I get a weekly CSA box of organic fruits and vegetables from though Ooooby, which is administrated here by Fresno Food Commons. Because California’s San Joaquin Valley has mild winters, crops grow here year round, and you can eat seasonally yet lavishly in great variety. A recent box contained a vegetable called crown of brussels, which as you might suspect, is the top of a brussels sprout plant.
Brussels sprouts grow on a tall, thick stem. The leaves stretch outward and the sprouts grow like little buds in the joint where the leaf meets the stem. At the top of the plant, the leaves crowd together and look like a small cabbage, which makes sense because brussels sprouts belongs to Brassica oleracea, the species of cabbage that contains many common cruciferous vegetables.
The informational insert that came with the box advised that crown of brussels could be treated like any other leafy green and would have a similar mildly bitter taste with an overtone of brussels sprouts. I was intrigued and anxious to give this mysterious food a try. As I cut the leaves apart, I found the tiniest brussels sprouts growing within, the beginnings of the plump orbs that fatten as the plant grows. I plucked them out and washed them along with the leaves, which I then chopped roughly, leaving the wide middle vein intact.
One of my favorite recipes is a veganized (margarine or olive instead of butter) red lentil dish that I discovered from TD Willey Farms, one of the growers that contributes to the CSA. The dish calls for kale, and I’ve substituted chard, so I thought this crown of brussels might work as well. I’m not a huge fan of boiled brussels sprouts, though—I usually roast them. So I decided to sauté the leaves and little sprouts and then add them to the dish at the end instead of combining them with the cooking lentils.
Unsure about how high I might have to turn the heat to soften the leaves, I used a small amount of peanut oil and a little salt, but I know now that olive oil would definitely work as well. They cooked quickly and turned bright green, and I took them off the stove to taste. Incredible! They have the most delicate flavor. Most definitely green, but mildly so, and not bitter at all. A faint hint of brussels sprouts gave the crowns a complex taste, yet I could see them fitting well into a lot of dishes that call for greens.
I finished cooking the dish, also adding a shaved carrot to the mix and letting it soften before bringing all of the ingredients together and warming them through. Then I whipped up a quick batch of vegan cornbread to round out the meal. A little Bragg liquid aminos at the table was a flavorful addition.
I will be looking for crown of brussels again and will probably eat them whenever I can find them. This was the first time I had ever tasted them, and I desperately hope it’s not the last. Move over, swiss chard! There’s a favorite new leafy green pushing you down one spot on the list.