New year equals new resolutions. If you are anything like me and millions of other Americans your New Year’s resolutions include either eating better or exercising more (or both)! Sometimes in the winter months I’m not as good about eating my veggies. With short days, when I get home from work the last thing I want to do is spend a lot of time cooking. But, I need to stop making excuses. There are some great winter vegetables that are nutritious, delicious and easy to get on the table in as little as 20 minutes. Here is my new favorite side dish – Winter Brussels Sprouts – and the agriculture story behind it.
Brussels sprouts – This underrated vegetable might be loathed by kids, but is actually really tasty. A lot of people don’t like them because they can smell bad if overcooked. Overcooking can release a natural compound that contains sulfur which stinks, so be sure to only cook them until easily pierced with a knife. The plant is said to have been originally cultivated in the area that is now Belgium and was named after the capital city. They are very nutritious and a great source of vitamins A, C and K as well as folic acid, iron, magnesium, selenium, and fiber.
Brussels sprouts are descended from the wild mustard plant Brassica oleracea just like cabbage, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli and cauliflower. Brussels sprouts were bred and selected to promote lateral buds that grow up along the stem. Other members of this family were selected for their terminal buds, large leaves or flowers. While not GMOs, this family of vegetables is a perfect example of breeding and selecting for desired traits. From one common ancestor agriculturists were able to make a variety of veggies we all know and love.
Bacon – Mmmm….bacon… This tasty pork product comes from the side and belly of the pig. Pork bellies are cured in a salt brine and flavorings to provide the rich taste. The curing process evolved before refrigeration as a way of preserving the meat. Iowa is the number one producer of pork in the U.S. Companies like Farmland Foods and JBS Swift have meat packing plants in Iowa and employ hundreds of Iowans.
Butter – We’ve covered butter a time or two before. It is an essential component for the richness of the dish. You could also substitute margarine in place of butter. Margarine can be made from canola, rapeseed, palm, or even soybean oil. Soybeans of course are grown right here in Iowa. These liquid vegetable oils are hydrogenated with water to make them into the more solid margarine that we are familiar with. Depending on the base ingredient they would have different melting temperatures than butter and taste slightly different. It is hard to say which is healthier – butter or margarine – but the key is to eat them in moderation.
Cashew nuts – Cashew nuts grow in tropical environments so you won’t likely find this tree in the U.S. Each nut grows out of the bottom of a cashew ‘apple’. These seeds provide proteins, fat and vitamins that contribute to a healthy diet. Raw, cashews have a toxicity and so it is important to buy roasted nuts unless you know what you are doing to roast them yourself.
Salt and Pepper – Salt is not an agriculture product. It is one of the few minerals that humans mine for consumption. Besides being a great flavor enhancer a small amount is essential in your diet. Black pepper comes from the fruit of a pepper plant species which grows in hot and humid tropical climates. The unripe dried fruit, called peppercorns, are ground into the spice we call pepper. Pepper was one of the spices that early explores traded because of its high value. It came from the spice islands of southeast Asia which also were known for nutmeg, mace and cloves.
2 lbs Brussels sprouts
4 slices of thick bacon
2 Tbsp butter
1.5 ounce cashew nuts
Salt and pepper
- Rinse and trim Brussels sprouts. Cook in boiling, salted water for 7 minutes or until easily pierced with a knife or fork. Drain and run under cold water to cool and stop the cooking process. Cut each sprout in half.
- Cut the bacon into 1/2 inch pieces. Fry bacon in a skillet until crisp. Drain off most of the bacon fat reserving approximately 1 Tbsp.
- Add butter and cashew nuts and saute for a couple of minutes until cashew nuts are lightly toasted.
- Add Brussels sprouts to the pan and toss. Cook just until the sprouts are warmed through. Salt and pepper to taste and serve.