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And you thought there was nothing cool about Brussels sprouts

October 11, 2006|Russ Parsons

Just in

Brussels sprouts: Yeah, yeah, I know -- Brussels sprouts? Some vegetables are magnets for abuse, and the Brussels sprout is certainly one of the kings. But given proper respect, it is one of the finest of the cool-weather vegetables.

To get the best out of Brussels sprouts, treat them gently. Start with selection -- the smallest sprouts seem to be the sweetest. Then trim them carefully, removing any outer leaves that look pale or yellow, paring the hard base and cutting an "X" in the bottom to allow the heat to penetrate the tightly bunched leaves. Finally, and most important, cook them briefly -- they should be tender but still have a trace of crispness at the center. Undercook them and the flavor is bland and grassy; overcook them and it's sulfurous. But when you hit that sweet spot (five to seven minutes in a steamer), the colors are vivid and the flavor is complex.

Try quartering steamed Brussels sprouts and then warming them in a mixture of rendered bacon, minced shallots and red wine or sherry vinegar. You'll never make fun of them again.

Suncoast Farms, $2 per basket.

**

Last chance

Purslane: One definition of a weed is any plant that grows where you don't want it to. And so I spent years pulling this salad green out of my vegetable garden. Imagine my surprise when I started seeing it on tables at farmers markets. And my shock at people actually buying it. But you know what? It's pretty good stuff. Purslane is a succulent (Portulaca oleracea) and has somewhat fleshy leaves and a thick stem. The texture is juicy; the flavor is slightly sour and a little peppery. Used in a salad mix, it offers a nice contrast to the leafier greens. Some people cook it, but this should be done with caution -- it releases a sticky sap, much as okra does. Purslane is at its peak in the summer months -- as most gardeners know -- and within a couple of weeks it will start to dwindle. How you feel about that probably depends on whether you're a cook or a gardener.

Gutierrez Farms, $1 per bunch.

-- Russ Parsons

russ.parsons@latimes.com

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