Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Say Yes to the Dish

I definitely live by the culinary credo, if I have not had it I must try it.
I take this maxim with me every time I go to the farmer’s market, specialty food store, and especially when I am traveling.

There have been some funky foods I have consumed on some of my journeys. The fish gonads in Tokyo gave a bit of a shiver; chili and calamansi lime drenched fried pig ear in the Philippines was definitely ear, and then there was the cumin laced roasted cuy (guinea pig) that I met alive in the kitchen and then, an hour later had it sitting in front of me. I think this was the most difficult thing to get down for as an American I kept seeing its habitat with exercise wheel, now vacant. I ate it,for with enough hot sauce I can get anything down plus there is nothing more rude then refusing food a people prepare for you. That is how I felt when in Provence I went to the market loaded up on almonds, peaches, lavender, summer savory and a rabbit, head still attached. My friends that I was renting a house with were aghast, and talked of going out to dinner. I slinked into the garage with a cutting board and knife, and rendered the rabbit a more “American” market prefect. They loved the civet I made that night but I was not in love with their provincial attitude.

Heading to a farmer’s market tends to offer a slightly less exotic selection and definitely without the cringe factor. Though it does offer mysteries to be solved and the courage to take them on regardless of my security about a guaranteed outcome. Sometimes it is as simple of finding a new herb like shiso or Mexican mint, which is straightforward – like the scents then try it. The first husk tomato I peeled and popped in my mouth immediately let me know I had just met a new best friend but then I had to start playing with it. I made a rose scented jam, white chocolate breading pudding and finally, I dared, to more it to the savory side of the kitchen with a highly successful corn salad. Remember living when I lived in Sydney and would go to Paddy’s Market on a weekly hunt. It is there that I first bought and used breadfruit, and lotus seeds as well as very Asian green that market offered. There was a terrific farmer who would only sell me my week’s choice if I was able to name it and gave him a cooking idea. I learned very choy he sold, and excited with the idea of having to come up with a recipe on the spot. Just recently, I added sweet potato leaves to the myriad greens that find its self being wilted in my wok – it was a terrific revelation to find out that they were edible, and yummy.

All these experiences has made me fearless when it comes to meeting new things – some I will like; some I will reject, and others, will become oft called upon members of my repertoire. It is only through saying yes, have I been able to build a culinary palate that gives no tip to my own cultural heritage and has allowed me to find pleasure in a bowl of freshly made tofu drizzled with sweet syrup to fumy slabs of baby backs to a gently tossed bouquet of herbs, edible flowers and nascent greens.

Lavender scented Braised Rabbit – serves 4 to 6
2 rabbits – cut into quarters
1/2-cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2-tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots - diced
2 stalks celery – diced
2-teaspoons lavender - gently rubbed
1/4-teaspoon fennel seeds
1-cup rosé wine
1/2-cup crème fraiche
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix the flour with the cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Dredge the rabbit pieces in the seasoned flour, and then shake off the excess.

Heat a 10-inch skillet over a high heat, and add the oil. Brown the rabbit pieces in the pan in two to three batches. Remove the rabbit from the pan. Then into the pan add the onions and celery cooking until translucent, adding an additional tablespoon of oil if necessary.

Return the rabbit pieces back to the pan and add the lavender, fennel seeds and wine. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the flame to a simmer. Cook the rabbit, covered with a lid slightly askew, for 35 to 45 minutes. Swirl in the crème fraiche, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

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