Valentine's Day may be over, but it left a few gifts in its wake. Red kale and Brussels sprouts got busy, and they cooked up a new baby vegetable to grace our tables this year. World, meet BrusselKale. Isn't she cute?
What Is BrusselKale?
I first heard of BrusselKale from Rock Garden Herbs, the grower introducing what they are calling the first new vegetable to be introduced in the U.S. in ten years. BrusselKale is a non-GMO cross between red kale and Brussels sprouts, created originally in England with the goal of making a Brussel sprout with a milder taste and better appearance. It was being released to retail, coincidentally, in a group of grocery stores with a presence in my town.
I admit I rolled my eyes just a little bit at the thought of two such trendy vegetables in one package — what would that even look like? A Frankenstein with none of the qualities of those two favorites? Or the best of both?
Brussels sprouts and kale (not to mention every brassica, or member of the cabbage family) are quite closely related, so it wasn't the craziest idea. I asked Bill Squire, my contact at Rock Garden Herbs, how the two plants were were, um, bred. He told me they did it the old-fashioned way: "A Brussels sprout plant was cross pollinated with a kale plant," he explained. "Old-fashioned hybridization."
Clearly I had to get my hands on the stuff and see what it was like.
I tracked it down at a local large grocery store and brought a few bags home. (It was unexpectedly inexpensive; after store discounts it was 49 cents a bag. The list price is $3.99 for a 3-ounce bag.) The BrusselKale turned out, on first look, to be essentially tiny heads of red kale, with adorable purple stalks and a red-veined leafy crown. I didn't see much evidence of Brussels sprouts and their tightly furled cabbage heads.
I decided that a taste-test was in order.
How Does It Taste?
I asked Bill Squire, my contact at Rock Garden Herbs, about his favorite way to cook BrusselKale. "Blanched, then sautéed in a pan with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper and then tossed with linguini," he replied promptly.
I decided to go an even simpler route and sauté the BrusselKale without blanching first, giving it a hard sear in a hot pan with garlic, salt, and olive oil.
When I tasted it, I finally found the Brussels sprouts side of this veggie's parentage. The stem was crunchy yet tender, like a properly-cooked sprout, cabbagey yet sweet. The leaves got crisp and a little charred around the edges.
And that was where I saw the benefits of BrusselKale (besides the obvious advantages of giving small children "trees" to play with and eat). It has the meaty bite of a Brussels sprout, which stay firm and pleasantly crunchy, along with plenty of leafy tops to get charred and toasty in the pan. I love the two textures together; they're not really duplicated by kale or Brussels sprouts on their own.
Honestly, I expected this vegetable to be a bit of a gimmick — there's certainly nothing wrong with Brussels sprouts or kale on their own, and BrusselKale doesn't replace them. But I love the mix of textures and mild taste, not to mention the beautiful shape and colors. I also like how you don't need to prep it; no chopping or tearing the kale, or slicing the Brussels sprouts. I just threw it in a pan and cooked it.
I've already cooked BrusselKale again with Thai oyster sauce and hot chili peppers; my guests fell in love. I hope this spreads and becomes a staple at my local grocery. I'll certainly buy it frequently.
Its parents would be proud.
→ Find it: BrusselKale is currently available at Giant Eagle in the Ohio and Pennsylvania regions. The list price is $3.99.
→ The grower: Rock Garden Herbs
(Image credits: Faith Durand)