New hybrid BrusselKale hits home and restaurant kitchens

05/13/2014 12:00 AM

05/13/2014 2:59 PM

Brussels sprouts and kale have become two of the hottest vegetables around. Once either outright reviled or merely ignored, they’re now staples in the kitchens of health-focused homes and trendy restaurants. For fans, it can be difficult to choose a favorite.

Now, there’s no need.

Enter a new hybrid vegetable that is equal parts Brussels sprouts and kale. Developed by British vegetable breeding company Tozer Seeds, the healthful Frankenfood is rising to prominence thanks to recent features on NBC’s Today show (which dubbed it the “Brangelina of vegetables”) and in New York Magazine.

The fledgling vegetable has a few names. Tozer Seeds markets it as Flower Sprouts, and it’s sometimes referred to as lollipop kale or kale sprouts. But another name, BrusselKale, belongs to Miami-based Rock Garden, an urban farm in a warehouse district near Miami International Airport.

While several farms around the country have begun to grow the plant, Rock Garden’s is the only organic variety so far. Rock Garden grows about five acres of BrusselKale on farms in Homestead and near Lake Okeechobee, yielding about 250 pounds a week.

BrusselKale caught the attention of Thi Squire, director of product development for Rock Garden, while she was reading trade publications. She says that while there isn’t much awareness of the vegetable, people who try it tend to love it.

“It is so new that no one really knows about it yet,” Squire said. “And upon first seeing it, everyone just thinks it’s another kale. But once you explain that it’s a hybrid and have them taste it — they are completely blown away.”

The distinctive plant isn’t easy to grow. Maturation takes about four months. Although the experts at Rock Garden have learned tricks to promote growth, the process remains labor-intensive.

One advantage of the hybrid is that although it comes from two bitter vegetables, the combined flavor is much less bitter, making it an easier sell for eaters turned off by Brussels sprouts’ trademark bitterness.

“I have many people claim that they don’t like kale or Brussels sprouts, but then try our BrusselKale and become converts,” Squire said.

Another interesting facet of BrusselKale is its texture, which is more substantial than the leafier Brussels sprouts and kale. It has a stalk-like structure similar to that of broccoli, and it’s chewy.

The vegetable retains many of the health benefits of the two plants: It’s fiber-rich and high in vitamin K, just like kale, and it has twice as much vitamin B6 and C as Brussels sprouts.

BrusselKale can be cooked in many of the same ways one would prepare Brussels sprouts or kale. It is especially delicious sautéed with bacon or stir-fried with garlic and ginger and seasoned with soy sauce.

An added bonus: When cooked, the plant takes on vibrant shades of emerald and purple, which add a deep touch of color to dishes.

BrusselKale comes in a microwavable 3-ounce bag for about $4, available at Milam’s Markets and at Bee Heaven Farm’s stand at the Pinecrest Gardens Farmers Market, with more locations to come.

Among the fans of the hybrid is Roel Alcudia, chef de cuisine at The Cypress Room in Miami’s Design District. He discovered the vegetable through Farm to Kitchen, a source of locally grown food.

“It has a very earthy taste and it’s super savory,” Alcudia said. “It has a slight bitterness, which is a good thing, while also being sweet.”

Cypress Room has featured BrusselKale in a grouper entree paired with white beans and a duck dish with beet-date purée.

Alcudia says sautéeing BrusselKale in a wok, grilling it over direct heat or broiling it helps bring out its unique taste characteristics.

“You should give it a good, fast cooking, so don’t be shy with it,” Alcudia said. “It is a lot sweeter than Brussels sprouts or kale. Even compared to a Tuscan kale, it’s a little sweeter and a little nuttier, so you can accentuate the flavors by cooking it like this.”

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