It’s that time of the year again when Bundobust is dangling its festive baubles, otherwise known as Sprout Bhajis. It’s a world away from all the crass foodie gimmicks of Christmas – pigs in blankets pizza toppings and the like, but then this burgeoning brand yoking Gujarati veggie street snacks to craft beer always does things with style.
So what do you get for your £4.75? Deep-fried bundles of Brussels sprouts, broccoli, onion, fennel and chilli, served with a dollop of cranberry chutney. Chuck in an extra £1.25 and it comes in a soft vegan brioche bun. Proof all their venues are a Scrooge-free zone, a quid from each Sprout Bhaji Butty goes to a local charity.
My Bundo destination of choice to snaffle a bhaji has to be their latest project – the Bundobust Brewery on Oxford Street in Manchester, where head brewer Dan Hocking is knocking out a splendid range of beers tailored towards the spice-driven food menu.
I was disappointed on a recent visit that my favourite of his beers wasn’t on. West is West is a piney and resinous, dank and bitter (in a good way) West Coast IPA. A perfect match for the setting, surrounded by the gleaming vessels of a working brewery, it reminded me of many of the taprooms I’ve visited along the US western seaboard. In San Diego, say.
Which brings me back, by a roundabout route, to Brussel sprouts. The tiny green cannonballs are definitely love or loathe over here with major consumption confined to Christmas. Our Brussels Sprouts Appreciation Society Facebook Group numbers under 700 members after five years in existence.
Contrast this with California, where the foggy, coastal area south of San Francisco grows 95 cent of the American crop, and they are mega cool. A big help is they are not over-cooked to bland mushiness. Food websites in the States are packed with innovative ways to treat your Brussels, which are neck and neck with kale to be top green on menus. Apparently they are a good source of dietary fibre, folic acid, manganese, and vitamins A, C, and K. Sprouts date back to Roman times but were first grown in large quantities in Belgium – hence the Brussels tag – and French settlers brought them to Louisiana in the 18th century.
Yes, there are roasted sprout gumbos out there, but I’ve never tackled one. I vividly remember tempura sprouts accompanying shrimp tacos in one downtown San Diego taproom, their natural hint of bitterness in harmony with the hop. Bizarrely research has shown that genetically two thirds of folk may be wired against the bitter chemical PTC found in sprouts, broccoli, dark chocolate, coffee and even beer.
Definitely count me out of that pool.
My top Brussels sprout dish is also Indian…from my favourite new generation cookery writer, Meera Sodha. This quick Keralan stir-fry is in Fresh India, her follow-up to debut Made In India (both are £20 from Penguin Fig Tree). Like so many of her recipes, it fuses her Asian culinary sensibility with the raw materials she inherited when her family made their home in rural Lincolnshire.
Shredded Brussels Sprout Thoran (Choti gobhi thoran)
2 tbsp coconut oil; 1 tsp mustard seeds; 12 curry leaves; one large red onion, thinly sliced; 2 cloves garlic, crushed; 1 red chilli, finely sliced; 50g coconut, grated (fresh, creamed, or desiccated); 600g Brussels sprouts, washed and shredded; 1/2 tsp salt; 1/2 lemon, juiced.
Heat the oil in a large pan or wok. Once hot, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook for a minute or two until they start to pop. Add the red onion. Cook until soft and starting to caramelise, about 10-15 minutes. Add the garlic, chilli and coconut and stir fry for a couple more minutes.
Turn the heat up. Add the sprouts, mix thoroughly, and stir fry for a few more minutes. Add the salt and lemon juice, stir, and then adjust the seasoning to taste. The lemon juice counters any bitterness from the greens, so add more if you’ve used quite large sprouts.
Bundobust has three other bar/restaurants besides the Brewery – the original in Leeds, Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool. They are all taking Christmas bookings now.