Week Three CSA Challenge – Edible Exotica
As a parent, my best friend had to bring a culturally-significant dish to her children’s elementary school. I should mention it was a Chinese language immersion school in San Francisco and my adopted friend from Ohio was at a bit of a loss. She settled on a Jello mold with floating vegetables with a dab of mayonaise on the top. It was a food of her formative years. Rather than the ostracization she expected, her dish was a hit…with other parents inquiring about the whys and wherefores of the jiggly dessert and the cultural implications of mayonaise.
I tell you this because I too dread ostracization upon reveling the lack of “cool” exotic in my cooking.
I know exotic is a relative term. Perhaps the meat and potato upbringing of my youth in Western Pennsylvania would seem mystical to a Sherpa. But salt, pepper and some occasional crazy experimentation with garlic lacks the intrigue and seduction of saffron, wasabi and fenugreek.
In my defense, I must tell you that my eating passport is full up with stamps of exotic locales, tastes and treasures. It is my cooking passport that lacks the adventure and satisfaction of my digestive system. I have tried, but nothing I make at home seems quite to measure up. So – to my shame – I have settled for avoiding gastronomic snobbery by becoming a very good cook of less exotic, sure-fire foods like edamame hummus, pork tamales, and jambalaya. You know the “just enough to get by” school of exotic cooking.
Justifications aside, my daily menus don’t pack much exotic punch beyond what can be found in my herb garden.
So, for week three of my CSA challenge I am choosing to release my fear of personal cooking failure and dish dissatisfaction. To investigate the spices that are harder to find. To prepare dishes that I can’t be certain I will like. To go where so many others have gone before me…to expand the horizon of possible and the palatable.
This week’s CSA food-stuffs: Napa Cabbage, Snow Peas, Cilantro, Turnips, Baby turnips, Garlic Scapes
Week Three Challenge: Select, prepare and consume dishes made with at least one ingredient not currently found in my pantry.
Food for thought
– My freezer inventory continues to grow! I already have 18 servings of soups, 12 servings of sauces and 14 servings of pesto squirreled away for winter feasting.
You meet great folks and learn amazing things at the farmers’ market. And – on the whole – folks who work with vegetables and fruits understand the joys of just swapping stories and enjoying time spent together.
– Some herbs are difficult to procure and low quality or older herbs don’t deliver. If deciding to go exotic, it makes sense to find a good purveyor of fresh, top shelf spices and place an order. Most of the thrill in an exotic dish is the spice combinations. The best experience will come from the best ingredients, and if you don’t have the best spices, you really won’t be able to judge any dish fairly.
– My first herb garden harvest and final spinach harvest are complete. It feels so cool to walk out in your yard and simply pick what you need…as if that is the way you have always lived. (Apologies to farmers, but it really is a compliment. You had that one right all along.)
– I really need to learn cuts of meat and their uses…or perhaps date a butcher.
And now…THE RECIPES AND REVIEWS
The recipe: Double Garlic Soup
The exotic: Green garlic
The review: I was surprised when I got my hands on green garlic to find it sticky…almost like pine resin. But the smell was indeed sweet and young. I must say that I was pleased with this soup, but not knocked on my butt like I expected to be. The caramelized onion stood out in equal proportion to the taste of the garlic. I honestly thought that – despite ceaseless brushings and flossings – I would be fighting a well-earned garlic breath for days. You have to be a true garlic lover to know I mean that as a good thing. Anyway, a solid attempt, but I the quest continues for a good strong garlic soup and for recipes that really feature (or at least make a bigger deal) out of garlic scapes and spring garlic.
The recipe: Spicy Sweet Peanut Sauce
The exotic: Powdered organic peanut butter
The review: I changed this recipe to include my exotic, but I have been dying to try powdered peanut butter in something other than a smoothie since I got it. The result was incredibly yummy. In fact, I made a second batch for freezing. I think my substitution of powdered peanut butter for regular peanut butter may have made the mixture less emollient and more water-like in consistency, but the incredible taste made that slight loss easily borne. I heartily suggest this recipe to noodle lovers, with powered or regular PB.
The recipe: Snow Peas and Napa Cabbage Slaw
The exotic: Napa Cabbage
The review: I think any other week I would have been well pleased with this recipe. It could hold its own as a salad course. But it was a let down on a week of exotics. I would suggest it if you are looking for something light and tasty to make with Napa Cabbage, but next time I think I will opt for trying homemade spring rolls.
