By Linda Bassett
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Here in New England, we’re harvesting summer vegetables. Yes, that short growing season!
Tomatoes are at their peak, juicy and delicious. So are cucumbers and eggplant and zucchini. In fact, last week I saw farmers giving away overgrown zucchini for 50 cents each. These were not delicate little things but more like small canoes, large enough to feed a family of six with leftovers. A cook could easily split them in half lengthwise, scoop out and discard all the seeds, then scoop out most of the pulp, leaving a nice shell. Sauté up the pulp in a skillet coated with olive or canola, then add a variety of ground meats and vegetables and herbs or spices — tomato, bell pepper, onion, garlic, ground beef or chicken or pork or sausage, oregano, mint, basil, cilantro — and stuff the canoe with the cooked mixture. Top the whole thing with a favorite cheese or two or three — extra cheese, please! — and stick it in the oven until the cheese is nice and melty and everything is hot and cooked through. No measurements necessary for something like this. It’s put together your favorites, fill up the boat, and cook until done. It always turns out delicious.
That aside, let me tell you what happens to me at a farm stand or farmers market at this time of year. I fall under the spell of beautiful vegetables and buy them without any idea of what to do with them. A few weeks ago, I saw bouquets — yes, bouquets! — of radishes, looking as beautiful as roses. I also saw fennel with fat bulbs, tall stalks, and masses of feathery fronds. Bought both and left them in the vegetable drawer until they frizzled away to nothing but wrinkles and green mush. And I was out the money.
Last week, again, those same vegetables sang their siren song. The radishes, big, fat, unblemished red globes, not those emaciated looking things you find midwinter in the supermarket, all denuded of their leaves and stems. The fennel looked enticing under its feathery tiara. Overcome with weakness at their beauty, I bought them, but this time with purpose. I was going to make something of them.
So, trimmed and still beautiful, in a frosty glass bowl, I dipped radishes in salt and munched as snacks. Low-cal, but was all that salt good? Or, English-style, I could snack on them, slathering each one in soft, sweet butter, which may as well be applied directly to hips.
I decided I needed to do something else.
The fennel got the same promise. Use it, or else! (I didn’t want to waste it, so I cut off and froze the fronds and the stems.) The neat thing about fennel is that you can add it to green salads, very thinly sliced, and everyone thinks its celery until they take a cool licorice-y bite of it.
So, in this sultry end-of-summer heat, I came up with a few recipes: One a blend of Mexican spices for the radishes; one a cooling Mediterranean-type salad, with some citrus and salty bits added. And finally, a twist on traditional raita, used with spicy curried dishes to cool off the tongue. Well, I wasn’t making curry, but the raita is great as a dip or a spread or with grilled meats. And the Mexican-accented radishes were a great taco topping.
MEXICAN RADISH SALAD
Makes 4 servings
16 good-size radishes, sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Salt, pepper, to taste
1. Toss radishes with salt. Set aside in a strainer for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse and drain.
2. Whisk together the juices, olive oil, and cilantro leaves in a bowl. Add the radishes and toss. Serve right away or refrigerate for an hour before serving.
FENNEL, ORANGE AND RADISH SALAD
Makes 4 servings
4 seedless oranges, peeled and segmented
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced
8 radishes, sliced
1/2 red onion, sliced
16 brined black or brown olives, pitted, and cut into halves
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
A few leaves fresh oregano, minced
1. Peel the orange, using a sharp paring knife and catching the juice in a bowl. Remove the segments and cut them into large chunks.
2. Place the fennel, radishes, and onion in a bowl and toss together. Add the orange segments and the olives, tossing gently.
3. Whisk together oil and lemon juice and oregano. Add a small amount of the reserved orange juice. Toss with the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste.
RADISH & CUCUMBER RAITA
Makes 4 servings
Traditionally raita is made with yogurt, cucumber and spices. This one takes the leap of adding radish to the mix. Fennel will work, too. Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped fennel to this for another twist.
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch salt and ground black pepper
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, drained, and diced
6 large radishes, diced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1. Whisk the yogurt together with the sugar, cumin, salt and pepper.
2. Gently stir in the cucumber, radishes and mint leaves.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.
Kitchen Call: Pretty vegetables yes, but practical?
By Linda Bassett