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Marcus Samuelsson makes crunchy caramelized Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving

These Brussel sprouts are crunch, colorful, sweet, salty and delicious!
/ Source: TODAY

If you're hosting Thanksgiving dinner, you know you have to put something green on the table, but according to celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, it should be something delicious, like his caramelized Brussels sprouts. Samuelsson stopped by Al Roker's "Cooking Up a Storm with Al Roker" podcast to show him how to make a veggie side dish that's anything but sad and soggy.

The owner and chef behind Harlem's famed Red Rooster restaurant says that one of the pleasures of being an adult is knowing how to roast Brussel sprouts. He shared this revelation with Al, explaining that his Thanksgiving recipe is not only vegan, but also includes protein in the form of peanuts. But don't worry if someone has a nut allergy — Samuelsson says it's all about texture, so you can find a substitute in sunflower seeds, for example.

Listen to the "Cooking Up the Storm" podcast!

For this recipe, you'll need one pound of Brussels sprouts. Remove the outer leaves, cut off the bottoms, and slice in half. You'll need olive oil, peanuts, rosemary, maple syrup, pomegranate seeds and berbere seasoning.

Caramelized Brussels Sprouts

Samuelsson uses berbere in the recipe, an Ethiopian spice mix that he says tastes like smoked paprika and is as synonymous with the country as mole is to Mexico or pasta is to Italy.

"Everywhere in Ethiopia, this is like currency," he says of the berbere. "When you have any Ethiopian meal, you have berbere. So people sun dry it. They dry garlic. They dry ginger. They dry cardamom. And then you pound it together, and it becomes berbere. And this is so delicious."

Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia, and was raised in Sweden by an adoptive family, which contributed to his eclectic background as a chef. As he and Al work on a maple rosemary vinaigrette for the Brussels sprouts, Al pointed out what a colorful dish it is, with "the bright red of the pomegranate seeds, the green of the parsley, the brown of the peanuts, and a little bit of a tawny color from the maple syrup."

As they worked on creating this deliciousness, Samuelsson shared a little bit about what Thanksgiving means to him and how he'll be celebrating.

You have embraced all sides of your upbringing and your heritage and your cultures. Do you have a unique appreciation of Thanksgiving?

I love Thanksgiving. And I love that we come together as one to eat and celebrate. America has a rocky history, like every country. Our path wasn't linear. Our path was very complicated. But this here is a week, or a couple of days where we're going to celebrate it around food. Think about what we've all been through — and are still going through with the pandemic. It's a privilege to sit down with your family and extended family. It's a moment taking a brief pause. "Hey, I appreciate you." And it was maybe something pre-pandemic that we took for granted.

How is this Thanksgiving different for you than ones in the past?

It's totally different because I think that we all just want to put this behind us, right? But this humbles us. And we have to be restricted a little bit. And we're not used to that, especially as Americans. So it's a huge challenge for us. And I think about it as, no matter what, I'm going to be supportive of my team. And I'm going to invite in neighbors. We're going to be a community, both in my home in Harlem but also in my restaurant.

Is Red Rooster going to be open for Thanksgiving?

Definitely! We will be open, both in Miami and in Harlem.

Your son is five. Is there a family tradition of Thanksgiving that you guys do year after year?

We cook a lot and then we have a couple of people that we give out the food to in our neighborhood that are home-insecure.

You started up a Black Business Matters matching fund. Tell me about that.

A lot of people are struggling. And some people had a great idea and started a business, but the pandemic changed everything for them. We give out grants to small businesses across the country. And I don't even like the term small business because for that family it's their only business. So we gave out grants across the country to Black and brown businesses. I'm a guy that got lucky breaks on many levels, both in my personal life but also in my business life. And any time I can do that, it's one of the things that I take the most joy from actually.

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What are some of your first memories of Thanksgiving?

I have many early fond memories of Thanksgiving because when I came to this country I worked in a Swedish restaurant, Aquavit, and we were closed during Thanksgiving. A lot of cooks, they don't come from New York City. I had an apartment with less roommates than they had and a little bit more space.

So I'm like, "All right, let's host it." So we cooked up a storm. And, since people come from all over the world to work in New York City, we had Indian curry on the table. I had herring and the gravlax on Thanksgiving. The turkey was in the room, but it was way over there.

And it was just so much fun to see the team outside the restaurant. And we told stories. And we weren't even connected with how you're supposed to serve Thanksgiving because all the American guys, they were home with their families. So it's all of us immigrants and the kids who couldn't go back to their parents. And we had so much fun.

What's your favorite Thanksgiving leftover?

For me, when you cut off all the meat, you start making a broth, a really good turkey soup. That can be on Saturday, because first you've got to make a sandwich with the leftovers.

But on that Saturday, you start getting that pot going, and you just simmer. And I just put the bones in, put some onions, shallots, rosemary, even put some miso in, let that simmer. Strain that broth. And then you start to put back in your vegetables. Then you just heat up some really good ramen. And you're going have the most delicious turkey ramen dish you’ve ever had.

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity — for the full conversation, listen to "Cooking Up a Storm with Al Roker" wherever you find your podcasts.