Better Brussels Sprouts, Courtesy of The Vegetable Butcher

Take the season's trendiest ingredient to the next level with expert advice from Cara Mangini, author of the cookbook The Vegetable Butcher.

The chill is starting to tease its way into the air again, and pumpkin spice everything is everywhere, so we’re calling it: It’s officially time to start talking about autumn produce. There are few ingredients we love more than the tiny (but still so mighty) Brussels sprout.

When looking for new ways to enjoy these small cabbages, we turned to Cara Mangini’s new book, The Vegetable Butcher. While there have been volumes written about how to properly prepare and handle meat, the details that go into the proper preparation of vegetables have been under-represented in print ... until now. We love this book because it’s incredibly well-researched and articulate but easy to follow, thanks to great writing and step-by-step photos. It’s chock-full of amazing recipes and contains more information than you ever knew you could learn about vegetables. Cara Mangini sat down with us and gave us the low-down on the secret to unlocking the perfect Brussels sprout dish. Hear from her below, then read on to learn how to make the beauties pictured above.

What do you think contributed to the Brussels sprout’s rise in popularity, both in restaurants and in home kitchens alike?

Cara Mangini: We’re finally cooking them properly. They’re not being boiled and steamed until they’re mushy and almost sulfurous. We know collectively to roast and saute them, keeping their integrity. We’re allowing them to have just a little bit of bite. We’re also using them raw. I think people are getting to experience the wonderful sweet flavor and the nuttiness. When they’re cooked properly, they taste like candy.

I think we’ve all had that bad experience with Brussels sprouts, usually as a child. As we come around to a different way of cooking them we see all their great benefits and flavors.

What are the essentials of properly preparing Brussels sprouts?

CM: There are a couple [of] things you can do to really get them right. Do not overcook them. You want them to maintain a little bit of their bite. I like to use high heat to get some color on them; it’s important. If you’re roasting them, let them brown. If you’re sauteing, get a good sear. It gives them lots of flavor. If you’re using them raw, shred them thinly and dress them in a really bright vinaigrette.

What are some of your favorite nontraditional preparations for Brussels sprouts?

CM: Definitely use them raw, and shredding them. We’ve all started to see them become more popular halved and roasted, but it’s wonderful to tear the leaves apart. It can be time-consuming, but separate leaves roasted or raw are wonderful. They have a wonderful texture and flavor. I also love them shredded and sauteed, then finished with some kind of acid like lemon or a vinegar to deglaze the pan. It really maintains a nice texture and a little bit of bite. I love a roasted Brussels sprout, but sometimes you can overcook them. I love the simmer-and-saute method.

What about the Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds, Walnuts, and Manchego salad (pictured above) do you especially love?

CM: I love the salad because Brussels sprouts come into season in the fall into the winter. It’s the time of year when you still want something fresh and delicious to balance some of the heartier eating that you’re doing. Some of the lighter summer salads just don’t cut it in the winter. It’s really well-balanced, with cheese and with walnuts and with pomegranate seeds. It feels really hearty, and you could serve it as a main dish, or as a starter or side dish. I love that it could serve as an entree.

What are some of your favorite ways to customize the Brussels sprout salad?

CM: To change it up, you can swap [in] hazelnuts or hazelnut oil instead of walnuts. You can also use any sort of cheese you have on hand: pecorino, feta, even a blue cheese. Or you could add fresh shredded apple or pear, instead of pomegranate. My goal was to have people see that you can use Brussels sprouts this way, but you can freestyle and really make this recipe your own. That’s the goal with vegetables: They should be able to serve as the star on the plate.

Order your own copy of The Vegetable Butcher here, and give the recipe for Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds, Walnuts, and Manchego a try in your own kitchen.

Shredded Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds, Walnuts, and Manchego

Serves 4 to 6

If you are a fan of Brussels sprouts roasted and crispy, you will love them shredded and raw. This slaw-like salad is so good and hearty it can serve as an entree, or of course as a starter or side. The lemony bright sprouts are balanced perfectly by the creamy sheep’s-milk cheese and the tangy crunch of pomegranate seeds. Walnuts and walnut oil add richness, but feel free to use hazelnut oil and hazelnuts, or more olive oil if that’s what you have on hand. You can also swap pecorino or Parmesan for the Manchego. This is one for the fall and winter rotation.

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and finely sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons walnut oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 to 3/4 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 medium pomegranate; see Note)

3/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup freshly grated Manchego cheese (about 2 ounces)

1. Whisk together the vinegar, lemon zest, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of pepper in a large bowl. Add the sprouts and toss well to combine and coat the sprouts. Let stand to marinate, 5 minutes.

2. Drizzle in 1 tablespoon of the walnut oil and the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss well to combine. Add the pomegranate seeds, walnuts and all but about 1/4 cup of the Manchego. Toss well and adjust salt and pepper and the walnut oil to taste. Transfer to a serving bowl or individual shallow bowls and top with the remaining Manchego, and sprinkle with more lemon zest if you wish.

Note: There are more reverent ways than this one to separate pomegranate seeds from their pith and membrane, but I recommend the following method for ease, speed and a no-mess outcome. Trim a small piece off the top, stem end of the pomegranate. Resting the fruit on its cut end, cut it vertically into quarters along its natural ridges. Submerge the sections in a bowl of cool water and use your fingers to gently rub and release the seeds from the pith that surrounds them. The water helps keep the juice from splattering onto you and your kitchen. It also allows the white pith to float to the top, making it easier to skim and discard it. Drain the pomegranate seeds. You will lose some of their tart-sweet juice in the process, but not enough to worry about.

Recipe reprinted with permission from The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini, a publication by Workman Publishing, © 2016. Image courtesy of Matthew Benson.

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