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What to do with Seasonal and Unusual Ingredients - an occasional list

Are you like me in that you can't resist trying out new and exotic ingredients? My pantry is filled with strange, new, and novel ingredients that have peaked my curiosity and I have packets of seeds for weird vegetables that looked irresistible in the seed catalogues. I am also trying to overcome a number of food aversions that I collected in my childhood. I've been pleasantly surprised that mushrooms and corn taste good, but must admit that I still gag on silverbeet!

I strive to use lots of wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables - organic if possible and in season (not tasteless imports). My next step is to then hit the web and find out what to do with them all - I'm guessing that's why you might be here! I thought I might list some of my discoveries and ideas here in the hope that you might also be inspired to cook or grow something new.

These hints and ideas are for foods available in New Zealand. I've listed the fresh foods by season.

Winter

Tamarillos: I never used to be that keen on tamarillos, but I think this was because I thought of them as a sweet fruit and then was taken back by their sharp spiciness. This spiciness is an asset, however, if you think of tamarillos as a savoury treat, like a tomato (which they are related to). Try them as a fresh salsa to accompany cold meat - just chop them up on their own or mix with a little bit of finely grated kaffir lime zest and/or chili. They are lovely sprinkled over a salad - especially one with feta cheese and the combination makes a tasty sandwich.

Limes: in late winter, limes become cheap for a few weeks. It's worth buying a bag or two to treat yourself to an authentic margarita. I use equal quantities of lime juice, tequila, and Cointreau. Chill then serve over ice in a glass rimmed with salt. Sugar syrup is for wimps! Margaritas are a summer drink elsewhere, but I'm not willing to pay the price of imported limes in February.

Dinosaur Kale: in a leap of faith I decided to try the dreaded kale - something that I had never tried but had always classified in the same category as silverbeet and spinach. Yuck! But to my surprise, kale is nothing like silverbeet. It is easy to cook, is nutritious, and tastes delicious. It is easy to include some chopped leaves in soup (try an italian-style soup using white beans, chicken stock, and kale). Or stirfry in a little olive oil with garlic and squeeze some lemon on at the end.

Mesclun: you can pretty much grow mesclun salad mixes year round, though different greens will flourish at different times of the year. In winter, kale and mustards will do well.

Spring

Spring salads: eat ya weeds! Try including some young dandelion leaves, chickweed, and cress in your salads. You're bound to have some lurking in your garden. Don't make the mistake of waiting until the leaves get big - get them when they're young, before the plant flowers. Otherwise they will taste strong and bitter.

Mesclun: you can pretty much grow mesclun salad mixes year round, though different greens will flourish at different times of the year. In spring the lettuces will come away much faster than in winter. Herbs such as sorrel and chervil will also liven up a salad.

What can I do with this ingredient?

Orange-flower or Orange-blossom water: if you love the smell of citrus trees in flower then you will love this stuff! I bought a bottle on a whim because I vaguely remembered a recipe I wanted to try that used it. I haven't found the recipe, but I have been finding lots of uses for orange-blossom water. Number 1 use: sniffing it (yum!!!). So far I've added it to a chocolate-marmalade cake, Moroccan almond biscotti, couscous, and this year's Christmas cake.

 

 

 


Judi Lapsley Miller
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