The Brussels sprouts, cranberries, leek, and spinach that never made it to the Thanksgiving table got their time to shine as a tasty weeknight side.
We have lots of local Brussels sprouts available to us through the winter months in the North, so it’s fun to play around with different ways to cook and combine them with other favorites from the region.
As long as you don’t boil them for a half hour, Brussels sprouts are a delightful cold-weather vegetable. Boiled until they were dead was how I had them as a kid and why I hated them! A quick sauté or roast in a hot oven keeps them a little firm, but with a lovely caramelization that adds to their earthy flavor.
What didn’t get cooked
After the Thanksgiving feasts (yes, plural), I had quite a few leftover items, many of which had never been cooked. A lonely little cup of cranberries, about a pound of Brussels sprouts, half a bag of baby spinach, and one leek that had seen more youthful days. Orphans by themselves, but combined, they made a perfect savory and tangy weeknight side that was a welcome to the simple tofu next to it on the plate.
The Brussels sprouts, garlic, leeks, and baby spinach I used are from a farm just a few miles from where I live. The cranberries were grown in Vermont as well, and the apple cider vinegar began life in the southern part of our county as well. I grew the rosemary in my own yard.
A grateful plate
When I think about what I am thankful for during this time of year, I feel the deepest of gratitude that I can put food on my table that was sourced primarily from our local growers. I know this is not the case for many areas of the country, but I also think this is changing somewhat for the better.
Increase in farmers markets
According to an article on farmersmarket.net local markets and farmers markets have increased in popularity and number. The United States Department of Agriculture reports that in 1994, the number of farmers markets in the US was about 2,000. The number has grown to more than 8,600 today, and is ever growing. That’s the good news.
In New England, the culture was never dominated totally by the mass supermarkets. We live our lives by “sugaring season” “corn season” “tomato season” “berry season” “hunting season” and a multitude of other small seasons that dot our calendar. Our communities are small, and we know our farmers, and we’ve always had farm stands as part of our shopping experience in the warm weather months.
What is even better now, is that we have winter markets where we can buy fresh, local greens, beautifully stored cold-weather vegetables, and frozen summer delights all season long. This is food that did not have to be shipped from around the world, and that is another reason to be grateful. More good news.
Yes, it means my shopping is done at three or four (or more) places and not one stop at a super store. But, the farmers markets and farm stands are also part of our social lives, a gathering place to run into folks you might not otherwise see, so this part of the experience has extreme value as well!
Balancing the budget priorities
And yes, it can be more expensive to buy that package of frozen organic broccoli at the farm stand in February, but I like to think about my budget in terms of priority. We spend far less on both food and clothing as a proportion of our budgets than we did a hundred years ago, or even since I was a kid. In 1900, the average family spent 43 percent of their income on food; in the 1950s, that percentage dropped to 30%, which still was considerably more than today’s not quite 13%. In the past century-plus, our spending expanded to include more cars, electronics, and, the biggie, more expensive housing.
I figure if that’s the case, it is not hard to move my priorities around a little and buy local food that is really fresh and will last longer in the refrigerator, thus reducing waste. The Brussels sprouts and cranberries in this dish certainly had long lives, and were still beautiful after being stored for almost two weeks in my little crisper drawer!
A Thankful Side of Brussels Sprouts, Cranberries, & Leeks
1 lb. Brussels sprouts, halved
4 ounces cranberries
1 large leek, sliced in half moons
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large sprig of rosemary, minced
Salt and pepper
Bunch of baby spinach
Apple cider vinegar
A little Parmesan cheese to garnish, optional
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
While the oven is heating, prep your vegetables. Give the Brussels sprouts a clean cut to the bottom and remove any old or discolored outer leaves. Slice in half. Cut off the toughest outer leaves of the leeks, slice them in half and rinse them well to remove any dirt and grit. Dry them, then slice into half moons.
Liberally oil a rimmed baking sheet and add the sprouts, turning them over so the cut side is in contact with the pan.
Sprinkle the leeks and cranberries over the sprouts, then evenly distribute the garlic and rosemary over all. Salt and pepper, and drizzle a little more olive oil.
Place in the middle of the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Check and turn over if sprouts are browned on the under side, and if they are, flip them. Continue roasting for another 5 minutes, or until they are cooked but still a bit firm. If your sprouts are really small, check at 8 to 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and stir in the spinach. Cover with foil and return to the oven with the heat turn off for about five minutes, or until the spinach is just wilted. Mix everything up and plate.
Drizzle with a little vinegar, a bit of grated Parmesan if you like, or add a bit more coarse finishing salt.
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