Seared Brussels Sprouts with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

The idea was to come up with a side dish for Thanksgiving.  But after much soul searching and a brainstorming session based on What do you do with Brussels sprouts? we decided that the world wasn’t crying out for another version of brussels sprouts with bacon.

You’re welcome.

Instead we’re offering Seared Brussels Sprouts with Vietnamese Dipping Sauce.  People who do not love Brussels sprouts (me) love these.  Here’s the deal: you can dress the brussels sprouts with the dipping sauce and serve them as a fancy side dish, as in the photo above; or you can pitch Thanksgiving to the wind, admit that these are too good to eclipse in a wasteland of dry turkey and partisan bickering about the last election, and just make them for a few good friends as a treat.  Four people will rip through a pound of these no problem.  Plus, you’re going to end up with a sauce that will instantly become a permanent member of your culinary repertoire.

Just about everyone who takes photographs of food, or is a devotee of authenticity in rare, off the edge of the map culinary treats (flatbreads by nomadic pastoralists, anyone?) eventually stumbles across the work of the former husband and wife team Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.  My own response to their work alternates between awe and despair.   I will almost certainly never visit the villages on Mekong tributaries to write about their food, let alone take photographs like theirs.  Beginning with their first book, FLATBREADS AND FLAVORS: A baker’s atlas, they set a standard for adventure-food writing and photography that, in my opinion, stands unequalled.  As a parent, I’m also impressed that they did it–at least with their first books–while travelling to remote parts of the globe with two young children.  I cannot offer enough praise for the writing and photography of these books.  While the recipes may sometimes be intimidating (Where’s the nearest source for Thai eggplant?), the photographs always stop me in my tracks, as I ask myself How did she get that shot?  And in such low light?

 The dipping sauce in today’s post is inspired by a similar one in their book HOT SOUR SALTY SWEET: A culinary journey through Southeast Asia. They refer to it as their “everything sauce,” as in, you put it on everything.  They’re right.  Don’t whine about the list of ingredients–just make it.  Enjoy.  Ken

Photography Note:  Few foods seems to alter their color when shifted from natural to artificial light as much as Brussels sprouts.  All of the kitchen shots were done under artificial light.  The green of the latter (cooked, shot under artificial light) seems “minty-er” to me. I’m sure my Lightroom or Photoshop skills will eventually improve enough to reconcile the gulf between the shade of the raw ingredients shot with natural lighting and the shade of the finished dish.  In the meantime, you’ll just have to marvel–those cooked brussels sprouts sure do look green!

Seared Brussels Sprouts with

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce

Dipping Sauce Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup coconut water
  • 2 tablespoons Garum or Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice  vinegar
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • ¼ cup carrot peeled and grated on a fine grater
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons palm or turbinado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 Serrano pepper, thinly sliced and seeds removed

Sprout Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts.
  • 3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds


  1. Put all of the dipping sauce ingredients together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Simmer 1 minute and then remove from the heat.  Allow to cool.   Transfer to a jar with a tight lid.  Set aside while you cook the sprouts.
  2. Trim the bottoms of the sprouts and peel off any tough outer leaves. Cut each sprout in half lengthwise through the root.
  3. Heat the peanut or vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sprouts, cut side down, cover, and cook 4 or minutes until browned.  If the sprouts seem to be darkening too quickly, reduce the heat.  Flip and cook on the second side until browned and tender. Season with salt and pepper.  Transfer to a bowl.  Give the vinaigrette a shake and dress the sprouts – you probably won’t need all of the vinaigrette.  Add the cilantro and sesame seeds and toss well.   Serve, with extra sauce on the side if you like.

Jody Notes:  

Like most people, I learned to love Brussels sprouts through bacon.  As a young line cook at Seasons under Lydia Shire I was responsible for making a luxurious medley of roasted sprouts, bacon, shallots, parmesan cheese and heavy cream.  I made pans and pans of them and must have put on 10 pounds that season.  It’s still a favorite recipe for young cooks – their bodies can take it – but these days, much as I love them this way,  I only eat a few.  

The chefs were tossing around ideas for Brussels sprouts at a menu meeting at Trade a few weeks ago.    Last year they served them with Romesco sauce.  It was a huge hit.   They wanted something different.  I believe it was Juan who hit on the idea of using this Southeast Asian-style sauce.   Andrew added some okra to the dish.  I’m not sure if you would find roasted Brussels sprouts and okra in Vietnam with this sauce, but it absolutely works.  The sweet, sour, spice of it is a great counter to the earthy funky flavor of Brussels sprouts and the brininess of okra.   It’s fabulous.  Indeed it’s a sauce you can eat on anything… even those dreaded sprouts.  

I lifted their idea and created this recipe (with a little help from Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid) to which, of course, I had to add Garum.   I’ve added the toasted sesame seeds and cilantro to this recipe as well.

