riding down the driveway never felt so good!

I flew the four blocks to the vacant lot, deposited my bike on the grass and joined the game in progress. We played a few innings, and then walked to my friend's house, lounging on her front lawn, figuring out what to do next.

Soon we began a heated game of Kick the Can, running in and out of darkened yards, whooping and hollering until everyone had to go in.

I drove my bike home under the glow of the street lights, tired and happy, as I walked in the back door. All was quiet. My eyes were drawn to the dining room table and the small, porcelain bowl. In it were three familiar-looking vegetables. My mother appeared in the doorway.

"Your father mowed the lawn earlier," she said wryly, "He found those on the grass under your bedroom window."

Since that traumatic event, I have grown to appreciate these members of the Brassica family, which includes mustard greens, broccoli, kale and cabbage.

The sprouts are said to be high in cancer-fighting nutrients and have many other health benefits, including high concentrations of vitamins K and C.

Their season starts in autumn, and they reach their flavor peak in spring. You can buy them fresh or frozen.

And when prepared properly - as in this recipe - they make a fine addition to a hearty fall dinner menu.

'Not-So-Scary' Brussels Sprouts Makes five ( 1/2-cup) servings

½ pound frozen brussels sprouts

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced red onion

1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced

Pinch of ground turmeric

Pinch of curry powder (mild to medium hot, depending on taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon butter or more to taste

Boil or steam the sprouts 5 to 7 minutes or until tender.

While sprouts are cooking, heat olive oil in pan over low heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Be careful not to burn the garlic - that would be scary!

Remove sprouts from heat and blanch in ice-cold water to retain color. Drain. Lightly chop and add to pan with seasonings. Heat thoroughly, stirring often. Top with butter and serve.

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