Hello, Readers! Happy Year of the Monkey!
Actually, the Year of the Monkey officially started on Monday, if you’re a stickler for those kinds of things. I usually try to cook up something festive and Chinese-y on the day the Lunar New Year begins, but things didn’t go as planned.
I was just a leeetle weathered and worn out by all of the hootin’ and hollerin’ and ruckus that went on the day before. The morning of Super Bowl Sunday (as I was making my vat-o-pico with a bandaged finger and muttering under my breath because I always manage to slice myself right before I need to squeeze copious amounts of lime juice), Miss M. peeked into the kitchen and asked, “Hey Mom, when is the game going to start?”
“I think around 4:30,” I said. “Why?”
“Oh, nothing,” she said nonchalantly, and then she smirked. “Just wanted to know when I needed to prepare myself for all of the whoopin’ and cussin’.”
To clarify, the little beast was not referring to her father’s game day behavior.
I am, by far, the louder, fouler, more exuberant football fan on the couch. My husband cheers and hi-fives, but me? I bring the spectacle. That’s probably yet another reason I avoid throwing Super Bowl parties–I’m sure to embarrass myself and offend virgin ears. It’s what I do.
I must say, after that unexpected Broncos upset, I was dog-tired. Happy, but raspy-voiced and dog-tired. This sports fan needed a few days of rest after that whirlwind of excitement. Chinese New Year would have to wait.
When I did get around to making our Year of the Monkey feast, I knew some menu items were a given: juicy dumplings, fresh fish and noodles in some form. Those things are always on the table. When it came to the vegetable part of the meal, though, I wanted to try something a little more exotic than bok choy or snow peas.
This recipe, from the most recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine, caught my attention because I tend to love anything in kung pao form. There’s something about the combination of garlic and ginger and blisteringly hot chiles and crunchy peanuts that’s irresistible to me.
I wasn’t so sure about the brussels sprouts part of the equation, though. To be honest, I’ve only eaten brussels sprouts a handful of times in my life and I have never, ever cooked them. Brussels sprouts remind me a little too much of cabbage and let’s face it, brussels sprouts are stinky-stanky little buggers! If I’m going to stink up the house, it’s by making something awesome like Indian samosa or Nashville fried chicken or tempura-battered onion rings. Those things are totally worth the fuss and the stink and the opening of kitchen windows. Brussels sprouts? I had my doubts.
My husband, when he walked into the slightly odiferous kitchen and spied what I was pulling out of the oven, has his doubts, too.
“What are you making?” he said, scrunching up his nose.
I ignored him and went to the pantry to search for cornstarch.
“Are those…brussels sprouts?” he said warily.
“Yeah, I know,” I said.
“Have you ever…?”
“Nope,” I said. “Never made them. Ever.”
We both stared down at the sheet pan of little, roasty, cabbagey-looking things.
“Not sure these are going to turn out,” I admitted. “But I just kind of thought, what the heck? They’re supposed to be super-spicy, so maybe that’ll help.”
My husband shrugged. “Okay, that’s cool. Whatever.”
Then he high-tailed it out of my kitchen until dinnertime. I can’t say I blamed him.
Well. All I can tell you is that the Denver Broncos weren’t the only surprise victory in our lives this week. Kung-pao brussels sprouts are kick-ass! I mean it! I could not keep my chopsticks out of them. They were so addictively sweet, spicy and nutty that I almost forgot about the dumplings on the table, and I live for dumplings.
The additional step of roasting the sprouts before you stir-fry them seemed a little fussy when I read the recipe, but it’s a genius approach to this vegetable. Roasting mutes the stank factor and adds toasty little blisters of color/flavor to the little guys. Then, when you toss them with that glaze, they become almost caramelized and deliciously sticky.
Two items of note about this recipe: the leftovers don’t re-heat well–at least as far as cosmetic issues go. The leftovers taste fine, but the sauce discolors the sprouts enough that they’re not real pretty to look at the next day. It didn’t stop me from eating the leftovers for breakfast, but I’m a freak. If aesthetics are going to bother you, feel free to halve the recipe if you’re feeding a small group. Also, if you aren’t veteran kung-pao eaters, be sure to realize that the red chiles de arbol in the recipe are not to be eaten. They add color and a nice kick of heat to the dish, but just eat the brussels sprouts, not the chiles. You will be a sad puppy if you munch on one of those fireballs.
Even if you’re skeptical, I encourage you to give this recipe a try. It just may turn you into a brussels fiend. I’m certainly not going to wait until my next Chinese New Year’s feast (or the next Broncos win) to make them again.
Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts
from Gunshow restaurant in Atlanta, GA (reprinted in Bon Appetit magazine)
2 pounds brussels sprouts, halved
5 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
kosher salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons peeled fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons chile-garlic paste (sambal oelek)
6 dried chiles de arbol, lightly crushed
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 425. Toss brussels sprouts with 4 tablespoons oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt and pepper. Roast, turning once, until browned and slightly softened, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside.
Mix cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl until smooth.
Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring often, until garlic is just turning golden–about 2 minutes. Add chili paste and cook about 2 minutes. Add chiles, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil; stir in cornstarch slurry.
Simmer, stirring until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 2 minutes. Cool slightly and toss with brussels sprouts. Sprinkle peanuts on top.