Lemon-Garlic Fiddlehead Ferns

Monday, May 23, 2011


Hiking in the woods in the spring I have found myself fascinated by the furled spiral shoots of the young ferns. From that spiral they unfurl into the fronds of a fern that is so ubiquitous across North American forests. But these tiny spirals are found only for a short period of time in the spring, just a few weeks. The spiral, which has the golden ratio, is itself quite remarkable as it is found in nature in things like snail shells and sea shells. Remarkable further still that all of these things are (mostly) edible.

Of the fact that the furled fronds of the fern, or fiddleheads (called that since they resemble the scroll of the violin), are edible, my husband informed me on one of our hikes. And then, to my utmost glee, we found them in our local Whole Foods. Since they are only available for a few short weeks, I knew no time must be lost and so I grabbed a handful and promptly shoved them in the basket.


When cooked, fiddleheads taste earthy, slightly bitter, which can be overcome with liberal additions of lemon juice. The taste resembles asparagus the most.

Like asparagus, fiddleheads can easily be overcooked. I find that the best cooking time for both asparagus and fiddleheads is that short window of time, when the cells just begin to break down, softening the vegetable ever so slightly but when the crisp texture still lingers. This can often be told by the color which begins to change from a dusty green, to a more vivid, bright green. If they turn swamp greenish-brown, they've been successfully overcooked. Although preferences differ, and some prefer the softer version, I find that the vegetable loses both its flavor and spectacular texture and becomes a soft, brown, fibrous mess. Another reason why the crunchier version is sometimes preferred is because most of the nutrients are still retained but they break down when the vegetable is fully cooked.

This recipe has been adapted from my mother-in-law's way of preparing fiddleheads. The more traditional French way requires butter but I substituted with olive oil.

Lemon-Garlic Fiddlehead Ferns
(Serves 2)

You will need:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb fiddleheads, ends trimmed, brown leaves removed
1/4 tsp sea salt
ground pepper, to taste
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Heat olive oil in a large pan on medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add fiddleheads, mixing everything together with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper. Cook covered, until fiddleheads are tender crisp, about 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid, add lemon juice and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds more. Remove from heat and serve.


Trying New Things: the Durian

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Today we have a special treat for you here at gooseberry mooseberry and also a new category of posts: trying interesting, new and unusual (to us) foods. For today's post we've sampled the durian.

The durian is a large fruit, about the size of a melon. The edible flesh is contained within a spiny husk; the spines are sharp and may require working gloves to handle it. The durian, sometimes called the king of all fruits, is native to southeast Asia. What makes this fruit so unique is its smell and its taste.

Opinions about the durian vary widely, and rarely there is anyone who tried it who doesn't feel strongly about the fruit. The durian experience is very personal and differs from individual to individual. Some can never get past the smell: it is often described as very strong and foul, smelling of rotting flesh. Others describe the smell as rotten onions or skunk. Yet others describe the smell of the durian as that of sweat or body odor. And there are those to whom it smells delicious and who can't get enough of it. The perception of taste is equally variable. Some say it tastes how it smells: disgusting, tasting like rotten eggs, onion or ripe cheese, others say it tasted like custard, and yet others are absolutely addicted to it. Some even say it's an aphrodisiac.


Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, has described the smell as stinky feet and bad cheese with a custard like texture and it remains one of the few foods that he will not eat - or try but spit out.

Because the smell of the fruit can be so offensive, in Singapore there are signs on the subway that show a drawing of a durian inside a red circle with a line through it: no durians.

Both I and the husband are somewhat adventurous when it comes to food, and have been wanting to try the fruit. By accident, we stumbled upon a large Asian supermarket near us. Instinctively we veered, past a variety of fish and live carp emanating a delicious fresh fish smell, past steamed shrimp dumpling samples, past a whole aisle of intriguing sauces with labels I wish I could read, towards the sizable produce section. And then, there it was. The Durian.


Knowing all of the above beforehand (and for that very reason), we bought it. I resolved to keep an open mind until I tried it.

