Roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and fresh lemon

February 22nd, 2010

My experience with brussels sprouts is a bit like my experience with people – first impressions are not always the last impressions. It happens more often than I’d like to admit that just as I feel I’ve gotten someone all figured out, I am suddenly and swiftly smacked smartly across the cheek by an enlightening discovery, thereby unveiling my certain capacity for fallible judgment. While such a discovery may be disheartening, at its best, it illuminates unseen beauty and merit, and in an instant, what had been previously rejected becomes tangible, relatable, and intensely desirable. Brussels sprouts and I have just this kind of personal history.

Pretty little sprout leaf by lkwm on dRcPretty little sprout leaf2 by lkwm on dRcPicking off loose leaves by lkwm on dRcBrussels laid out by lkwm on dRcBrussels laid out by lkwm on dRc

My childhood first impressions of these adorable rolly polly wild cabbages need little embellishment, as they are shared by many a child far and wide yet today. Mushy. Slimy. Stinky. Growing up, my mother did not make brussels sprouts (that I remember), but somehow I had enough knowledge of and endearment to their notorious reputation to fondly refer to them as “brussels brains.”

One leaf left by lkwm on dRcImpressions of one leaf by lkwm on dRcSprouts halved and strewn by lkwm on dRcLeaf and base by lkwm on dRc

However, during college, shortly after my mother married my stepfather and long after my judgement of the petite little cerebrals at hand was firmly set in place, my stepfather prepared for me some fresh brussels sprouts. Really? Are you sure these are brussels sprouts? I thought brussels sprouts were BAD.  How can this be? Brussels brains cannot actually be GOOD.

Lemon halved by lkwm on dRcLemon sliced by lkwm on dRcLemon sliced by lkwm on dRc

The thing is, I had never had fresh brussels sprouts, cooked right. If you’ve never had brussels sprouts, please try them this way. First. And do not overcook them. The reason brussels sprouts have gotten such a bad rap is two fold. One is the fact that eighty plus percent of brussels sprouts sold in the U.S. are frozen. I have no problem with many frozen vegetables, however, brussels sprouts are one where it is difficult to recover the pleasingly firm texture and delicate nutty flavor once frozen and defrosted. Secondly, brussels sprouts contain sinigrin, an amazing health agent, however, when overcooked, disintegrates into a mustard oil that smells (and tastes?!) like sulphur.

Sprout bath in sunlight by lkwm on dRc

Oven roasting is a beautiful way to prepare brussels sprouts, creating a slightly crisp outer leaf while retaining a firm texture throughout, thereby banishing for good all slimy “brussels brains” childhood impressions. I like to cut my sprouts in half so I can get more seasoning over more surface area, and in this preparation, the the olive oil gives strong compliments to the nutty sprout flavor alongside generous sprinklings of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. But what takes this simple recipe over the top, is just as simple itself. Drizzle each portion with fresh squeezes of lemon juice and you have a side dish or light lunch that sings fresh, tangy, salty, earthy, nutty, and not easily forgotten.

Sprouts ready to roast by lkwm on dRcJust out of the oven by lkwm on dRcRoasted! by lkwm on dRcRoasted brussel sprouts in the evening light by lkwm on dRc

Roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and fresh lemon

3/4 lb. (12 ounces) brussels sprouts*
1 tablespoon olive oil*
1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt
several cracks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 – 1/3 fresh lemon cut into slices or juiced (to taste)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove outer leaves and bases and cut each sprout in half. Swirl sprouts in a tepid water bath to wash and remove any embedded dirt. Remove and pat to dry. Put sprouts in a medium bowl and toss to coat with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper to taste. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil and spread sprouts out evenly in dish. Bake for 13-16 minutes, depending on the size of the sprouts. Sneak a sprout out to test for doneness – I prefer most veggies rather firm, so you may wish a longer cooking time, just remember, sprouts are ruined by overcooking, so keep watch! During the last minute or two of baking, if you desire some browned and crispy edges, you may wish to turn the broiler on. Place sprouts either in a serving bowl and drizzle with lemon juice, or serve in individual dishes with a nice lemon wedge alongside (this is how I do it, thus it is difficult for me to say exactly how much lemon, but I know I use at least 1/4 of a medium lemon for this amount of sprouts). This makes about three side dish servings, one large, or two smaller light meal portions – may be scaled as desired.

* Smaller, younger sprouts tend to be more tender and have a more delicate flavor.
* You can taste the flavor of the olive oil so pick your favorite – a light, buttery and not overbearing variety would be perfect.

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Posted in Side dishes | 24 Comments »

24 Responses to “Roasted brussels sprouts with olive oil and fresh lemon”

  1. Great photography! You make everything look so yummy. I think I will try this one. Thanks.

    • laura says:

      Chuck – Thank you so much! Simple, elegant dishes such as these are my favorites. Please let me know how it turns out if you give it a try!

