Preparing a menu for the recent parents night dinner at the elementary school where I teach "food appreciation" classes, I looked over our lessons for the fall and realized I did not have a green vegetable for the entree plate.
Well, the closest thing would have been zucchini. But since the whole point of our work this semester has been seasonal fruits and vegetables, I didn't think zucchini in November really worked.
What did seem to work was my favorite method for cooking Brussels sprouts--searing them in a scorching hot pan, then dousing with red wine vinegar and seasoning with granulated sugar. I wanted to add some carrots for color and variety. Voila, one of my newest most favorite vegetable side dishes: caramelized sweet-and-sour Brussels sprouts and carrots.
Since we'd already served the dish to the parents, I thought it was high time the kids actually made it in class. So that is what we did this week.
I've had the kids in my classes repeatedly practicing their vegetable peeling technique. This is no small matter, since they should all know at a minimum how to properly peel fruits and vegetables. In the case of carrots, I've shown them how to make slow, sure strokes with the peeler--not whack away with the tool getting nowhere--and how to peel one end of the carrot, then turn it around and peel the other end. The first inclination kids have is to try and peel the whole carrot, being ever so careful not to remove the end of a finger in the process. Flipping the carrot end-over-end really does speed things up.
The Brussels sprouts are another thing altogether. I demonstrated how to trim the brown stem end, then cut the sprouts in half lengthwise. But the only cutting tool we have plenty of for the kids is a plastic knife. Have you ever tried slicing a Brussels sprout with a plastic knife? Naturally, it's almost impossible. So the kids get several minutes to saw away at their sprouts, making very little progress, then I take over and slice them with a chef's knife.
Still, I think it's good practice for them.
We then cook the carrots and sprouts--separately--in boiling salted water until they are just done. Plunge them into a bowl of cold water, then dry them with paper towels. My assistant finished cooking the sprouts while we read a book called Herb, The vegetarian Dragon. Then I heat an iron skillet blistering hot, cover the bottom with extra-virgin olive oil and toss in the sprouts, sending a great cloud of smoke rising toward the ceiling.
(At this point, one group of kids was captivated by the aroma of the pot liquor I had been cooking the vegetables in. Before I knew it, they were ladling it into cups and drinking it. Why not?)
We don't have a fan over the stove at school, so the other teachers at this point are in a bit of a panic. The kids think it's the best thing since the circus came to town. More exciting is when the sprouts have browned and I douse them with red wine vinegar, which creates a giant hissing noise and a cloud of steam. Then season the sprouts with granulated sugar, salt and pepper. Repeat this process with the carrots, then combine the two vegetables in a bowl and serve warm.
Honest, the youngest of the children--those being the four and five year olds--mostly walked away from this dish when it was served. They found a million reasons not to like a combination of browned Brussels sprouts and carrots. In the next age group, the kids were talking about how certain they were the sprouts would make them vomit. I offered a $1 reward to the first kid who actually up-chucked after eating this dish. One of the boys made a great show of being sick, but in the end, they all ate it and some even loved it.
So do make this dish sometime when you want to impress friends with how good Brussels sprouts can be in the middle of winter.