May 13, 2010

Jicama and Asparagus Spring Salad

I made this salad the other day, and for the first time discovered what makes jicama so very special... its sugar! Combining the sweet jicama with sour lime juice and lightly steamed fresh asparagus and bok choi, the salad made for a great side dish for dinner on a warm spring day. 

It's always fun to mix local and unlocal produce at this time of year when you're still waiting for the first peas and broad beans to come up. Because Jicama is definitely imported, I'll only have it once in a while, and for this reason, this was the first time I've managed to use it in the way it's intended- freshly. Previously, my only introduction to the root vegetable had been through seeing it cooked in the traditional Northern style (boiled, steamed), as a substitute for turnip or similar.

If you're going to invite a new vegetable around for dinner it's always best to know it's likes and dislikes, right?  In many countries where Jicama is grown you'll find it mainly used in fruit salads and in other dishes with a refreshing, pick-me-up nature - a great use for a starchy root vegetable with high amounts of fructose.

Jicama is a root tuber that is generally grown in tropical climates, although with a good greenhouse and a mild climate I don't see why you couldn't grow it in parts of this country and in Europe too (however it's good to keep in mind that only the root is edible- the rest is actually poisonous!). Jicama looks similar to a yam with it's very white interior and brown, paper-like skin, however it has a unique, crisp texture as it's made up of 90% water- similar to cucumber. It might be worth trying to squeeze out some of this water through a cheesecloth some time...who knows, it might even make a refreshing summer drink.

Jicama and Asparagus Spring Salad

2 green onions (scallions) sliced finely and soaked in cider or white wine vinegar to cover
3/4 of 1 jicama, peeled and cut into roughly 1.5"x1.5" strips, then thinly sliced
handful of fresh asparagus, cut into 2" long pieces
1 'head' of bok choi, washed and leaves and stems separated- stems cut in bite-size pieces
5-6 green/filled olives cut into quarters
pinch salt
juice of 1 lime
small handful of cilantro leaves- a few stems are okay too, roughly chopped

Place the sliced jicama in a mixing bowl with the lime juice. Drain the green onions after they've been soaking for a few minutes in the vinegar and add to the jicama along with the pinch of salt. Stir to coat all the jicama slices in the lime juice. Add the chopped olives.

Boil water in a pan and add the asparagus to cook until just tender. Have some ice and water (mostly water) ready in a bowl. When the asparagus is just cooked remove and plunge into the ice water to preserve it's great colour. Do the same with the bok choi starting with the stems followed by the green leafy tops.  Remove from the ice water using a sieve or slotted spoon and add to the salad. Add the roughly chopped cilantro leaves, toss to coat and serve.

May 8, 2010

GF Chocolate Clafoutis with Pears poached in Red Wine

As presented at the Choices gluten-free health fair today.

This recipe is adapted from the book Green & Black's Chocolate Recipes - a great source of decadent recipes and an endless source of inspiration. Now gluten-free, you can take this dessert to dinner parties with friends, or keep it simple, even skip the wine, and serve it up to your family after a feast. The individual portions are mostly pear, so it's a deceptively light dessert. Glam it up by serving with a port or fortified wine, or dress it down by using really ripe pears and skipping the wine and poaching stage for an even easier dessert.

Enjoy :)

Serves 6

Use a 9” cake pan, tart or quiche dish
Need: 4 mixing bowls (2 must be heatproof)

3 pears (just ripe), peeled [the pears can be poached in red wine the day before and chilled]
1/2 bottle red wine* (reserve wine after boiling the pears to make mulled wine-see below)
Juice of half a lemon (organic, unwaxed)
2/3 cup cane sugar

1/8 cup +1 tbsp unsalted butter (1/4 cup plus 1 heaped tbsp)
50-60g (half a large bar) good quality** dark chocolate at least 60% cocoa solids (100g)

1/4 cup rice flour (1/2 cup)
2 tbsps tapioca starch (4tbsps)
2 tbsps potato starch (4 tbsps)
1/4 cup (rounded- not levelled off) of ground almonds (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup icing sugar (1 cup)
pinch fine sea salt
1/2 tsp gf baking powder (1 tsp)

2 large eggs, separated (use only one of the egg whites, save the other for an omelette…or pancakes) (3 eggs – beat only 2 egg whites)
1/3 cup full fat milk, but 2% also fine (2/3 cup milk or milk substitute (rice or almond milk)

Fit the peeled pears, stems still on, snugly into a pot with the lemon juice, sugar, and red wine. Bring slowly to a boil, so as not to scorch the bottom, and gently simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and put the pan to one side, letting the pears cool down in the liquid for another hour.

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl (stainless steel is perfect) in the oven on very low heat (150°F). In a separate heatproof bowl do the same with the butter. When melted, brush some of the butter over the inside of your baking/serving dish and keep the rest to the side.

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C

Slice the pears vertically and remove the core and stem- a melon-baller is the perfect tool for coring.

Place all the dry ingredients except for the almonds into a bowl along with the icing sugar and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the milk until frothy, then whisk in the melted butter and chocolate. Sift in the dry ingredients and gently fold them in, followed by the ground almonds.

Beat the egg white(s) and add just a little to the chocolate mixture to help loosen it, and then very gently fold in the rest of the egg white- this will be just enough to keep the final clafoutis from becoming too firm.

Contrary to what you’d do in a glutinous clafoutis, place the pear halves in the baking pan first, either with the cut half down in the pan, or alternate the halves facing up and down. Then pour the batter between and around the pears, leaving the pears peaking through. Bake for 16-18 minutes. Keep a watchful eye as this dessert can take only 15 minutes in a convection oven, and 20 minutes in an older oven. This dessert is meant to be luscious and a little gooey- a toothpick inserted in the cake should not come out clean. For a dish awash with chocolate, sprinkle cocoa over the top just before serving.


*The red wine adds lots of flavour and complexity, but if you’re in a rush and don’t have any wine on hand, here is an alternative:

Peel 3 ripe (but not overly ripe) pears, leaving stems on. Make a spicy syrup by adding to a saucepan 2/3 cup cane sugar, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 whole cloves, a small (4”) cinnamon stick, 2 cardamom pods-crushed. Add the pears and slowly bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from liquid and allow to cool before slicing and coring as above.

**Recommended brands of chocolate:
I recommend buying fair trade chocolate like Cocoa Camino bittersweet, and the non-fair trade but high quality commercial varieties such as Lindt 70% and Valrhona chocolate- harder to find but is guaranteed high quality and high ethics.

Idea: Save the red wine and make into mulled red wine by adding a lemon peel (rind only), a couple cloves and a cinnamon stick- simmer lightly for an hour. It’s quite the treat on a cool, spring day and can always be served along side the Clafoutis as a spicy aperitif.