Brussels Sprouts are a superfood, a powerful blend of nutrients like folate, vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, fiber, and protein. But that doesn’t mean this member of the cabbage family ever won a taste contest. Until now. The sprouts are roasted and a cornucopia of flavors is added: fig butter, roasted walnuts, sliced red grapes, and a mint yogurt sauce all add up to an extraordinary dish, a marvel of contrasting textures, of juicy-sweet and crispy-crunchy.
BUT WHAT ARE BRUSSELS SPROUTS DOING ON A LEBANESE MENU?
Ilili has the distinction of being the top Lebanese restaurant in New York. That being said, Lebanese restaurants aren’t exactly a dime a dozen here. In fact, in all of New York, there are only 10 places serving Lebanese cuisine, while about another ten call themselves “Middle Eastern”. That’s rather a surprise given that, at last count, there were 24,000 places to eat in Manhattan alone. But Ilili (236 Fifth Avenue, NY 10001 (Tel: 212-683-2929) stands proudly Lebanese. Ilili means “tell me” in Arabic, a phrase that the restaurant says is used in many ways: “a whisper between two friends, an invitation to share a secret and a proclamation to get the conversation started.” The latter of the three was the one most in evidence on our visit to the 200-seat restaurant. The place was filled with big tables for 10 and 12 and an amazingly diverse crowd of every ethnicity.
Our friends Julie and Geoff, old hands at Ilili and insisted that we order the Brussels Sprouts. Having traveled 40 blocks downtown in the cold, I can’t say that we were thrilled about eating Brussels Sprouts. We should have been. They were incredible. Even the most ardent Brussels Sprouts haters would have trouble not loving these. But what, you may well ask, are Brussels Sprouts doing on a Lebanese restaurant menu? Well, I scoured the internet and I can’t find a single source saying that Brussels Sprouts have anything to do with Lebanese cooking. But I think I know why these sprouts found their way into Ilili’s kitchen.
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 ¼ lb Brussels sprouts, tough outer leaves trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise
½ tsp. salt
sherry vinegar – to taste
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, crumbled
3/4 cup seedless green or red grapes, sliced
4 tbsp. fig puree (recipe below)
1 cup Greek Yogurt
8 leaves fresh mint, chopped finely
5. As the sprouts cook, make the Fig Purée by combining 3 tbsp. Fig jam or Fig Butter (Trader Joe’s sells the latter) with 3 tbsp. water in a small saucepan. Stir the two ingredients together and heat gently.