At home as it sat on the counter I bent towards it, my nose dangerously close to the spines, and took a good long whiff. It smelled like it did in the food store - it smelled of random produce. Up close, it smelled faintly nutty and a bit melony - like an unopened cantaloupe.  As it rested on our kitchen counter for several hours, it progressively got more fragrant, a few feet away it smelled like a pineapple just at the end of ripeness, threatening to rot in a day or two, with a combination of dried cranberries.

Of course, that was when it was still inside the husk.

The durian can be eaten raw - it should be sliced in half and then quartered, and the edible whitish-yellow soft flesh spooned out from the husk. The (somewhat poisonous when raw) seeds should be discarded.


As we began cutting it open with a sharp knife and an oven mitt, I instinctively turned towards the stove to make sure the gas was off, because the smell of natural gas (which contains sulfur) was getting stronger and stronger. I alerted the husband who looked at me and said "it's the durian!"


When we split it into two halves it smelled like natural gas, eggs, and roasted meat that has sat in the heat for a tad too long. But once one got past the sulfur compound smells (which are in natural gas, eggs, and rotting meat), I could detect hints of random fruit and over-ripe melon. Mostly it smelled like someone left the gas on the stove (natural gas is actually odorless, the sulfur compounds are added to it to alert people of a leak).


The taste is more complex than simply saying it tastes like any one thing, which makes durian so unique. Once I tasted it, the first thing that came to mind mind was that I was eating over-cooked, mushy unseasoned onions. On my second bite, there was hint of sweetness once one got past the onion smell like eating the gooey portion of an over-ripe melon that surrounds the seeds. On my third bite, I was overwhelmed by the almost-sickening sweetness of it. It was as if someone made a delicious sweet eggy pastry cream or custard, and then added cooked onions into it. On my fourth bite I detected roasted meat. The onion-like taste was probably the strongest of all the other flavors, and kept fading in and out with every bite. Altogether I ate about one tablespoon of it, it was as much as I could take.

If someone had blindfolded me and shoved it into my mouth, I would say I was eating juices from roasted meat with lots of mushy onions, except where is the melon coming from and why is it soft and cold?

Husband notes that on his first bite there was an overwhelming sulfurous sensation. It was soft, but parts were stringy. On the second bite he detected "custardy, fatty, somewhat meaty melon." Surprisingly he managed to eat much more of it than I did.

I think both of us would give it a second chance. I would say for an adventurous novice it is best savored in moderation.


Carrot-Ginger Soup

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


This soup is my mom's recipe. It is very easy to make, and can be ready in forty minutes (including about 10 minutes preparation time). Though the ingredients are simple, combined together they create a very interesting combination of flavors: there is the gentle sweetness of the carrots, and piquant taste of the ginger giving the soup just a hint of spice, together with a lovely creamy texture. The soup is vegetarian as it uses the very stock in which the vegetables were boiled as the base. A few dollops of sour cream or yogurt can complement the soup nicely.


Use just a bit of ginger for a gentle palate. In the photograph above, I used about 1/4 of the root pictured. You can make the soup spicier by adding more ginger (be cautious here, as the hotness grows on you with each spoon).

Carrot-Ginger Soup
(Serves 4)

You will need:
5-6 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 small yellow squash, chopped into large chunks
1 leek, coarsely chopped
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
Small piece of ginger root (about one inch), peeled and halved
1- 2 leaves of fresh basil
A sprig of parsley
1/2 stick butter
3 tbsp sour cream or plain  yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste

Place carrots, squash, leek, garlic and ginger into a medium pot and add about 8 cups of water. Bring to a simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20-30 minutes. Strain, reserving the stock. Process the cooked vegetables in a food processor or blender along with basil, parsley butter and sour cream, until pureed, in batches if necessary. Pour the puree back into the pot, adding the reserved stock by the ladleful as you stir. Bring the soup to a boil, stirring occasionally, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and serve.


Chickpea and Radish Salad

Monday, May 9, 2011


This recipe was inspired by a salad from an Indian restaurant in our old neighborhood on Upper West Side. The salad, listed on the menu simply as "Indian tossed salad" was very tasty and very straightforward: chickpeas, finely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and carrots tossed with some olive oil and vinegar and seasoned with salt and lots of black pepper. I find fresh carrots (particularly horse carrots) too heavy and so I substituted with radishes. Parsley also found its way in.