  2. Harold says:

    It took 35 years of life to discover how good brussels sprouts could be when properly cooked. I’ve tried your recipe and it delivers fanatastically new flavors. Good foods just need a little effort to bring out different flavors that something complex, like a Brussel Sprout, possess. Great photos.

  3. Mom says:


    I never had brussels sprouts until I met John over thirty four years ago. That was when he was in grad school and had us over and would fix them FROZEN! He is such a b. brains fan that he likes them no matter what, but it was when he started fixing the fresh ones that I became their lover. This recipe is so good, and it really brings out every attribute of this vegetable. I have already tried it, and it will be one of our favorite ways of fixing them from now on. Love you!

    • laura says:

      Mother – The truth is out! J. loved these little rolly pollys even in their frozen state – thank goodness he had moved to fresh by the time you two started making art in the kitchen for my sampling so I could be given a brand new introduction to this complex and beautiful little cabbage! Thank you, Mother.

  4. grace says:

    i still think of them as brussels brains, but then again, i haven’t tried them roasted. i’ll bet that adds quite a bit of enjoyable texture and flavor. the refreshing zap of lemon couldn’t hurt either. okay, i won’t give up on ‘em yet. :)

  5. What great photography! I will have to try your recipe. It sounds divine! It is hard for me to find good fresh brussel sprouts in my area.

    • laura says:

      The Teacher Cooks – Thank you! My dear mother provided a much better response than I could offer (see comment #6), but I will say that I do not always have good luck finding the best sprouts either, but I still buy them, trying to pick out the smallest specimens and peeling off leaves until I get to some livelier portions!

  6. Mom says:

    La,I just had to reply back when I read what “The Teacher Cooks” said about not being able to find fresh brussels sprouts in her area. I know that if you can’t find them, that’s it, but if you do find them and they look a little raggedy and discolored in the veggie case, don’t be hesitant to buy them. Sometimes the best brussels sprouts don’t look as nice as you might think they should. They are a cold weather vegetable, becoming really strong and good (nutty) in November, lasting until February or March, but are best through December and January. You can get them year round in alot of places, but they will probably be milder after the winter months here in the U.S. J. taught me all this.

  7. Barbara says:

    There’s nothing better than that caramelized flavor that comes only from roasting in the oven like that. Almost all veggies are better served that way. Another blog even did cabbage roasted…that’s one I haven’t tried yet. And a dash of lemon will give them such a fresh flavor! Great recipe.

    • laura says:

      Barbara – Thank you. Roasting concentrates flavors beautifully so I can imagine all sorts of vegetables working well within the parameters of this recipe!

  8. Joel says:

    Looks absolutely delicious Laura. I had no idea sprouts were eaten or even commonly available in the US. Good to see they are and that you’re posting delicious recipes with them in.

    Another great way to cook them (if you still have any left in the refrigerator) is to shred them finely (like the mini cabbages that they are) and saute them in plenty of butter with crispy streaky bacon or (even better) some pancetta. Add a couple of twists of nutmeg right at the end along with your lemon juice and you’ve got a vegetable dish that is not exactly a healthy green veg, but delicious and also a world away from the insipid, soggy little balls of green mush that everyone passes off for sprouts over here in England!

  9. Sommer says:

    Laura, your introduction is so beautifully written! I particularly the loved photos of the lemons. Roasted Brussel Sprouts are wondeerful aren’t they. My kids will even eat them!

    • laura says:

      Sommer – Thank you. I know you are a sprout roasting fan, and it sounds like your kids will never have any “brussels brains” impressions!

  10. Liz says:

    How inspiring! I’ve been slowly (very slowly) over the past month reconsidering my relationship with brussel sprouts, mostly because I can’t actually remember the last time I ate them. If I can’t remember it, how do I even know I dislike them so much? I will definitely be attempting this as soon as I find some fresh brussel sprouts.

    Beautiful images as always. :)

    • laura says:

      Thanks Liz – brussels have become one of my very favorite veggies since learning new, fresh ways in which to prepare them. Please let me know how it turns out when you give it a go.

  11. Joy says:

    Laura this is a really beautiful post, what amazing pictures! Brussel sprouts are definitely one of my favorite vegetables, and I hate that there is such a huge misconception with them!! When cooked correctly they ARE absolutely DELICIOUS :) Good thing your stepdad showed you they way eh? heh heh great job :)

  12. Amy says:

    Yay for brussels sprouts! Your posts make me hungry, so I’m really glad you chose to make me hungry for something good for me this time! It is too bad that they’ve gotten such a bad rap – they are really rather elegant. “Brussels brains” sounds like a term your brother may have had a part in introducing to you :) . Lots of great photos – the one looking down at the sprouts on the cutting board is my favorite!

    • laura says:

      Amy – Thanks! and yes, I am sure it was David who perpetuated the “brussels brains” label.


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