A perfect sea urchin

The Pantry Corner

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No Food Ruts for Me

I am fighting that food rut with all my might. Here it is deep winter, and I've got salad made for next week's Shabbos. This recipe gave me the inspiration, but I made it into a main course. I added half a pound of cooked kidney beans that took all of forty-five minutes. I also added one peeled and julienned (sort of) jicama, and a raddichio, and substituted curly parsley for the flat kind, and I left out the scallions. They are expensive, and I didn't really need them. I also expanded the number of oranges from five to seven and made a dressing from soybean oil and lime juice. You don't really need olive oil if you use a good seasoning mixture like McCormack's Perfect Pinch. The reason for extending the recipe is I wanted to use a whole can of anchovies. The recipe worked, at least my extended version. I just have to make pareve corn bread tomorrow to go with the salad. I even managed to peel the jicama with a knife. I rescued the poor root from the top of the fridge just as it was starting to go bad. I should learn how to store those things better.

The recipe worked, no questions asked, and yes a citrus salad feels perfect for the dead of winter. Your DeKalb Farmer's Market even had the perfect oranges, Hamlins. These are yellow fleshed oranges that are excellent for cooking. By cooking of course, I mean salads. They are not too sweet, but that is a plus. They have enough flavor to add a bright citrus touch to cole slaw and also to kidney bean and anchovy salad.

Now ask me the sixty thousand dollar question. You know I have cats, but my cats are weird. Lysistrata ate one and a half anchovies. This is Lyistrata who won't eat sardines or will barely oblige me. Hertzel has no interest in any canned fish. Go figure.

My favorite oranges for eating out of hand are satsuma mandarins or blood oranges. The blood orange season is just starting. I'm still buying mandarins. I don't know if oranges really prevent colds, but they are often just the thing when winter turns the air both inside and out desert dry. One of the thing that has gotten me through three days of being in a shut down city is a full supply of apples and oranges. I have Cortland and Stayman apples and those Satsuma Mandarins and just in case I really lose it, there are calmyrna figs. In case of emergency, break glass.

And for those of you curious about the beet salad, it left my hands purple and stained the work board, and then cleaned up. Beets are actually easier to grate than carrots, but I think that is because I hand pick the beets from the bin, and the only beet I buy is hard as a rock. That means the beets are much fresher than the typical carrot. One day I am going to try the grated rutabega salad. There is a small group of us who make rutabega salad. I usually make it with blanched pieces, but most folks grate their rutabega for this dish, and yes it includes oranges but you could make it with canned apricots, golden raisins, peppers from a jar, sweet banana pepper pickles etc... Why not?

Eileen H. Kramer -- January 12, 2011

While I Wait for the Beets

Everyone says grated beet salad is difficult to make and nearly impossible, even though there is a sort of recipe for it on the Atlantic. The truth is that it is messy, but beets are not that hard to grate, and the purple juice washes off with soap and water. There is just something scarey about a vegetable that bleeds. On the other hand, a sweet and sour grated salad is just the right thing to chase away the winter blues.

The beets of course get me thinking, so too does a trip to the convenience store, any convenience store. I'm not going to pick on QuikTrip. Actually, I am, but not in this post. What would a world look like if people really liked vegetables. First, there's the issue of vegetable economics. For a home cook, vegetables are relatively cheap, well not all of them. If you insist on out of season delicacies, or buying an item when there has been a crop failure, you will pay through the nose. Right now, string beans are a case in point. Every time it turns bitterly cold on the East Coast, the price of string beans, which come from Florida, shoots through the roof, as they are decimated. Fresh tomatoes, good, bad, or indifferent, are another high priced winter delicacy. On the other hand, carrots, beets, rutabega, turnips etc... are all reasonable enough. Canned tomato products or even dried tomatoes won't break your bank. You need a good green grocer, or supermarket, one that knows how to buy produce. That should be telling you something right there, and yes, you are going to be cutting, peeling, chopping, blanching, grating, and suateeing, but so what. You would have pans to clean up if you made hamburger helper.

Vegetables suffer from diseconomies of scale. They taste best when cooked from fresh, but that takes work. It does not take that much work when you have to clean up the kitchen anyway, and quantities are not that huge, but McDonalds, QuikTrip, Friendly's, etc... would all take a huge financial hit, but let's suppose people wanted vegetables anyway, and were willing, at least some of the time to make due with a frozen or pre-cut product. What would the world look like? Well, you'd walk into QuikTrip and on the menu wouild be your scrambled egg on a biscuit, but one of the choices would be scrambled egg and string beans, or scrambled egg with carrots and onions, or scrambled egg with peppers and olives. Pepper and egg (pepper is roasted or fried from a jar and the egg is hard boiled) or pepper egg and olive sandwiches and raps would grace restaurant menus. There would be pole beans in red sauce as a side dish instead of french fries. There might be string beans and black eyed peas. There would be a veg-all filled stromboli hot from the oven. Mixed vegetables taste good on bread. There might be vegetable stew for lunch, chicken broth full of.... There might be turnips and carrots instead of french fries (These are best sauteed or roasted with the lid on.) Rutabega salad would be common in the winter, so too would beet salad be. Somewhere some poor soul would have to put rutabega that he/she had just peeled into a shredder. This is the same poor soul who might have operated a deep fryer in our world. You get the idea.

I can conceive of this more easily with fruits. Picture baskets of apples labeled by variety and not just red delicious or granny smiths. Ditto for pears. Citrus is more of a problem, but there are varieties that peel easily, and establishments can give away peel and core bags or recepticles, just as they offer cups for fountain drinks. Is it doable? Cornell University has its own orchards and serves a variety of apples at every meal. Clark University in Worcester, Massachussetts had excellent apples. College cafeterias can do it, so it is possible for other institutional places at least to have decent fresh fruit for eating out of hand.

Again, demand probably could drive supply, but we've got a renormed public that is just not the kind of fans that would ask for roast rutabega, pickled beets, string beans in red sauce. If you want that kind of stuff, you just cook and eat at home.

Eileen H. Kramer -- January 5, 2011