Farmers Markets, Brussels Sprouts, and The Lion King
Rainy days are normally reserved for sleeping in late, curling up to watch a movie, and…a trip to the farmers market?
Well, I actually did get to sleep in. Last Saturday morning, I woke up around 10:30am before pulling on my rain boots and grabbing an umbrella for my trip to the market on Fillmore Street. I arrived around noon and saw a few stalls with quiet customers here and there. I’m used to seeing farmers markets abuzz with noise and crowds; I’m not sure if it was because of the rain or because it was just winding down (closing time was at 1pm), but the low turnout for this one was almost as dreary as the weather. As I made a preliminary scan of what was available, someone handed me a slice of apple to sample. It tasted nice.
Many of the vegetables being sold at the market were ones that I had seen before but had either never tasted or would never be able to name. My knowledge of veggies is limited to what my mom cooks, and even then I don’t always eat everything she makes. I eventually decided to duck under the canopy of a stall that had attracted a few other patrons: Garcia Farms. After one of the vendors said hello, I explained that my task was to cook something I had never cooked before and asked if he had any suggestions. “My favorite is when my mom does the Brussels sprouts with bacon. It’s simple—just season with some salt and pepper. It’s great.” I’d never had Brussels sprouts before, but nothing can be bad if it includes bacon, right? It seemed like something I could handle, so I asked if he could tell me how they are prepared and cooked. “I don’t really do the cooking, I just do the eating,” he said with a slight laugh. “Sorry.” Our conversation was cut short when someone else came along to ask him a question and pay for their items, so I didn’t get a chance to get his name. Not knowing how to pick Brussels sprouts, I just went with the ones that didn’t have any brown spots or mysterious markings. The sprouts I picked were weighed and I paid a whopping $1.50 for them. I found out from the other vendor that Garcia Farms is located not too far away in Hollister. Unfortunately he didn’t seem too keen on having a conversation by the way he answered quickly and diverted his eyes, so I left after that.
After I got home, I did a Google search for “Brussels Sprouts and bacon.” (BTW, it took several reads before I realized that it’s spelled Brussels with an s at the end like the city in Belgium. Here’s some history behind the name if you’re interested.) I clicked on a few recipes from Rachael Ray and Martha Stewart, but they didn’t seem like what the vendor had described as one of his favorite dishes. I finally found a recipe for sautéed Brussels sprouts with bacon that sounded right on a blog called The Nourishing Gourmet. I was so grateful to see that the steps looked doable and that so many of the comments for it were positive.
At some point, my mom called and I told her about what I was going to make. “Are Brussels sprouts the ones that look like tiny cabbages?” Oh, mom. She’s so cute.
That evening as I reread the recipe and got ready to cook, I decided to make some rice as a backup just in case it turned out that I hated Brussels sprouts. This was completely reasonable in my mind; weren’t Brussels sprouts one of those foods that made kids on TV groan miserably when their moms served it? Then they would try to sneak it to the dog under the table but even the dog was smart enough not to get too close to them. What in the world had I done?! Then I turned on the TV and the Lion King was on. I wasn’t curling up on the couch to watch it, but it is my favorite Disney movie so all was okay in my world again.
I had a small “What do I do?” moment with the first step in the recipe. It said to shred (haha, poetry) the Brussels sprouts thinly. Sounded simple enough until I had the knife in my hand and didn’t know which direction I was supposed to cut them. Ah what the heck, I thought. I’ll just do it both ways. Next I pan-fried four slices of bacon. In retrospect I really only needed two or three, but my suggestion for anyone is to fry some extra because bacon is delicious and chances are you’ll run low as you snack while waiting for the Brussels sprouts to cook. I spooned out the bacon grease as they cooked in order for them to be crispy, but returned some of it to the pan in order to sauté the sprouts. As they cooked over medium heat, they turned a nice, deep green, which signified that it was esculent. I added salt and pepper to taste and crumbled the (remaining) bacon on top.
The moment of truth finally came and I took a bite. “Not too bad,” I thought. But it was missing something…Turns out it was a good call to make the rice. Having it with the rice helped balance the meal and the flavors for me. I finished my dinner watching the rest of the Lion King. I could probably write something about how my achievement of cooking a new vegetable mirrored Simba’s journey back to Pride Rock (he reclaimed the throne IN THE RAIN!), but that would just be silly.
All jokes aside, I’ll admit that this assignment was a little daunting to me at first. However, after successfully cooking this dish, I think I’m more ready to experiment with my tastes and try my hand at more recipes. If Simba can learn to eat grubs, then I can learn to eat more vegetables. I just need to let go of the notion that any “failed” attempts are wasteful of time and resources; they are a part of the learning and growing process. As they say in the movie, Hakuna Matata!
Here are the directions from the blog The Nourishing Gourmet:
Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Bacon Serves 4-5
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of brussels sprouts, any faded or browned leaves taken off, cut off any hard stems.
4-6 bacon slices
Unrefined Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
1. Using a mandoline, food processor or sharp knife, shred the brussels sprouts thinly.
2. Fry the bacon over medium heat, in a large saucepan until browned and cooked through Remove from pan. Leave about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan.
3. Add the shredded brussels sprouts to the pan and cook over medium-high heat until it reaches the desired texture and flavor. Sprinkle with unrefined salt. I recommend either cooking for just a couple of minutes and taking off the heat when they are just turning bright green and still have a bit of firmness. Or, I recommend cooking them longer until they are limp and starting to brown.
4. Season to taste with salt and pepper and crumble the bacon over before serving. Enjoy!