Monday, February 1, 2010

a contradictory combination

Here are two recipes I chose for my February Gourmet, Unbound submission. Both are from a menu of Algerian dishes put together by Farid Zadi for the February 2008 issue.

So the two recipes--Braised Turnips with Poppy Seed Bread Crumbs, and Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing--are meant to be eaten together, yet I'm calling them a contradictory combination. That's not because of the flavors or textures--the two dishes are a great balance to each other in that sense--but because of timing. The salad really needs to be made way ahead, but the turnips are best right away. (Actually, come to think of it, that makes them a convenient combination for busy parents, since you don't have to do all the cooking at once.)

The turnip recipe needs a little tweaking, I think. First, there is just no way you need a cup and a half of braising liquid (I'd say a scant half-cup should do it). Second, the turnips really don't need to cook for a full hour. Mine were done after half an hour--then I started trying to boil down the excess liquid, realized it would take forever and result in overcooked turnips, and finally just fished the turnips out of the broth, tragically leaving all that delicious butter behind. There's got to be a better way. So I'm just going to link to the original recipe for now; I'll post it in full once I've made it my own.

Ignoring my quibbles with the method, the result is fantastic. The turnips end up meltingly soft, but retain just enough of their mustard-y bite. Some of the bread crumbs fall down into the braising liquid on your serving platter and get pleasantly soggy, while others perch on top of the turnips and stay delicately crisp--the combination is just perfect. (And it's this combination that doesn't keep--the leftovers are tasty, but the contrast of textures is lost.) The poppy seeds are, surprisingly, a key element of the dish, adding a nice nutty flavor--but I recommend that you go out and buy some fresh ones; admit it, your current stash has been hanging around your spice cabinet since 2003.

On to the salad. I've been looking for winter salads--something crisp and astringent to pair with those soft, long-cooked winter main dishes. And this one is definitely a good option. With one caveat. The original recipe says to refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend, but I found that even after an hour or so the fennel was overpowering and the rest of the salad was kind of blah. But after sitting overnight--oh my goodness. The dressing made things all briny and savory, and the fennel retreated to become a grace note rather than a bazooka (yeah, yeah, mixed metaphors--so sue me). I've made a couple modifications to the original recipe, so my version appears below.

Fennel and Carrot Slaw with Olive Dressing
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2008

If you can't find fennel, I think this recipe would also be great with cabbage or grated radishes in place of the fennel, or even carrots alone. 

Juice of half a lemon
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon dried Aleppo chile or Espelette pepper flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
5 carrots
1/4 cup Spanish green olives
2 Tbsp finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Place the first five ingredients--lemon juice through salt--in a medium serving bowl.

Chop enough fennel fronds to measure 3 tablespoons and reserve. Discard remaining fronds and stalks. Quarter the fennel bulb and cut each quarter into very thin crosswise slices. Peel and grate the carrots. Remove the pits from the olives (if necessary) and finely chop.

In the bowl, whisk together the dressing. Add the fennel fronds, fennel, carrots, olives, tomatoes, and parsley. Fold together to combine thoroughly. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight to let the flavors blend.

Makes 5 servings.

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