Nigel Spence: A Holiday Brussel Sprouts Recipe


With the holidays upon us once again my thoughts always turn to new and improved recipes for the many dinners to be hosted during the season.

Lately I have been on a mission to update side dishes that usually don’t get the limelight and is most times an afterthought for holiday menus.

Since side dishes are usually root vegetables or leafy greens, I figured with the ever-growing shift towards a whole food plant-based diet, it was a great time to make them more approachable with a hint of excitement to be more accommodating to changing tastes.

I zeroed in on my newest love. 

Purple Brussel sprouts.

A variety that has been bountiful this year, they are my new favorite winter vegetable.

This is probably because they are a bit sweeter and a lot less bitter than its greener cousin, especially as the cold of winter sets into the growing season, which helps with the sweetness.

It’s also a bonus that they retain their color when cooked which makes for a great splash on the plate and the palate when coupled with a few other supporting cast members of contrasting color and flavor.

Like the green ones, they are very low in calories and pump up the fiber and vitamin C in the diet.

I added some small cherry tomatoes for color, green onions for an underlying bite, fresh sautéed fennel and cilantro to brighten up the dish.

In keeping with my general approach to vegan cooking, I like to add a multitude of finishing oils, sauces, dried citrus, dried mushroom powder and/or vinegars for added complexity just before plating.

Some of the items used in finishing this dish may not be readily available everywhere, but there is no hard and fast rule to this process, except to simply think sweet, sour and tart when trying to make substitutions. It may be hard to substitute truffle oil for this dish, so try to get a good quality bottle.

It tends to be a bit pricey, but a little goes a long way.

This dish was truly a hit the first time I made it.

I think that was because Brussel sprouts in general are rarely prepared well and tend to lean towards a bitter, one-dimensional flavor. 

This dish stepped out of that realm in a pleasantly surprising way with the sweetness of the purple variety and the addition of the sautéed fennel and finishing ingredients. 

Brussel sprout haters agreed and some even had seconds!



1-pound fresh purple Brussel sprouts

½ fresh fennel bulb, medium chopped

1 cup fresh cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

2 stalks green onion, finely sliced

4 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup fresh cilantro, rough chopped

Salt and pepper to taste


½ tablespoon whole butter

1 tablespoon white truffle oil

2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoon Lambrusco vinegar (available at gourmet stores)

Juice of a whole fresh lemon (can substitute fresh lime juice)


In a saucepan with salted boiling water add the Brussel sprouts and cook for approximately 5 minutes until al dente. Drain from water, cool then cut in half lengthwise.

Add olive oil to a large sauté pan over high heat until almost smoking then add Brussel sprouts and cook for approximately 2 minutes until they begin to get a little brown on the edges. 

Add the fennel and cook for an additional 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes. 

Continue to cook over high heat for 2 more minutes then remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl.

Add whole butter, truffle oil, lemon juice, and vinegars and mix to incorporate the flavors. Add cilantro and continue to mix.

Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve in a fancy white plate or bowl to showcase the vibrant colors of the dish.

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.


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