I'm the proud mother of three boys, 11-year-old twins and a 9-year-old, who enjoy eating everything. Even outrageous foods I will never dare to try, like eel sushi, frog legs, and chicken drumsticks.
More than anything else, I appreciate their appetite for veggies, cooked and raw. I kvelled to them, "Isn't it wonderful that you can enjoy all the vegetables in the world?"
"We hate brussels sprouts," they said.
They hated brussels sprouts before they even tried them. Ever since they heard somewhere they were supposed to hate them.
Despite its faithful appearance on holidays, the brussels sprout is the American vegetable villain. This role used to be played by spinach, until Popeye rescued it in the 1930s. Next came broccoli, reviled by the first President Bush, who famously said: "I'm president of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli." A 2008 survey by Heinz shows that brussels sprouts now take the most-hated prize for Americans in general, with eggplant faring slightly worse among kids. Brussels sprouts seem to be universally loathed, practically: They make it to the top five in surveys of the most-hated vegetables around the world. From Just Disgusting, by Andy Griffiths, a book that was read to one of my sons in school recently:
Who wouldn't hate them?
Apart from that, I love them.
No, I don't. That was just a joke.
It's true that brussels sprouts can taste bitter if they're not picked at the right time. The best-tasting sprouts are young and small, and preferably harvested after a few frosts. These are not the sprouts that show up in most supermarkets. The frozen ones tend to be bitter, too. I grew up in Israel, where until recently frozen sprouts were the only kind available, and I understand the rejection. There's also the strong odor sprouts give off when they're cooked for too long.
You could replace the brussels sprouts with broccoli, kale, or chard and get most of the same benefits, including antioxidants and glucosinolate, which helps fight cancer. But I wanted to convince my family that sprouts didn't deserve their bad reputation.
It was a test, of myself and them: If I found the right recipe, could I persuade my kids to eat something they were sure they didn't like? When someone pushes away a bowl of plain steamed spinach, it's not because they dislike spinach, but simply because they don't like this boring steamed spinach. This is obvious but a mistake that gets made again and again.
Personally, I prefer my brussels sprouts the simplest way, roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt, until they have dark spots on the outer leaves. This does not work for my kids. It's a recipe for advanced brussels-sprouts eaters—the flavor intensifies and it's still a little bitter, an acquired taste for children.