I am fortunate to spend this Holiday season with my family in Poland. It has been 16 years since the last Christmas together and a very long time since I experienced the “real” winter for longer than a week. Although it’s cold out here, I am still super excited because the trip triggers so many culinary memories. Winters in Northern Europe offer very limited variety of local produce but Brussels Sprouts are in season now. So, here is my sentimental winter tale about this “little” vegetable.
I grew up on a traditional Polish vegetable soup with a ridiculous name. My mom called it “Śmieciówka”— its direct English translation being “Little Garbage Soup”. I never asked her how she came up with this name, but I didn’t need to. It was made from a hodge-podge of whatever vegetables we had on-hand. A true leftover vegetable soup made from scraps that might otherwise go to the garbage.
Usually, it consisted of Polish soup stock staples called “włoszczyzna”— carrots, parsnips, celeriac, leeks— which my mom would keep in a big plastic bucket under the kitchen counter. She would also add potatoes, and some seasonal vegetables like cauliflower or green beans if we were lucky enough to get our hands on them. A good amount of heavy cream would be incorporated, then the final product would be generously topped with fresh, chopped dill (or dried dill in the winter) to add a kick of vibrancy and a vitamin boost.
That was the ordinary, vegetable “garbage” soup of my childhood. And although I didn’t have a distaste for it, I didn’t know what I was missing. Until one day when that ordinary soup lead to an extraordinary food discovery I will never forget.
During the winter months, or when fresh włoszczyzna wasn’t available, my mom would turn to a mix of frozen vegetables. Yes, even behind the iron curtain we were exposed to the convenience of flash-frozen food. The assortment of mixed, frozen vegetables was usually pretty poor— mostly Polish root vegetables, and on a rare occasion, a piece of cauliflower or two. But on this very special day, that bag of frozen vegetables contained something foreign to me— tiny green balls that looked like mini cabbages. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Brussels sprout!
Brussels sprouts are normally know for being one of the most despised vegetables by children. Parents try to sneak them onto plates, disguised under cheese, threatening to withhold dessert until they disappear. My first experience with them was much different— I begged my mom to let me have the mini cabbages from that frozen mix. All TWO of them.
I can still remember how amazing they tasted. Sweet, nutty, a little creamy in texture. Of course after eating those two Brussels sprouts I was left hungry for more. The off chance that I might find a couple more sparked excitement each time my mom brought home a bag of frozen vegetables from then on. But Brussels sprouts were not common to come by during food rationing, and it would be a long time before I got to taste them again— I had to wait for communism to end first.
Of course, now I’m able to devour an entire stalk of the tasty green gems whenever I like. I could sit at home and eat Brussels sprouts all day, if I wanted to. But as delicious as they are, they’ll never taste as remarkable as those two lonely Brussels did that day.
So in remembrance, I’ve adapted a traditional Polish vegetable soup recipe dedicated to my chance encounter with those two infamous, lonely Brussels Sprouts.
Lonely Brussels Sprouts Soup
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 1 lb whole Brussels sprouts (as small as possible)
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup spelt barley
- 1 small bunch of dill (thick ends finely chopped)
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a larger pot, pour 1.5-2 quarts of water (less if you prefer thicker soup). Add Brussels sprouts, season with some salt and black pepper and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add chopped dill stems and barley to the pot, pour heavy cream and stir well. Continue to cook until barley is “al dente”. Add thinner parts of the dill stems.
- Let the soup seat in room temperature for at least one hour (the soup tastes best on the next day).
- Reheat and serve with freshly chopped dill.
Chcesz przeczytać po polsku? Kliknij tu: “Samotna, zimowa, brukselkowa zupa, której nie musisz jeść sam”