Brussels sprouts

Named after the capital of Belgium, where they may have first been cultivated, Brussels sprouts look like diminutive heads of cabbage. The resemblance is not surprising, since both belong to the same botanical family. The golf-ball-size sprouts grow in a tight spiral pattern on thick stalks with a burst of large leaves at the top. The sprouts are usually cut off the stalk before going to market.

Similar to cabbage in taste, Brussels sprouts have a slightly milder flavour and denser texture. Nutritionally, they have the same cancer-inhibiting potential as cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli and cauliflower) because they contain the nitrogen compounds called indoles and a significant amount of vitamin C. Brussels sprouts also supply good amounts of folate (folic acid), potassium, vitamin K, and a small amount of beta-carotene.

Fresh Brussels sprouts should be displayed under refrigeration .If kept at room temperature, their leaves will turn yellow quickly. It is easier to choose sound sprouts if you can select them individually from a bulk display. Choose sprouts of comparable size so they will cook evenly.

A bright green colour is the best guide to freshness and good condition; yellowed or wilted leaves are a sure sign of age or mishandling. Old sprouts also have a strong smell . Avoid puffy or soft sprouts by choosing small, firm, compact ones with unblemished leaves. The stem ends should be clean and white.

Do not wash or trim sprouts before storing them. Except for removing any that are yellow or wilted, do not remove the outer leaves, since these contain the most nutrients. If you have purchased sprouts in a cellophane-covered container, take off the wrapping and examine the sprouts, then return them to the container, re-cover with the cellophane, and refrigerate. Place loose sprouts in a perforated plastic bag. Fresh Brussels sprouts will keep for three to five days.

Before cooking, drop the sprouts into a basin of lukewarm water and leave them there for 10 minutes as this step will eliminate any insects hidden in the leaves. Then rinse the sprouts in fresh water. Trim the stem ends, but not quite flush with the bottoms of the sprouts, or the outer leaves will fall off during cooking.

Many cooks cut an X in the base of each sprout. This nick helps the heat penetrate the solid core so that it cooks as quickly as the leaves.