Love them or hate them, Brussels sprouts are a pretty addition to a winter festive table. But they do have a certain dubious reputation. At least here in Britain. Right now folk on the radio – okay, BBC Radio 2 – are asking the annual foodie question: are your sprouts on yet? This ‘banter’ starts in, oh, November. Yes, more than any other vegetable, sprouts get a bad rap.
Even if you don’t like them, sprouts are not only healthy they are also quite good for playing table football – soccer or American-style. Joking aside, Brussels sprouts briefly boiled or steamed, then sauteed in olive oil or butter until just starting to frazzle, are a world away from the mushy, stinky horrors of your youth. Blanket them in crispy ciabatta and sage crumbs, and Brussels get their festive hat on. Simple, but effective.
Although I like them only briefly acquainted with the steamer, cook them longer if you like them on the soft side, or if it makes them easier to eat. Whiz up any leftovers (crumbs too), mix in a beaten egg, and pop them into a small, oiled baking dish with a few grates of flavourful cheese to make a baked savoury pudding. Brilliant with a rasher or two of proper butchers’ bacon.
By the way, you know how I recently wrote about buying local? Well, one thing that I’m giving this year that is definitely not local are micro-loans. All of the adults on my little list are getting a card with a unique number that allows them to support a business venture of their choosing.
I have gone through Kiva, the not-for-profit organisation that hooks up those of us with a bit of money with those who don’t. They do this by working with “microfinance institutions on five continents to provide loans to people without access to traditional banking systems.” Mostly Kiva helps people like you and me support people setting up new businesses.
There are thousands of businesses and projects to choose from: from bull buying in Peru to purchasing food supplies for a non-profit community restaurant in Belize. You can even support writers and help build a shop. Previously I have given money to actually purchase such items for those who need it. You know, like goats and seeds. But this sounds really good as it is helping people in a different, and more long term, way. Loans start at $25. You can choose whether you want the money back, or re-loan it to another business or project. Other such ‘brokering’ organisations are around, such as lendwithcare.org. But you can also go straight to the individual microlending institutions themselves. Here’s a list from Forbes of the top 50 lenders, including assessment of risk. As my loans were on the lower end, shall we say, risk wasn’t an issue. I chose to go through Kiva as I had heard good things about it from someone who works on economic development projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Certainly a unique present!
Are you giving anything unusual over the festive season? What are your memories of sprouts as a child? And were you scarred for life? If you are up for more sprout recipes perhaps check out bbcgoodfood, or if you want to get fiddly, here’s one for the more dextrous among us from Heston Blumenthal.