Brussels sprouts have an unfairly bad rep. I’m convinced it’s because they tend to be overcooked, resulting in a bland ball of green mushy mush. Am I right? Anyone I’ve talked to who’s ever had a perfectly browned, just fork-tender piece of b-sprout loves the little nuggets. Another unfortunate fact is that a lot of b-sprouts I see in the grocery store aren’t in the best of shape to start with. These poor souls are often yellowish and dull on the outside and dry and bitter on the inside, even before they get stuffed into a plastic-wrapped paper cup.
The good news is, b-sprouts are in season from September through about mid-February, which means quality b-sprouts can more easily be found around this time of year. Your best bet for success is to look for loose b-sprouts that you can handpick yourself. Look for small, firm, compact heads with bright green leaves. Avoid yellowish, large heads that are soft or puffy. Generally, the smaller the sprout, the sweeter and fresher he’ll be. When you get them home, remove any loose leaves and store the sprouts in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator. Do not wash them until just prior to use, and cook them within three days of purchase to get the best flavor and nutrient benefits.
This recipe is one of our recently found favorites and generally results in shameless plate-licking incidents. I adapted this recipe from a truly inspiring vegetarian cookbook called Plenty. If you’re looking for unique, flavor-packed vegetarian recipes, get this cookbook. I want to cook every single recipe in it. That said, I did tweak the recipe slightly. I roasted the sprouts rather than pan-fry them since this avoids the need to pan-fry in multiple batches, while still retaining the textural integrity and flavor of the sprout. I also upped the amount of tofu in order to make the dish more substantial, then doubled the amount of sauce to provide a better proportion of sauce to veggie goodness. The result is a delicious, nutritionally packed vegetarian meal, enveloped in a divine sweet and slightly spicy sauce.
Tofu and Roasted Brussels Sprouts in a Sweet Chili Sauce
Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 2 as a main (when accompanied by rice), 4 as a side
Most, if not all, of the sauce ingredients below can be found in the Asian food aisle of well-stocked grocery stores. However, for better quality and prices, I recommend a trip to a specialty Asian-foods store.
Pressing tofu – You can skip the tofu-pressing step if you can find very firm tofu packed in minimal water, like this guy. Pressing the tofu is not critical to the flavor of this dish since the sauce is so assertive, however, please be extra careful when adding the tofu to the pan in Step 6 below because the water in the tofu will react rather violently with the oil (splatter, splatter!). If you eat a lot of tofu, I highly recommending getting a TofuXPress. It makes pressing tofu much easier, less messier and more eco-friendly (no wasted paper towels).
If pressing tofu without a TofuXPress, use the following guidelines. Line a plate with 2-4 layers of clean paper towels. Place the uncut cube of tofu on top of the paper towels. Place another 2-4 layers of paper towels on top of the tofu. Place a second plate, bottom side down, on top of the paper towels and tofu. Weigh down the top plate by balancing something heavy on top of it, like a 28-ounce can of tomatoes.
1 pound brussels sprouts (approximately 30 small to medium sprouts)
1 tablespoon canola oil or mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
4 green onions, green and white parts thinly sliced cross-wise
1/2 small fresh red chili, seeds and white fibers removed, finely chopped (optional)
5 ounces shiitaki mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, tops halved or quartered
1/4 cup cilantro, minced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Salt, to taste
- Press the uncut tofu for 15 minutes (see headnote).
- Whisk the chili sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar and maple syrup in a medium-sized non-reactive bowl. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the cubes to the sauce and marinate for 20-30 minutes.
- Position an oven rack in the upper third of your oven. Place the largest shallow baking pan you can find on the rack to preheat. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F.
- Prepare the sprouts by trimming off the stem ends. Cut each sprout in half lengthwise and remove any bruised or wilted outer leaves. Toss sprouts with a tablespoon of oil and 1/2 a teaspoon of kosher salt in a large bowl. Add the sprouts to the preheated baking pan. Spread them out so that they’re not touching, and roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes. Toss or stir after approximately 7 minutes. You’re aiming for a roasted brown crust on the bottom and barely fork-tender centers. Remove from the oven and set aside in a large bowl.
- Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the green onions, chili and mushrooms. Cook, stirring often for 2-3 minutes until the mushrooms soften. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the mushroom mixture to the sprout bowl.
- Add a little more oil to the pan if necessary and bring back up to a medium-high heat. Heat until just shimmering then gently add half the tofu, spacing them apart in the pan. Be careful. The tofu will spatter upon contact with the oil. Cook without stirring for 2-3 minutes, until the tofu is golden brown on the bottom. Stir to flip the tofu pieces and allow to cook an additional 2 minutes. Transfer the cooked tofu to the sprout bowl. Cook the remaining tofu in the same manner as the first batch.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add the sprout-mushroom-tofu mixture back to the pan. Add the remaining tofu marinade and half the cilantro. Stir, taste and adjust with salt if necessary. Garnish with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds.