My favorite term of endearment in French has always been mon petit chou chou, which literally translated means “my little cabbage cabbage”. The French use it to mean something like “my sweetheart,” and it may or may not actually refer to a pastry instead of cabbage. Regardless, the literal translation made me giggle when I learned it in high school and it still makes me giggle today. Please, call someone you love a “cabbage cabbage” today and wait for their reaction. If you want to say it in French, chou sounds just like “shoe”. I dare you.
Anyway, my favorite French term of endearment has come to mind often this winter as I’ve sliced up Brussels sprouts to roast for dinner. Having never eaten Brussels sprouts as a kid, I was intimidated by those foreign baby cabbages. This winter I vowed to get over my apprehension. I learned to like them on my first attempt: steamed on the stove and oven roasted under a layer of Fontina cheese. Like turned to love when I learned to roast them, halved, in a cast iron pan, and I officially tombé amoureux (fell in love) when I found a quick sauté and broil method that bakes my little “cabbage cabbages” in under ten minutes.
Since falling in love with Brussels sprouts, I have singlehandedly put away at least 10 pounds of roasted sprouts. I love their salty, crispy exterior and softer, steamed interior. Technically speaking, Brussels sprouts are not baby cabbages, but a special kind of miniature cabbage. The flavor is a bit reminiscent of broccoli, which makes sense because they are both Brassicas. Brassicas are notoriously high in anti-cancerous, DNA protective properties.
I crave Brussels every few days, and I’ve developed an odd habit of eating a huge bowlful of roasted Brussels after my weekly yoga class. Desolée, mes petits chou choux, I think as I slice off their tails and cut them in half. By the time I bite into crisp, roasted sprouts, I’m not really sorry at all.
In addition to my newfound love for Brussels sprouts, I’ve been becoming more adventurous and knowledgable about various types of whole grains. Every time I visit the new health food store in town, I make a point to buy a new variety. So far I’ve tried wheat berries, farro, Kamut, steel cut oats, and most recently, barley. I like to cook up a big batch of whole grains and try to come up with ways to use the leftovers over the week. I think it’s a good way to become acquainted with a grain, and it’s a very cheap way to eat.
Though I haven’t made any direct taste comparisons, I think that wheat berries, farro and Kamut are all pretty similar in taste and texture, and could easily be substituted for one another. I expected barley to be like the others, with a chewy exterior and soft interior, but I was surprised to find that it is fluffy and soft. Barley seems like a cross between brown rice and oatmeal. Thus it’s a little creamy and almost risotto-like, which makes it the perfect grain to soak up dressing in this recipe.
Another thing I’ve learned about cooking whole grains is that their cooking time varies, sometimes even from the time listed on the bag. I just mixed two cups of uncooked, hulled barley with six cups of water (a 1:3 ratio), let it come to a boil, and then simmered it, covered, for a little less than an hour. One cup of uncooked barley will yield plenty for this recipe and two cups of uncooked barley will leave you with tons of leftovers. I encourage you to get creative and come up with new ways to enjoy barley in your cooking.
This recipe is one that I’ve been working on for a while now. Brussels sprouts tossed in a light maple syrup and balsamic dressing pair marvelously with sweet, freshly cooked cranberries, and a bed of creamy leftover barley is the perfect final resting place for mes petits chou choux. Tangy Gorgonzola cheese melts into the barley and toasted pecans add a nice crunch.
This dish is easily deconstructed, however. Feel free to roast the Brussels sprouts with this method, and toss them with salt and a squeeze of lemon juice for a snack. Brussels, cranberries and pecans without barley make a great side dish. If you can’t find fresh cranberries, you can substitute dried cranberries (which is a shame, in my opinion, but do as you wish). Just toss the dried cranberries in with the sprouts after they’re done roasting. Vegan? Omit the cheese.
- 1 pound Brussels sprouts, tips cut off, discolored leaves removed and sliced in half (smaller sprouts are better than large sprouts)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2/3 cup fresh cranberries (or 1/3 cup dried cranberries)
- 1/3 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or goat cheese
- 1/3 cup freshly toasted pecans
- 1 1/2 cups cooked barley, reheated (see instructions above)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup, or more to taste
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, or more to taste
- Preheat your broiler.
- Set a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Let it heat up for two to three minutes. It should be so hot that a few drops of water sizzle and quickly disappear after contact.
- In a medium sized bowl, toss the prepared Brussels sprouts with olive oil and salt. Toss well, so that the sprouts are evenly coated in a thin layer of oil.
- Once the pan is hot, dump the sprouts into the pan and quickly rearrange them so the flat sides are face down. Let them cook for two minutes.
- Toss the fresh cranberries into the pan and transfer the pan to your broiler. The pan will be heavy and hot so use oven mitts and be careful! Let the Brussels broil for about three minutes. Check the sprouts for doneness—their tops should be a little browned and the bottoms caramelized. How long you should leave them in there depends on your preferences and your oven. The cranberries should have started popping by now; set the hot pan on your stovetop for a couple of minutes while you reheat the barley.
- Toss the warm barley, sprouts, cranberries, cheese and pecans in a bowl and drizzle with balsamic vinegar and maple syrup. Season with salt, divide into smaller bowls, and enjoy!
Make it vegan: Omit the cheese.
Make it nut free: Omit the pecans, or if you feel like experimenting, try adding pumpkin seeds instead!
Recommended equipment: I highly recommend using a 12-inch cast iron skillet rather than a large oven-safe, non-stick skillet because typical non-stick skillets release toxins at high temperatures.
Preparation tips: Brussels sprouts are best cooked flat side down because the heat gets trapped inside the sprout and, in effect, steams it. It's the best way to get crispy flat sides and cooked insides.
A note on the pecans: If you're adding pecans, I recommend toasting the pecans over medium heat in a separate pan. They will burn over high heat.