There is no rule that says you have to serve your favorite Thanksgiving vegetables exactly the same way every year, and if there was, I promise I’d be the first to break it. Last year, my husband and I had a very small get together for Thanksgiving—just the two of us and a dear friend who loves big flavor as much as we do. It was my year for the turkey, and I broke the biggest rule of all about not experimenting on Thanksgiving. I dry-brined my bird for the first time ever and I have no regrets (more on that later). We also took a few liberties with the usual sides, and came up with winners in several categories, including these bursting-with-flavor Brussels sprouts.
If you’re ready to inject some serious flavor into one of your standard holiday sides— I’m talking scallions, capers, garlic, jalapeno peppers, anchovies and walnuts—then you’re going to love this recipe, with inspiration from a dish I enjoyed in one of Michael Symon’s restaurants in Cleveland, Ohio.
A dozen years ago, I had occasion to visit Cleveland while on a two-week getaway that also included a stop in Buffalo to the original home of hot wings. Ooh yeah, I was really living it up that summer! To be fair, there was purpose to my trip beyond my foodie cravings. Most of my crazy family lives in the Buffalo area, so that was my eventual destination and I went by way of Cleveland. I had scored tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I spent—count ‘em—9½ hours walking around and gazing at the musical exhibits. It was a damn fun day for this former disc jockey, and I hope to get back there soon with my music-loving husband. But I digress.
The next evening after my Rock Hall adventure, I stopped for dinner at another Cleveland landmark—a neighborhood bar and restaurant called Lolita. It was opened by Chef Symon before he became famous as an Iron Chef on Food Network, and it still felt like a place for locals.
Sadly, a fire broke out in Lolita’s kitchen in 2016 and the restaurant is now permanently closed, but I’m still enjoying my memory of the dish that inspired today’s recipe. As I recall, when the server approached the table with a cheerful greeting, she asked, “Can I bring you a beverage to enjoy with your Brussels sprouts appetizer?” Apparently, it was a given that we would be ordering them, as nearly every guest did. They were that popular, and they were truly amazing with crispy, deep-fried edges and a feisty, umami-bomb vinaigrette dressing. I later tried making them at home, Symon-style, but I’m not proficient with deep frying and don’t care for the odor it leaves in the house.
If you want to give it a go in the deep fryer, you can still find Symon’s original recipe for them here. But if you’d rather try my lighter, healthier approach of roasting, then meet me in the kitchen!
I started by toasting a handful of walnuts for the dressing, then prepping the sprouts. For even roasting, be sure the sprouts are completely dry before you slice and drizzle them with oil. Lingering water from rinsing will effectively steam the sprouts, giving them more of a soft, mushy texture and you’ll miss out on the caramelization that happens when they roast.
After roasting, I cooled the sprouts and set them aside while I finished a few other things for our Turkey Day feast. If you need to multi-task, as we usually do on Thanksgiving, par-cooking vegetables is a good way to go, as they only need a few quick minutes to finish them at serving time. You could even prep these Brussels sprouts a day before, and then take them from the fridge a half hour before dinner. They’ll finish better if they are room temperature rather than ice cold.
Now, let’s talk about the big flavor happening in this dressing! If you can’t tolerate the jalapeno heat, you could omit them or substitute a spoonful of pimientos, but I can assure you that the flavor gets dispersed so evenly, it is not all that hot. The red wine vinegar and honey do a lovely little contra dance in the background, and the garlic, scallions and anchovies keep the dish firmly grounded in savory flavor land. In other words, the dressing is the real star of this dish.
Whisk it together while the sprouts are roasting, and again just before dressing them. I kept the scallions a bit on the chunky side, so I stirred them in with the walnuts right at the end. I missed getting a picture of the final, important step (multi-tasking—sorry!) but it’s a simple one. Give the par-roasted Brussels sprouts a quick spin through a hot skillet for about two minutes, then toss them in the mouthwatering vinaigrette and serve them hot.
Flavor Bomb Brussels Sprouts
If your Thanksgiving table needs an injection of big flavor, the feisty vinaigrette on these Brussels sprouts will get the job done! You can prep these ahead somewhat by roasting and then chilling, and give them a few minutes in a hot skillet just before you toss them in the dressing to serve.
- 1 lb. Brussels sprouts, washed and trimmed
- A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for roasting
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted in oven for 8 minutes, then cooled and chopped
- 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
- 1/2 red jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 4 anchovy fillets, finely minced (mine were packed in chili oil, and the heat was great!)
- 2 tsp. capers
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 scallions, white and green parts cut on bias
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (mine was infused with lemon, but any bright variety will do)
- Preheat oven to 400° F, with rack in center position. Spread walnuts out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast for about 6 minutes, until they are just fragrant. Cool completely and then break into pieces.
- Wrap the washed Brussels sprouts in a clean kitchen towel and roll them around to completely remove excess water. Carefully slice the sprouts into 1/4-inch slices. Wick away any residual moisture with a paper towel. Transfer the sprouts to a medium bowl and drizzle olive oil over them. Spread them out onto the parchment-lined pan and give them a quick seasoning with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until softened but still al dente and bright green. If you are working ahead, let the sprouts cool and then wrap them up and send them to the fridge until 30 minutes before serving time.
- While the sprouts are roasting, prepare the vinaigrette by stirring together vinegar, jalapeno, garlic, honey, and anchovies. Season with a few twists of ground pepper, but skip the salt because the capers and anchovies have plenty. Whisk in the olive oil and stir in the capers. and scallions.
- When you’re ready to serve, give the Brussels sprouts a quick spin through a hot skillet dashed with oil or bacon drippings. Let them get a few crispy edges. Toss in dressing with broken walnuts and serve immediately.
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