In defence of the humble sprout
I hope you had a great Christmas: a time of much eating, drinking and making merry! In all cultures, the various holidays, festivals and celebrations around the world are steeped in tradition and food is very much at the core.
At Christmas in the UK, our traditional Christmas meal is turkey with all the trimmings: a tradition which became established in the Victorian era (Edward VII made it fashionable – so we can blame him). Before that it tended to be rabbit, beef or goose (much better!) and in practice it was too expensive for most until the 1950s. Christmas traditions are also very varied: in many parts of Eastern Europe the main feast day is Christmas Eve during which the star of the show is a Carp!
Now on to another of my culinary nemeses, the brussel sprout.
They have been popular in Belgium for a very long time, which is how the name may have originated. Growing up in London, I made sure to eschew these from a young age: the mere smell put me off (cabbage too), mainly due to the crimes against vegetable-kind which were regularly performed in the 70s and 80s. Yep, we took every vegetable and boiled it to within an inch of its life.
Another thing that put me off was how bitter sprouts were: as a sweet-toothed youngster even mildly challenging flavours can put one off let alone the devil’s vegetable! Interestingly enough, since the 1990s, the food industry has given in to our whims as consumers and has gradually bred out the glucosinolates which cause bitterness. This has arguably reduced the health benefits that these (and their degradation products) may confer, including fighting cancer. BBC Radio 4 did a very interesting food programme a while back discussing bitterness, its reduction in our food and its possible impact.
Times move on: as Nina Simone once sang, ‘Everything must change’. Thankfully, us Brits have learnt to treat our veg with a great deal of respect and this has been extended to the humble sprout too. My go-to approach over the past few years has been to stir fry the veg, whilst introducing them to some flavour: bacon, garlic and chestnuts for example ! This year I must thank Jamie Oliver for his recipe: I think shredding the sprouts is a genius idea, and pairing them with smokey bacon and lashings of Worcestershire sauce gives a great flavour.
That worcestershire sauce takes us off into a very Asian direction (more about this condiment’s origin another time) and my mind wandered straight to Thailand, and the much venerated Som Tam Salad. I love this salad: it’s one of my favourite things and an example of a number of Thai dishes which hit that mystical sweet spot of having mountains of flavour, yet being humongously good for your health (and I would recommend if trying to maintain or lose weight)! Som Tam takes shredded green papaya as the core ingredient, some cherry tomatoes, peanuts and green beans in the mix and it gets flavour pounded into it: lime, fish sauce, chilli, sugar and a bit of garlic: wow!!!
I often take this as my launching pad, and move all kinds of stuff into Som Tam Land. A default coleslaw mix loves the Thai treatment, as does a mix of mooli (large white radishes beloved of the Japanese and Indians) and carrot. Having been inspired by Jamie, I think leftover shredded sprouts would work really well with the Som Tam treatment.