Brussels sprouts have never been a favorite vegetable of mine; maybe because growing up my father always used to tell my sister and I that if we ate them it would make hair grow on our chest…not really what a young girl wants to hear. On a recent trip to my local market I came across loads of fresh brussels sprouts. I decided to buy a kilo although I did not have a clue about how I wanted to fix them. So, I asked the woman who sold the brussels sprouts to me what she likes to do with them besides boiling or roasting which are my usual go to methods. She suggested that I try slicing them thinly like you do cabbage and make a little salad with olive oil, salt and pepper. On my way home I began thinking about how I could take this simple little idea of a salad and make it a bit more interesting and incorporate into my Thanksgiving meal.
Since moving to Italy my Italian husband has happily embraced celebrating Thanksgiving with me and we have begun our own family tradition of holding a Thanksgiving dinner every year for our friends at our place. Funnily enough, I never actually planned or cooked an entire Thanksgiving meal until moving to Italy.
In fact, my first experience hosting Thanksgiving dinner in Italy was comical to say the least. I was completely unprepared for the fact that it would be difficult and sometimes impossible to find the ingredients I needed to make some of the traditional dishes I associate with for Thanksgiving; like cranberries, pecans, sweet potatoes…well you get my drift. Blissfully unaware of this, a couple of days before our scheduled dinner I trotted myself off to our neighborhood market to get everything I needed. I was making my way through the various stalls picking up the assorted vegetables and fruits I would need; even finding sweet potatoes or American potatoes as they call them here. My last stop was the butcher counter that specialized in poultry. I politely asked for a whole turkey in my broken Italian. He asked me how many kilos of turkey I needed. I said I was looking for a 6 or 7 kilo bird. He started pulling out turkey breasts to weigh them on the scale. I said, “No, no, I mean a whole turkey.” I couldn’t for the life of me think of the word whole in Italian so I proceeded to flap my arms like wings and then seeing a whole chicken in the case I said, ” like that, but turkey.” He said, “Oh, signora, if you need a whole turkey you must order it at least a week in advance.” My jaw dropped and I just stared at him with the sorriest looking expression…like a child being told they can’t have dessert. I could only mutter to him…”Cosa? What?” The butcher looked at me sympathetically and said, “You are American, no?” “Yes,” I said in a small, dejected voice. He said, “You celebrate thanks day?” I said “Yes, Thanksgiving.” He said, “Well, an American woman ordered a turkey last week, but she never came to pick it up. So, if you want it, you can have it, but it is not 6 kilo.” I said, “Oh that’s fine. I don’t care how much it is, I’ll take it!” When he came back with the turkey, my jaw dropped to the floor again. When I asked him how much it weighed, he proudly said 13 kilo (29 lbs)! I just stood there dumbfounded…happy I had a turkey, but completely baffled on how I was supposed to fit this monster inside of my tiny oven that was not much bigger than a toaster oven.
I am happy to say that we did have turkey for our Thanksgiving celebration, but it was not the beautiful whole turkey that I wanted to have for my husband and our friends…the quintessential Thanksgiving. Instead, I had to butcher the turkey into quarters and cook only half of it while stuffing the rest in our equally small freezer. I am happy to report that we had a wonderful feast and even more importantly, a fantastic time with our friends.
So back to the topic at hand…brussels sprouts. I came up with a delicious, bright and crunchy salad that pairs brussels sprouts with fennel, crisp apple, pomegranate seeds and some fresh parsley tossed with a sweet and tangy dressing. It is the perfect accompaniment to your Thanksgiving dinner or any other holiday meal.
This recipe makes quite a bit which is helpful if you are having a crowd which is what we are having this year even though my husband and I attempted to keep it small. We failed miserably since our guest list is currently at 18. Seriously?! I will make sure to uncork the wine early ;). This substantial salad is great way to add another side dish without taking up precious oven space and can be made the day before. In fact, I think the salad tastes even better the next day as it lets all the flavors marry together.
I find the easiest way to thinly slice the brussels sprouts is to cut them in half through the core then slice each half into thin ribbons. You could also use a food processor if you have one. I also thinly slice the fennel and cut the apple into match stick size pieces. Don’t work about uniformity…the name of the game is rustic looking.
The pomegranate seeds are optional, but I love how they provide a little burst of juiciness and texture to the salad and it also gives it a bright pop of color. I know what you are probably thinking…pomegranates are pain in the neck, but I have a great tip on how to get those pesky pomegranate seeds out. A few years ago when I was working in Afghanistan, our office assistant came in one day with a bunch of pomegranates as a treat. I asked her what the best way to eat them was because I always make a mess trying to cut them open to get to the seeds and there is usually more on my shirt then in my mouth. She explained that all you need to do is cut them in half and then with the cut side part in the palm of your hand, place it over a bowl and take a wooden spoon and beat on the outer skin. The seeds fall out and into the bowl like magic. So easy and no fancy equipment required!
The vinaigrette is what brings this salad together. It is simply red wine vinegar, a little bit of sugar, and dijon mustard. I like to make my vinaigrettes in a glass jar as it is so easy to shake up and I don’t make a mess plus it makes for easy storage in the fridge. If you do make the salad the day before, I suggest putting half the vinaigrette on the salad and then add the rest before serving it. This way, the salad stays crunchy. It is important, though, if your are making it in advance, to put some of the dressing on the salad as the vinegar in it keeps the apple from turning brown.
So there you have it, brussels sprouts that are tasty and healthy for you! And if you have any left over the day after Thanksgiving, it is super yummy on a turkey sandwich…a tasty and healthier version of coleslaw! I have now been converted and can say that I am a true brussels sprout fan…even if they might put hair on my chest ;)!
- For the salad:
- 1 lb (450 grams) brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
- 1 medium fennel, thinly sliced
- 1 apple (Fuji, Gala, or honey crisp), cut into match stick size pieces
- ⅓ to ½ cup of pomegranate seeds (half a pomegranate)
- 2 Tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
- For the dressing:
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2½ teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- salt and pepper to taste
- Combine the red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, sugar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Cut in half the brussels sprouts then thinly slice them crosswise. Place the sliced sprouts in a large bowl, breaking up the pieces.
- Cut the fennel in half and thinly slice each half. Don't worry if the pieces are not uniform in size. Add to the sprouts.
- Cut the apple in half and core. Cut into match stick size pieces. I like to keep the skin on because I think it makes for a nicer presentation, You can certainly peel the apple if you want. Add it to the bowl.
- Roughly chop 2 tablespoons of parsley and add to the bowl. Also add the pomegranate seeds to the bowl.
- Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad and gently toss until combined. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes to allow the sprouts to soften a bit and meld the flavors. Better yet, make the salad the day before and pop it in the fridge.
- Right before serving, add the remainder of the dressing and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well to combine.