Sunday, February 28, 2010

Book Clubs and Brussels Sprouts

I decided early last year that, in my "new" life, I wanted to join a Book Club. I had never had time before, so why not take advantage of the time I had now? I thought that by belonging to one, it would force me to read -- a pasttime I used to love with a passion, but one which had sadly lapsed over the years of so much "work reading".

A few initial outreaches taught me that most existing Book Clubs were NOT looking for new members. So for a while, I explored the notion of starting one myself.  Since I came to the conclusion that I did not want to take on that leadership role, I was so pleased when my friend Laura's Book Club decided they wanted some "new blood".

Life intervened for a while -- for the first two or three meetings, I was out of town or had a previous commitment. (This club doesn't meet at a set time/date each month.) Then I broke my leg-- that was was about 4 1/2 months out of commission. But this month I was able to "officially" join their Book Club!

The book chosed to read could not have been a better one for me: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I purchased it in the LAX airport in late January, read half of it on the trip home, and the remaining half later that week one evening. What a delightful read! It was EXACTLY what I had hoped for when I first decided I wanted to join a book club. It was easy to read (it's a short book, and I flew through it.) It has history (I learned a lot about World War II that I had not known before), humor, mystery and romance. And it celebrates the love of books, and the love of mankind, throughout.

So now for the second part of belonging to a book club that I think I will enjoy: food! I discovered that the host of the "meeting" provides the main course, and the rest of the members fill in with the "fixin's". I volunteered to bring a salad, and used the opportunity to try out a recipe from Saveur Magazine that I had been saving for quite a while.

Brussels Sprouts in the Raw?
Brussels sprouts are a funny vegetable. I never heard of them until I was a teenager, and then it was mostly hearing friends speak of their dislike of them. While I was in high school, my mother decided to try them for our dinner, and prepared some from one of those frozen boxes. I liked them -- not LOVED them, but didn't understand why some people seemed to loathe them so much.

It wasn't until much later in my life, when I began to cook myself and enjoy reading about food and cooking, that I discovered their true potential. I think first I was drawn to them as an artist: they are a quite unusual looking vegetable, aren't they? Tighty little bulbs of green and pale yellow, with a wonderful textured design where the little leaves overlap each other.

My first success in cooking them was when I learned that if you roasted or grilled them until they carmelized, you had hit a home run. You see, I think most people don't cook them LONG enough, or hot enough. Caramelization brings out their nutty sweetness. My friend Joey and I prepared them one year as shiskabobs on the grill for a Green Pond repast . . . even those guests who professed to hate Brussels Sprouts loved them! (The caramelizing grill marks, olive oil, lemon, kosher salt and fresh-ground pepper helped!) And they are perfect for threading on Kabob sticks -- they look so cunning! A great way to add green to your shiskabobs.
So when I saw the recipe in Saveur (one of my favorite magazines, by the way. . . it is more than a cooking mag-- it is also a travel magazine, a culture magazine, and a history magazine all rolled into one beautiful slick publication!) I wanted to try it immediately. Of course, life got in the way again, and I needed a reason (and a crowd) for which to make it.

Enter the book club meeting! TA-DAAA! So I purchased the ingredients at the Fresh Market on my way home from my IVIG treatment (thankfully, the store had some beautiful small, brightly green sprouts on hand) and assembled the salad.

Now, I must admit that I had to do some last minute improvising: evidently I had either misread the recipe or copied it incorrectly into my computer. Where it should have read "1/3 cup cheese", I thought it said "3 cups cheese"; and where it said "1/4 cup olive oil" I had down "4 cups olive oil". !!!!!! Thankfully, as I was pouring, I quickly became aware that the amounts were WAY too much, and was able to adjust downward in mid-preparation.

The result? Delicious! This is a very flavorful salad, with a nice crunchy texture. It was a great accompaniment to our host's lasagna, and later that week, the leftovers were fabulous with sliced turkey thrown in. (It keeps very well, so it is a perfect "make-ahead" salad.)

However, I need to come up with another name for it -- some people won't even try a "Brussels Sprout Salad", so I would rather tell them AFTER they have eaten it what the main ingredient was! (Sprout Salad with Walnuts? Green Walnut and Pecorino salad? Nutty Green Salad? I'm looking for suggestions!)

The recipe is below (with my suggestions added).

The alliteration of Book clubs and Brussels sprouts: bountiful and beautiful!

Photo: Andre Baranowski

When shopping for brussels sprouts for this appealing side dish, look for small ones that have a bright green color. Brown spots on the cut edge of the stem or yellowing of the leaves usually signifies older sprouts, which tend to have a more bitter flavor. Store brussels sprouts in the refrigerator in a paper bag.

  • 1 lb. brussels sprouts
  • 2 cups toasted walnut halves (I found that I liked it better with the halves broken in half -- smaller pieces)
  • 1⁄3 cup grated pecorino, plus more for garnish
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish (I used a lemon infused olive oil)
  • Juice of 1 lemon (I used a Meyer lemon for sweetness)
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1. Working over a large bowl, shave brussels sprouts into very thin slices on a mandoline, starting from each sprout's top while holding it between thumb and forefinger by its stem. Discard stems. (I don't have a mandoline -- I'm afraid of slicing my fingertips off! I used my chef's knife.)
2. Add walnuts, pecorino, olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper to taste. Depending on the saltiness of the cheese, season lightly with salt to taste.
3. Toss with a spoon until just combined and divide salad between 4 bowls or small plates. Using a peeler, shave more pecorino over the top; drizzle with more olive oil and add more pepper to taste.


This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #115

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