How it’s New York: It features one Irish chef, one judge who studied at Trinity College in Dublin, a bushel of brussels sprouts (little
green cabbages), and a boiled potato. (Yes, there were…)
How it’s Irish: This strange thought was inspired by a funsy and delicious cook-off competition at the V Spot Organic Restaurant in New York City.
IT IS CABBAGE, FOR GAWD’S SAKE!
Brussels Sprouts are the “New Cabbage” – Just in Time for St. Patrick’s Day
Alright then, it’s THE BIG DAY: St. Patrick’s Day. All my life, I have lived vicariously through my wonderful Irish BFFs and their families, worn green, eaten my mom’s corned beef and cabbage (well, pork butt and cabbage: she was French), ate soda bread, drank Guinness – on tap, stayed up late watching The Quiet Man, attended THE parade curbside while endangering my extremities in NYC’s often freezing-cold March weather, sang with St. Patrick Cathedral’s choir for the mass before THE parade, and stomped, clapped, danced, and sang along with The Chieftains, the Screaming Orphans (at the now defunct Tir Na Nog…sigh), and Celtic Woman. I even learned how to play the bodhrán – I admit it! – and started learning the fiddle and singing in Irish at New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House. But although each experience was close to the mark, it still didn’t feel authentic: I wasn’t the real McCoy, so to speak.
Then, one day not long ago, I spit in a test tube and discovered I’M IRISH (courtesy of an Ancestry.com DNA test). Of course, being me, then I had to tempt fate (of possibly being tarred and feathered by my newfound country folk) by playfully re-imagining the traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner: that wonderful mash-up (um, sometimes literally) of well-boiled corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes.
How did this mad urge descend upon me? Well, I spotted an ad for
THE BATTLE OF THE BRUSSELS
and my vegetarian, brussels sprout-loving Irish heart – and stomach – were hooked! I just had to review it with an eye towards nouveau Irish-American cuisine. [I can smell the tar from here…]
The fun and oddball brussels sprout cook-off was the brainchild of the friendly and dynamic Sarah Gross who, with Nira Paliwoda, runs the NYC Vegetarian Food Festival (U.S. Veg Corp.). It was a great opportunity for the chefs to flex their culinary muscles and imaginations, and a treat for the judges and all of us hungry guests.
Watching folks take sips of “whatever” in between contest selections, I tried to discuss food and drink “pairings” but without success. Even though we were in NYC, I don’t think this concept was uppermost in anyone’s minds there – in fact, people looked confused when I asked – so I ignored the alcoholic offerings and concentrated on the food. And, of course, Shpickles, the pickled brussels sprouts that chef Rachel Shamah readily offered, went with everything! With a bowl or two within easy reach of each diner, wouldn’t a pint of Guinness have been just the thing?
The food was delicious: I never knew that there were so many flavor combinations possible involving brussels sprouts. It was as though the little cabbage took on a new life in each dish, and from the stories I elicited from each eager chef, they had as much fun discovering this as I did! Brussels sprouts were baked in a cake, roasted and mixed with garlic jam in pizza, tossed with pasta, barbecued – and, yes, pickled. Both the judges and the diners were separately polled for the winner, and Melissa Charlana, a personal chef, took both wins by a wide margin. Her winning recipe, Buffalo Brussels Bites, is here.
Unfortunately, I am allergic to soy (and peanuts – and many thanks to the person who posted a checklist at each table), so I couldn’t try Charlana’s popular dish. (Or the cake, or the falfalle pasta offering by V Spots own chefs. Please, guys, I’m tryin’!) But I didn’t feel deprived for long, because MY personal fav was Al & Al‘s Bangin’ Pizza. And was it ever bangin’! Al (Alexis Smith) needs to get that garlic jam bottled and to market right away! And I know my taste buds will have a fabulous time when I visit Adelina‘s for chef Toby Buggiani‘s meatless Mondays.
Sadly, Irish-American contestant, Tere Fox, chef and owner of Rockin’ Raw, and her Señor Brussels couldn’t be there. But she suggests “bacon” (sliced, sauteed shitake mushrooms slow-crisped in the oven) as the perfect complement to any modern foodie’s brussels sprouts. And there’s always vegan seitan “corned beef” for the more traditional-but-health conscious celebrant: check it out here.
So, except for a few hiccoughs (no drink pairings – what about a brussels sprout liquor (?!), contest dishes with soy that I couldn’t try, no gluten free choices, and no Tere Fox), it was a scrumptious night. Taitneamh a bhaint as tú féin and sláinte! See ya at the “50-yard line” on March 17th!