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In praise of the much-maligned Brussels sprouts

Brussels sprouts, sometimes called ''the cabbage with a college education'' are not as much appreciated in this country as in the British Isles.

That is unfortunate for these little cabbages, if treated with respect, can make a very attractive side dish.

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They should never be cooked longer than 10 minutes. Otherwise, their strong flavor will make them unpalatable and soggy. Some cooks allow even less cooking time, but this can depend on the size of the sprouts.

Buy only green firm sprouts with no black spots or insect holes and if you are not going to cook them immediately, store in the refrigerator without washing them. Plan to use them within a day or two.

The simplest way to prepare them is to first wash them, then remove the outer leaves, cut off the stem and simmer in about one inch of salted water for 10 minutes.

Drain. Add butter, salt and pepper. If desired, add lemon juice or serve au gratin; with almonds or with Parmesan cheese.

Steaming is also an excellent way of cooking sprouts because they don't retain any of the cooking water and therefore avoid getting soggy. Steam them about 7 minutes or more, according to size.

Here are some unusually delicious ways to put this neglected vegetable into the spotlight. Brussels Sprouts in Mustard Sauce 1-pound fresh Brussels sprouts 1/2 cup water 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed (optional) Salt to taste 1/4 cup sour cream 1 teaspoon prepared mustard 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Bring sprouts, water, caraway seed and salt to boil. Cover and simmer 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well. Stir in sour cream which has been blended with the prepared mustard and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves 4. Stir-Fried Brussels Sprouts 3/4 pound fresh container Brussels sprouts 2 tablespoons salad oil 1/2 teaspoon salt

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Cut each sprout in half. In 10-inch skillet over medium heat, in 2 tablespoons hot salad oil, cook Brussels sprouts and salt until tender-crisp, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add a little water if needed to prevent scorching. Serves 3. Brussels Sprouts with Water Chestnuts 4 cups fresh or 3 packages frozen Brussels sprouts 2 5-ounce cans water chestnuts, drained 1/4 pound butter or margarine Salt

Cook sprouts until almost done but still bright green, about 10 minutes. Sprouts should be slightly undercooked and crunchy. Drain as dry as possible. Dry water chestnuts on paper towels and cut into quarters.

Heat butter or margarine until foam subsides, being careful not to burn. Toss in water chestnuts. Heat a few seconds, then toss in sprouts. Coat with butter. Sprinkle with salt, and turn into serving dish. Serves 8. French-fried Brussels Sprouts 1 133/4-ounce can chicken broth 11/4 pounds fresh Brussels sprouts Salad oil 1 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 4 eggs 2 tablespoons milk

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat chicken broth to boiling. Add half of Brussels sprouts. Heat to boiling again. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. With slotted spoon remove sprouts. Meanwhile in electric skillet or medium saucepan over medium heat heat salad oil to 370 degrees F. on deep-fat thermometer.

In small bowl, or on waxed paper, mix bread crumbs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. In another small bowl, with fork, lightly beat eggs and milk. Dip Brussels sprouts in egg mixture, then bread-crumb mixture. Repeat so each sprout is coated twice. Fry some of the sprouts 2 minutes or until lightly browned. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining Brussels sprouts. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10 as first-course or 6 vegetable servings. Brussels Sprouts With Yogurt 2 to 2 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts 1 tablespoon butter 1 medium-sized tomato, chopped 2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg Salt and pepper 1 cup plain yogurt, lightly whisked 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup toasted, blanched almond slivers

Drop Brussels sprouts into boiling salted water, and cook for about 8 to 10 minutes, just until tender. Remove from heat and drain thoroughly.

Place sprouts in buttered ovenproof casserole; cover with tomato and chives. Sprinkle vegetables with nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper. Pour yogurt over them. Sprinkle top with grated cheese and toasted almonds, and bake for 15 minutes in 350 degrees F. oven, until top is nicely browned. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6.

Many vegetables taste as good cold as hot. If you have two or three cups of cooked Brussels sprouts left over, transfer them to a bowl and chill for at least 1 hour. Leave whole or cut in half if you prefer and toss them with the dressing of your choice such as sour cream and mayonnaise, lemon juice and olive oil or yogurt and dill.

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