The recipe: Creamy curried Pear Slaw
The exotic: curry on a raw vegetable
The review: Recipe Dyslexia strikes again. I managed to pick two recipes with Napa cabbage and only had enough to make one. Since there were hungry families visitors in town, I decided to make both, but substituted red cabbage for the Napa cabbage. Like any slaw, it got better every hour it sat in the fridge, but with the blast of curry it packed, it got your attention and appreciation from the first, fresh bite. And the sweetness of the pear contrasting with the curry was delightful.
The recipe: Vegan Quinoa, Broccoli and Kale Curry
The exotic: curry and cumin
The review: When I read this recipe, I thought, “Geesh, there is a great deal going on here.” It seemed to be a recipe that was more concerned with packing on ingredients than considering their taste profile when mixed. Perhaps it was cook error, but the result fulfilled my worst expectations. It was a taste hodge podge that had an overall blandness. A real shame too, as I had so looked forward to finding a new love in the toasted quinoa (as I had never toasted it before). But if there was a unique flavor created by toasting, it was drown by an onslaught of other ingredients. As always, your results may vary and the dish wasn’t bad, it just won’t make my favorite recipe folder.
The recipe: Maple-glazed baby turnips and carrot coins
The exotic: Bacon salt
The review: I have always feared turnips. For no reason other than that they be turnips. Weird name, bland color, never the star in any dish, never in any dishes I ate. So I was really excited when baby turnips showed up for an audition. And my tuna-noodle-casserole-loving side was all excited to try this unrepentantly over-processed incarnation of bacon called bacon salt. I was not surprised to find that bacon salt was devoid of any nutritional value and that one teaspoonful of the stuff would supply 24% of your daily requirement of sodium. Still, this side dish was being cooked in the name of discovery…Sodium be damned! The dish cooked up beautifully. I was excited for my first bite. But double the speed it went into my mouth, it came right back out…while I danced around the kitchen repeatedly wiping a paper towel over my tongue and teeth to rub out the oversaturated foulness of bacon salt. Bacon salt might be a terrific idea for someone who has burned away nearly every taste bud on scalding coffee, hot sauce and Altoids. But for someone who has some taste sensitivity left, bacon salt is the devil. I poured the innocent turnips and carrots into a strainer and washed away as much of the offensive BS as possible, then returned the veggies to the pan and re-caramelized them with all ingredients except bacon salt. Let me tell you, YUMMY! Turnips are now a most desired vegetable for my crisper! And I have a fresh container of bacon salt looking for a new home if you are interested. Maybe it will bring you better luck.
The recipe: Chickpea and Turnip Stew with Ethopian Spices
The exotic: cardamom, fenugreek, and turmeric
The review: This recipe served up a spice riot! The turnips and carrots and chickpeas were more a vehicle for spice than featured vegetables. Part of this I blame on my choice of an incredibly potent Vietnamese cinnamon. Normally, I can’t get enough of the stuff. But in this case the hot sharpness of the cinnamon took over the dish. Due to this, I feel I cannot judge this recipe fairly. It was good, but the burning yum of the spices was nearly all you tasted…and tasted for about an hour afterward. I added some tzatziki and was able to cool down the dish enough for my soft palate. If you are less sensitive to spice, you might like this full strength…even with extra-strong cinnamon.
The recipe: Crockpot Cuban Pork Lettuce Wraps
The exotic: cumin
The review: As with any rubbed, slow-cooked meat and slaw recipe, the second and third days’ eating are even better than the first. But the first wasn’t too shabby. Though the lime didn’t jump forward the way I expected, this was great dinner for a large crowd. And since you don’t fill up on silly old bread, you can eat more pork! Only thing I would change would be to marinade the meat longer before cooking. The recipe suggested combining ingredients and cooking right away, or allowing them to marinade a bit. But starting the crockpot minutes after the shoulder was drenched with seasonings was a mistake. My mouth had watered thinking of all the tastes that the pork would be drenched in…but most of those succulent flavors were lost because I didn’t give them time to penetrate the meat. Still, even with user error, this was a sincere good eat!
NEXT WEEK’S CHALLENGE: Tinfoil: Not just to keep “them” out of your head!