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I saved one of those “best things I ate on vacation” emails, going back to it again and again. I didn’t print it because it wasn’t a vacation memory, but I didn’t discard it because the dish sounded so good. I’ll let Pennie describe it:
“The best thing I ate all summer was an appetizer special at Papa Joe’s for the month of June. It was shaved Brussels sprouts, flash fried and dressed with Balsamic and sweetened walnuts. Absolutely incredible. Never heard of such a thing. I hope they make it a regular menu item.”
The bad news is the dish did not become a regular menu item. The good news is we have the recipe, so it doesn’t matter. Executive chef Joe Alvis gladly generously shared the recipe, and I filled in a few of the blanks (how to make candied nuts, serving sizes, etc.) when I tested it.
This is not an easy dish to make in a home kitchen. The Brussels sprouts must be sliced incredibly thin, which will be a challenge unless you’re a phenom with a knife or you use the slicing disk of a food processor. Dressing must be made, walnuts must be candied and parsley leaves must be plucked one by one from the stems. Everything must be very dry when it goes into the hot oil or you risk frantic foaming and popping.
The dressing recipe Joe sent, by the way, is made with cider vinegar, not the Balsamic vinegar Pennie remembers. It is sweetened with honey and drizzled over the mound of crisp parsley, capers and Brussels sprouts. The candied walnuts are added at the end.
I toasted the walnuts in a dry skillet and candied them in the same skillet on the stove top rather than in the oven, using a minimum of sugar. I loved the results. Instead of a hard candy coating, it was lacy and crisp.
CRISPY FRIED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
• 1 lb. Brussels sprouts
• 1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
• 3 tbsp. capers, drained
• 1/2 cup chopped candied walnuts (see note)
• Vegetable oil for deep frying
• 1/4 cup cider vinegar
• 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 1/2 tsp. whole-grain mustard
• 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
• 1 tbsp. honey
• Salt, pepper
Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar, shake well and set aside.
Slice Brussels sprouts very thin, preferably with the slicing disk of a food processor. A mandolin may be used instead, or a steady hand and a sharp knife. Place the sliced sprouts in a bowl next to the stove along with the washed and thoroughly dried parsley and the thoroughly drained capers. Line a platter or baking sheet with paper towels. Nearby, place the candied nuts and a large bowl.
Heat at least 1 1/2 inches of oil in a fairly wide, deep kettle (I used a chili pot) over medium-high heat. Test the temperature of the oil by dropping in one caper. If it sizzles madly, place remaining capers in a fine-mesh ladle (or other appropriate utensil) and lower into oil. Cook until crisp and golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove from oil and drain on the towel-lined platter. Repeat with parsley. In batches, deep-fry Brussels sprouts until crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season everything lightly with salt.
Just before serving, combine Brussels sprouts, capers and parsley in a large bowl. Drizzle with just enough of the dressing to coat. Gently toss. Mound on four salad plates. Scatter candied walnuts over each portion and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Note: For lacy, crisp, lightly candied walnuts, place the chopped nuts in a heavy, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Shake and stir until the nuts begin to take on color. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the nuts and continue to cook, stirring lazily, until the sugar has melted and turned a tawny brown. Immediately transfer to parchment paper or a lightly buttered plate. Break apart any clumps when cool.
HELP U COOK
If you live in Texas, never mind. Scroll down to The Mailbag, because my tips for making chili won’t make sense to you. Texas has an entirely different definition of “chili” than the other 49 states. The rest of you, especially the chili-challenged, read on.
I would like to help rid the Earth of chili that tastes like hot gazpacho, or tomato broth studded with cubes of green pepper, or kidney beans and ground beef on a playing field of canned tomato sauce. I have tasted all of these “chilis” and in fact made a version of that last one in my younger days. I couldn’t figure out how to get chili to taste like chili.
The breakthrough came when I learned to use canned whole tomatoes and their juice instead of crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste or any other tomato product that comes in a can. Don’t even use canned whole tomatoes AND any of these items or your chili will taste too much like tomato sauce.
