Put A Thai Twist On Brussels Sprouts With 3 Simple Ingredients

Preconceptions about Brussels sprouts are all over the place, often springing from childhood memories of boiled, stinky, little balls of mandatory eating: "Eat your vegetables or there's no dessert!" But things have come a long way with the expansion and availability of international foods and recipes, and that includes the cruciferous family of broccoli, kale, cabbage, collard greens, and Brussels sprouts. Distinctive aromas and strong flavors aside, this clan of Brassica oleracea vegetables has come into its own as a nutrient powerhouse thriving in dishes such as Thai-style Brussels sprouts. 

Thai flavors can transform simple vegetables, and that includes Brussels sprouts, with a trio of simple ingredients bringing out the best characteristics of cruciferous veggies. To make Brussels sprouts come alive, all you need is fish sauce, peanuts, and palm sugar. What makes them work together so well is the balance of salty and sweet flavors from the fish sauce and palm sugar, plus a nutty infusion from the peanuts. Sizzling Brussels sprouts with those three ingredients, preferably in a hot cast-iron skillet, creates an inseparably delicious taste marriage. 

While fish sauce may sound overly pungent for a vegetable dish, it's all about the umami aspect. It's earthy, savory, and briny all at the same time. If you've enjoyed other Thai dishes, such as Pad Thai, then you know what fish sauce contributes to the overall taste of food. 

Using palm sugar in Thai Brussels sprouts

The ingredient that may need some explaining to Western palettes is palm sugar. It's a natural, minimally processed sweetener extracted from palm flower sap, typically with no chemicals involved. The sweet sap is boiled until it turns into crystalized, solidified sugar, but it's a laborious process that makes it a prized commodity. 

Traditionally, palm sugar is sold in a cake-like form for grating or shaving into Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian dishes. However, it's increasingly possible to find it in paste or granulated forms. As for the flavor and how that informs your Thai Brussels sprouts dish, think of a vague similarity to maple syrup, which goes through a similar extraction process. Depending on individual processors, you may notice hints of smoky caramel or even butterscotch. 

Imagine all those intriguing palm-sugar flavors combined with fish sauce and Brussels sprouts, pan-seared in olive oil and tossed with diced peanuts. It's a taste combination that's highly customizable. Use the fish sauce sparingly or in excess, depending on your craving for umami goodness. The same goes for the sweet influence of palm sugar, which can have a more subtle sweetness than processed white or brown sugar. Remember the caramel notes of palm sugar as well, which add more flavor depth than other sugars. There's even such a thing as caramel fish sauce that's popular in several Southeast Asian cuisines, so keep that in mind as another Brussels sprouts option.