Sesame Mirin Brussel Sprouts

Saturday, March 31, 2012



My sister and I both had Cabbage Patch kids when we were girls. Hers was named Carolyn Tay, and I remember straw blonde hair topped her soft head and blue eyes pierced her round face. And though I loved my doll, I don’t remember her well. She may have had brown hair and brown eyes, with a green signature of Xavier Roberts on her fleshy bottom. I do remember the green signature.

Growing up the daughters of Indian immigrants in Southern California during the eighties meant that there were no dolls that looked like us. It was okay because we did have lots of family and family friends who shared our darker skin and brown hair. I know we had normal self-images, but that did not mean that we did not want to look like everyone else.

I remember my sister’s doll so well because the blonde hair, blue eye combination was the idealized look for where we grew up, the one that belonged to the It girl on the bad sitcoms we watched and the popular girls in our school. Her doll was a reminder of what we did not have, and yet at the same time allowed us to be closer to the unattainable. She lived with us and partook in our foreign rituals, her presence somehow neutralizing the effect of burning incense, Hindi songs, and eating with our hands. We were the Other, and Carolyn Tay was not. We ate aloo gobi and Carolyn Tay ate boiled brussel sprouts.

The strange thing is that I don’t remember ever wanting to be like our Cabbage Patch kids. Brussel sprouts weren’t alluring enough to me, my only experience being the sad stereotype of parents forcing their children to finish the bland, bitter vegetable. What I wanted was to be Korean. I fantasized that life would be easier being Asian, not the Asian I was, but the other Asian. Another Other. The appeal is obvious to me now, but it wasn’t to my seven-year-old self. There is a weight being a member of your own group that does not exist when you look from the outside in. With your own, the good and the bad have equal footing, but with the other, you can glamorize the good and ignore the bad.

I know when I was young, I inherently liked being different, just not that different. And I thought that being Korean was closer to being like Carolyn Tay than being like me.
Sesame Mirin Brussel Sprouts
This is my favorite way to cook brussel sprouts. They are not as pretty as halved or whole brussel sprouts, but they are much faster to cook and caramelize beautifully. The Mirin makes them slightly sweet, playing off the spiciness of the chile flakes and the flavor of the vegetable itself. These pair really well with a rich, cream-based dish like macaroni and cheese.

1 pound brussel sprouts
2 tablespoons Mirin (Japanese rice wine) or regular white wine
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
2 teaspoons raw sesame seeds
large pinch of red chile flakes
salt to taste (about ½ teaspoon to start)

Destem and remove any discolored outer layers. Cut brussel sprouts by first halving them and turning them cut-side down. Slice into ¼ inch strips on the short-side.

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add garlic cloves, chile flakes and sesame seeds until the sesame seeds to start to brown lightly. About a minute or two.

Add sliced brussel sprouts. Saute until brussel sprouts start to wilt and brown in spots, about 3-5 minutes. Salt.

Add Mirin to deglaze pan and help add moisture to sprouts. Cook another 5 minutes until tender. If the sprouts are sticking or browning too fast, add a tablespoon or two of water. Taste and more salt if necessary.

Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Serves 4


Comments (4)


  1. david metzger says:

    kav, what a beautiful corner this month. I too have deep cabbage patch doll memories. We all had one and my mom even made clothes for them :) ah, to be young again

  2. mom says:

    who was carolyn tay

  3. roberta says:

    Great story and the recipe looks good too! Im going to try this. I need more ways to cook brussel sprouts. I love the shredded look too.

    I know what you mean about the blond/blue thing. It’s always bugged me that the brunette is portrayed as studious, nerdy, while the blond “has fun”. Unless their latina, then they are “hot and feisty”. Stereotypes….

  4. Heidi says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. And I love your blog.

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