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44 thoughts

  1. Brussels Sprouts with bacon. Huh? Never had it.

    Here at Bistro 4 (as we jokingly call our house) sprouts are roasted with a dab of olive oil and whatever herbs happen to be lurking in the fridge.

    So, would this recipe work equally well with oven-roasted sprouts?

    • Funny you should mention that. We tore through the first batch of sprouts the same day we made them, leaving us with a extra dipping sauce. Two nights ago I was shopping, saw some Brussels sprouts, and bought a pound. I roasted them while doing other things. They were fine with the sauce. The one thing I’ll say about roasting them is that you might want to use a bit more evoo than usual – they really soak it up, and they can dry on the outside if you’re not careful. In any event they were still delicious with the dipping sauce. Ken

  2. We seem to be ‘in tune’ again as I was thinking about an Indian sprout curry (don’t laugh) i may post in a few weeks. I will reveal more when I post it…watch this space. Anyway your recipe looks temptingly delicious – you had me at Vietnamese to be honest ;o) I like the fact that you have put coconut water in the dressing, I hadn’t thought about adding that to an Asian dressing before. best Torie

  3. Yum. We’re big brussels spout fans here and rely far too often on the terrific Silver Palate recipe in which they are steamed and tossed with a maple syrup and hazelnut oil vinaigrette. The problem is that when I trot them out for holidays, they don’t seem as special because we’ve already eaten them too often. Looks like you’ve given me a great new twist on brussels sprouts so I can be a stodgy traditionalist at holidays and revel in the ethnic version the rest of the time. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Alison. If you respond anything like we did, I can bet the house that you make the sauce again, even when Brussels sprouts are out of season. I’m already thinking of this in terms of a Vietnamese take on a cold French green beans, with tuna, hb eggs, etc. Have a great Thanksgiving! Ken

  4. In the photo of the vinaigrette on the stove, the chiles aren’t seeded. The directions call for seeding the chiles. Were you looking for a spicy result? This recipe is splendid, by the way.

    • Hi, Lewis–Acute observation, as always. We made two versions of the sauce–the photo is of the second, which Jody made with unseeded peppers. We liked the latter, but decided right out of the gate maybe we’d better recommend the former. For you, go with the unseeded. Ken

  5. I enjoyed the b-sprouts w/Okra at Trade last week — AWESOME!! I didn’t really pay attention to the description on the menu and just asked for “those great brussel sprouts” was fully expecting the prior version (w/ Romesco sauce, I believe you said, Jody). Lo and behold, these were so good we ordered a second round! Thanx.

    • You can, of course, include okra in your own version; we wanted to keep things as simple as possible, and since the sauce has a fair number of ingredients already…
      There are a few differences between this sauce and the one at TRADE, but they’re close enough that if you like one you’re guaranteed to like the other. We used it for breakfast this morning. Ken

  6. I, too, love all the Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid books and despaired when I learned they’d split up. (Why? I dunno. Certainly isn’t as if I knew them!) Just bought her Burma book and can’t wait to cook through it. This Brussels sprout lover thinks that these look especially divine!

    • Hello, Urvashi–I’m glad you discovered us, and like the brussels sprouts. I think the sauce is about to become one of those unusual condiments, like dukkah, that we always have around. This morning Jody had it for breakfast, over leftover pumpkin risotto with avocado, tomatoes and a soft-boiled egg. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

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  9. I have to thank Chili & mint for sending me to your page –started to read her post thinking it was sprouted stuff, realized not & stayed on.. love your recipe, I was reminded of mine I make slightly differently..

    • Thanks for stopping by. I’m gradually being lured into Indian food at the urging of people like Torie of Chili and Mint, as well as other Indian bloggers commenting on posts. We haven’t done a lot of “sprouted” recipes yet, but you can never tell… Ken

  10. No surprise to hear you are alford/duguid fans. I have several books of theirs though I haven’t used them as much as I should. But I love them, so hopefully soon! Happy Thanskgiving, and thanks for highlighting this recipe for us!

    • Their recipes can be a challenge–they’re sticklers for authenticity. But, someday, somebody from Southeast Asia will look at their books and say, “This is how our elders used to cook, exactly.” Naomi is now leading culinary/photography tours to Burma… sigh… Ken

  11. A multi-generational Thanksgiving hit, so thanks! Especially liked how the sauce made friends with other stuff on the plate. Now what to do with the bacon?

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  13. Pingback: Brussels sprouts should come with a health warning’, say doctors after man admitted to hospital « just telling it as it is

    • That same could be said for any leafy green vegetable, if you’re taking anticoagulants. If you’re taking a blood thinner, then your doctor has (or should have) probably advised you about consuming large quantities of leafy greens since they decrease the efficacy of your medication. Thanks for the pingback. Ken

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