Brussels sprout slaw with grapefruit-fig vinaigrette. © Ryan Schierling
Brussels sprouts are oft referred to as "wee little cabbages" in our household. This is technically fitting as they are members of the same genetic family – from the Brassica genus, to be exact – and in excellent company with some other very delicious vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and, of course, cabbage. When it comes to sensitivity to the more bitter aspect of this family, Brussels sprouts are probably one of the trickier to develop a taste for, but the little bit of work it takes to complement that touch of bitter is well worth it. Where cooking serves to soften this bitterness, a raw salad requires an act of embracing and balancing it.
With Brussels sprouts, in particular, I find that fruit and nuts are most excellent companions, and when I think of picnic sides the heat of summer calls for a something refreshing and clean in flavor. It's one thing to know you want a citrus element, but it's a delightful discovery when a particular citrus turns out to pair so well. When I first started playing around with this recipe, I had oranges in mind, but in the company of Brussels sprouts, grapefruit was an absolute natural.
I like that this vinaigrette is slightly sweet and summer-citrus tangy. There's something about the sweet fruitiness that balances the light bitterness of the raw Brussels sprouts. It doesn't have all that much oil in it, but it emulsifies nicely which lends an important element of creamy goodness that I look for in a slaw. The fig isn't as pronounced a flavor, but it gives complexity and depth while the pistachios add their own savory note along with a bit of crunch. For a neat touch of brightness at the front of each bite, that little bit of grapefruit zest goes a long way; add it thoughtfully and to your personal taste.
Brussels Sprout Slaw with Grapefruit-Fig Vinaigrette
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped (approximately 6) fresh figs (here I've used Sierra figs)
3 tablespoons honey, or to taste
1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (juice of about 1 medium grapefruit)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
In a small saucepan, lightly sauté the garlic in olive oil until just softened. Add the chopped figs and about a tablespoon of the honey and continue to cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes until the figs soften and break down a little bit. Turn off heat.
To a blender (or small food processor, compact 'bullet'-type blender, or using an immersion blender) add the fig mixture along with all of the remaining ingredients. Blend until the figs are thoroughly mixed in and the dressing is creamy and emulsified. Chill for 20 minutes in the refrigerator – unless you prefer a warm slaw, of course. (Note: Be prepared to adjust the amount of honey "to taste" depending upon the sweetness of the figs and grapefruit juice you are using.)
Preparing the slaw:
1 pound Brussels sprouts, thinly sliced
3/4 cup unsalted pistachios, lightly toasted
Up to 1/2 teaspoon grapefruit zest (optional)
Wash and slice Brussels sprouts from tip to base of stem, removing any "discs" of the stem portion as you go. Dress with the vinaigrette until the shredded Brussels sprouts are well coated. Fold in pistachios and stir in grapefruit zest, to taste.