The holiday season is a good time to make Brussels sprouts festive looking. With a little red bell pepper, for example, you can have Christmas on a plate.

Brussels sprouts are said to have been cultivated in 16th century Belgium hence the name. They are part of the cabbage family and look just like tiny cabbage heads. They can make attractive table decorations as well as tasty dishes.

Sprouts vary in size, but the smallest are the most tender and delicately flavored. They are available from late August through March. Buy sprouts that are bright green and have tightly compact heads. They may be refrigerated unwashed in an airtight plastic bag for up to three days. After that, their flavor gets too strong.

When properly cooked, Brussels sprouts are tender but not soft. Before cooking, trim the stem end and remove the outer leaves and any other leaves that are discolored or full of holes. Cutting a shallow "X" into the stem will help speed cooking the interior without overcooking the rest. Gentle cooking techniques, such as steaming and braising, usually prevent the sometimes off-putting strong flavor Brussels sprouts can develop.

Like their cabbage cousin, Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables an important part of a healthful diet. Scientists believe that cruciferous vegetables contain natural phytochemicals that can alter cancer-related enzymes, reducing the damage caused by carcinogens. Although broccoli has received most of the publicity for this research, the entire cruciferous family including cauliflower, kale, chard, bok choy, collards and radishes contains related substances.

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Cruciferous vegetables also are full of calcium, beta carotene, vitamin C and lutein, which is associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer as well as age-related macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in people over 65.

To give this red-and-green dish an even more "Christmassy" look, serve the sprouts in a shallow dish lined with the leaves of red cabbage or red Swiss chard.

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Brussels Sprouts

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 10 oz. fresh Brussels sprouts, the smallest available
  • 2-3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 garlic clove (or to taste), finely minced
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Steam the Brussels sprouts just until tender, either on top of the stove or in a microwave at medium power.
  2. While the sprouts are cooking, whisk together the olive oil with the vinegar and garlic. Set the dressing aside.
  3. When the sprouts are done, drain them well and place in a shallow serving bowl. Re-blend dressing and drizzle over sprouts. Sprinkle top of sprouts with the red pepper and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
98 calories,
7 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
8 g. carbohydrate,
2 g. protein,
2 g. dietary fiber,
195 mg. sodium


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