Get Cooking: Testing a few food “rules”

We have all learned how to prepare our cooking ingredients to maximize their flavors. For example, peel some vegetables (onions, for example, or rutabaga) because the skins are tough, bitter, or unnecessary, but you can leave some vegetables partially peeled or unpeeled (some potatoes, for example, or Persian cucumbers ).

Some rules I never question; they have an eminent meaning or have proven powerfully true. “Refresh your dried herbs and spices at least every two years,” is one. (I’m opting for even less time.) Or “Don’t store or keep fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator,” another. (This irreparably destroys their flavor.)

However, thinking about it, I wanted to test other imperatives such as “Always remove the green shoots inside the garlic cloves as they are bitter”. Or, “Never include the white pith when zesting or peeling citrus fruits because the pith is astringent.”

But aren’t those cute little green garlic clove centers just new growth? And aren’t new growth almost always tender and sweet? And, for my part, I’m still unable to precisely or completely separate the rind from the skin of a lemon or lime, but I don’t seem to feel any astringency or bitterness in it. (I have a friend who loves to eat a whole lemon, although he spits out the seeds.)

So I decided to test these principles and share the results.

I removed the green sprouting parts from 10 garlic cloves, chopped them, then also chopped an equal amount of the cleaned ivory flesh. I tasted and swallowed 1/2 teaspoon portions of both raw, swallowing expressly to test the bitterness and “heat” of raw garlic. (Don’t try this at home, ha.) Also, I cooked portions of both in a film of extra virgin olive oil.

What did I discover, at least this time?

That the little green sprouts had much less “fire” or flavor (but also no noticeable bitterness) than clean garlic flesh, which when raw was extremely “hot” and full of flavor. And that when sautéed soft and golden, both were “sweet” and nutty, the regular garlic flesh even more so.

About at least the green sprouts, quite the way you’d suppose growing baby vegetables to be.

Lo, the pith of the common lemon is surprisingly flavorless, or at least I’ve found it that way on repeated chomps. I look forward to more taste tests on my next lime, orange, tangerine or grapefruit. Perhaps the pith of the pomelo will bring me bitterness, its thickness the most bewildering deflecting shield in the citrus world.

Three years ago a friend gave me dried sage from a trip to Greece. It was many shades less aromatic and flavorful than some sage leaves I had dried from my herb garden last summer. No surprise there, and who knows how long before the Greeks had dried theirs?

Carrot skins, on the whole, have a “hard” taste: neither bitter nor carrot-sweet; if rubbed well, it does not taste dirty, but a little more “earthy” than it is pleasant. I was surprised, discouraged, to tell the truth, to want to keep the peelings in the kitchen from time to time. But I think I will peel all the carrots from now on, for any food whatsoever.

Did you know that the flesh of the daikon (Japanese radish) is more “pungent” and more strongly flavored at the upper end than that of the middle part or even more than that of the tip? The flesh of the tip is almost tasteless. The same is true for another root vegetable, the carrot, even if we gladly replace “tasteless” with “sweeter”.

Logical, isn’t it? The last growth, the less developed and the more tender, is at the extremity in the circumstances of the two vegetables; the longest, potentially gnarliest, at the upper end, closest to topsoil and the sun.

A Southwestern Foods cookery teacher once told me that no, chili seeds weren’t their hottest side; the “veins” were those whitish “ribs” that ran along the interior walls.

Indeed, here is a kind of Scoville scale on a raw jalapeño and a raw Fresno pepper: of the three parts of the pepper – the flesh, with the skin on but deveined; small seeds alone; and the stripped veins alone – the flesh is the least hot (if one can say that of a jalapeño or a Fresno), the seeds come next and the most fiery, the veins.

Now it hurts.

Any other “food rules” I could test for you? Email me at [email protected]


Vietnamese carrot and Daikon pickle

Enough to fill a 1 liter jar.

Ingredients

  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, peeled
  • 1 medium daikon radish, peeled
  • 1/3 cup white cane sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar (or 4 tablespoons distilled white vinegar)

directions

Cut the carrots and daikon into about 2 cups each of 1/8 inch by 3 inch julienned sticks or “sticks”, 4 cups total. (Use a mandoline such as the Beriner brand or thinly slice into strips, stack the strips and cut into sticks.)

Toss the vegetables with the sugar and salt in a large bowl, massaging both into the vegetables, until their moisture dissolves the salt and sugar, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add water and vinegar, mix well and pack everything in a 1 liter jar.

Seal the jar and refrigerate at least overnight or up to 2 weeks. The flavor gets stronger the longer the jar sits. (The proportions of sweet and sour in the recipe are adjustable to your taste.)

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