Second, don’t be timid with the seasonings. Use a quarter-cup of ground cumin, for example, not a tablespoon. Heat it up with pure ground red chili peppers (preferably Hatch or Anaheim), not hot sauce or chili pepper flakes. And you won’t need “chili powder” because you’ve made your own with the cumin and ground chili peppers.
If you use beef broth, don’t add more than a cup or two. I usually don’t use any. This is chili we’re making, not soup.
The other seasonings are up to you.
But please, no green pepper.
I discovered that stir frying is a good and easy method for preparing greens. I used mixture of dock, lambs quarter, purslane, Swiss chard and spinach. I also add wild mustard seed pods. I finished with oyster sauce as recommended in the recipe I used. I would definitely use this method again. Will do it outdoors next.
Dear Bee: Better hurry before the grill is buried under snow. I regularly stir fry broccoli rabe, spinach and kale, but I’ve never tried the other greens you mentioned. Good idea. The mustard seed pods would add a spicy note. I usually use my homemade stir fry sauce, but vinaigrette and other salad dressings – or just balsamic vinegar by itself – work well, too, I’ve found.
From Shirley Phillips, Hudson:
Check for Perky Pickles at Heinen’s in Aurora. I used to always find them there. However, I want to share my favorite pickle recipe:
CANDIED DILL SLICES
• 1 qt. Vlasic Hamburger Dill slices, drained
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 2 cups sugar
• 3 tsp. celery seed
• 2 tbsp. vinegar
• 1 tsp. pickling spice
• 1 clove garlic (more if you like)
Combine all but the pickle slices and mix well. Layer this mixture with the drained pickle slices back into the original jar. Refrigerate at least overnight.
Shake the jar occasionally or turn upside down. If you turn it upside down, put it on a saucer or something because it tends to leak – and it’s sticky.
I have also used the same recipe but substituted midget dills for the hamburger dill slices.
They are really delicious; I have some in the refrigerator at all times.
Dear Shirley: I like the way you think – using already-made pickles, and sweetening them up. Your fervor for these pickles makes me want to try them. I’ll use Aldi’s dill pickle slices, though, instead of Vlasic. They are the amazing. If you haven’t tried them, pick up a jar.
From Bob, Silver Lake:
Giant Eagle also has tubs of horseradish pickles. They aren’t stocked with the rest of the pickles so you may want to inquire where they are. They aren’t as sweet as the Nathan’s but we like them.
Dear Bob: The photo you sent indicates the pickles are indeed Sweet Horseradish Chips, but from another pickle packer – Farm Ridge Foods. I’m impressed that you buy ‘em by the quart. Getting a horseradish buzz on, eh Bob? I’m going to pick up a jar. Like Nathan’s, they are refrigerated rather than shelf-stable. Thanks for the information.
I’m a sleuth when it comes to finding something on the Internet. I found a couple of sources for the pickles: http://www.delidirect.com and http://www.walmart.com. Yes, Walmart! You have to order them online. But it is a 128-fluid ounce bucket of pickles. Don’t know if you want that much.
Dear Iris: That’s a lot of pickles. Puts Bob’s 32-ounce jar to shame.
From Linda W.:
Your last newsletter mentions a good sweet pickle with a bit of heat. Try Wickles Pickles. Occasionally I have found them at Walmart and specialty stores. They are wonderful.
Dear Linda: Wickles Pickles??!! That’s almost as good as Dick’s Perky Pickles! I must find some. Thank you so much. How have I missed hot-sweet pickles all these years?
From Jan C.:
FYI, a $9 (1-pound) bag of pistachios in the shell yields about 2 cups of kernels. No wonder no one cooks with them. Hope my biscotti are wonderful. I am not cheap but the recipe only makes 24! Dear
Dear Jan: I hear you. I would suggest going the bulk-foods route, but I have gotten some stale, tasteless pistachios in bulk-food bins.
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ABOUT JANE SNOW
Jane Snow is the former food editor of the Akron Beacon Journal. Her work has appeared in newspapers nationwide. She has won two James Beard Awards for food writing and has been nominated twice for the Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Akron, Ohio, with her husband, Tony, a sushi chef and owner of Sushi Katsu, an Akron sushi bar.
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