What I like about this salad is that it is light, but filling because of the chickpeas, making it a great lunch dish. The texture is a well-balanced mixture of crunchy and soft. It is also vegan and, (even though there is bread in the photograph) the recipe itself is gluten free.

Chickpea and Radish Salad
(Serves 4)

You will need:
1 15 oz can chickpeas (Garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 Kirby cucumber, or 1/2 English cucumber 
1 tomato
4-5 medium radishes (stems, leaves and root whiskers removed)
1/2 small white onion
1 tsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tsp white vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop cucumber, tomato, radishes, and onion into 1/4 inch-sized cubes and place into a medium bowl. Add chickpeas and parsley. Drizzle with oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Toss and serve.


Steamed Artichokes with Lemon-Butter Dip

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


How would you describe a familiar food to a person who has never tasted it before? This is a game my husband and I love to play: to have each of us describe the food that is in front of us - the smell, the texture, the flavor. Sometimes our descriptions match, sometimes they differ, but more frequently, together we come up with a more complete description of the food. Try it. Close your eyes, savor what is in front of you, and try to describe it. You might discover new flavors or textures that you haven't noticed before, bringing a new experience to a familiar dish as you employ your senses.


Eating an artichoke can be a long process, and it is easy to get impatient as one tries to get to the sweet, buttery artichoke heart. So we savored the flesh of each leaf, trying to describe the elusive taste. They have the texture reminiscent of boiled root vegetables, similar to perhaps a young potato or a beet but fibrous enough to give the texture more complexity. They taste buttery and nutty, with just a bit of sweetness. Although there is a variety of dips or sauces that can be had with artichokes, from Hollandaise sauce to a mayonnaise dip, I find a simple lemon-butter dip complements the taste of the artichokes the most.

Steamed Artichokes with Lemon-Butter Dip
(Serves 2)

You will need:
2 artichokes, rinsed
1/2 lemon cut into wedges
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley and dill
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground pepper
1/2 stick salted butter
1 tsp lemon juice, or to taste


1. To prepare the artichokes by removing the tiny thorns topping each leaf, slice off about 1/2 inch off the top of the artichoke with a knife. Then with utility scissors, trim 1/4 inch off the top of each remaining leaf.


With a knife, cut off the artichoke's stem, leaving a 1/4 inch stump. Make sure you do not cut at an angle, so that the artichoke can sit upright on a flat surface.


2. Fill a large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and add garlic, lemon, parsley and dill, bay leaf and salt and pepper. Stir. Decrease the heat to a simmer and carefully lower the steaming basket into the pot. Then place the artichokes, upright, into the steaming basket. Cover and steam for forty minutes. Artichokes are done when a knife goes into the bottom of the stem like into butter.


3. Once the artichokes are done, remove them from the pot with tongs and place onto the serving plates. Melt butter in a microwave or in a small sauce-pan, whisk in the lemon juice and pour into a small serving bowl. Serve the artichokes with the lemon-butter dip.

Tip: how to eat the artichokes
Peel off a leaf, starting from the bottom of the artichoke. Dip the bottom of the leaf (which has the soft, buttery artichoke flesh) into the lemon-butter dip and scrape the artichoke flesh off with your teeth. Discard the remaining part of the leaf. Repeat with every leaf, until you reach the white artichoke "heart." Remove the purplish-white young leaves and discard them. With a spoon, scrape off and discard the fuzzy "choke" covering the heart. Dip the heart into the lemon-butter dip and enjoy.


Blueberry-Lemon Muffins

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


One of my favorite things about baking is the way the sweet, savory smell permeates throughout the kitchen and the house. I was craving that smell early Sunday morning. I had bought some fresh blueberries previously, and I always keep a bunch of lemons on hand.


Muffins don't take long to make (about thirty minutes altogether, twenty to bake).  I knew that not only will they provide a savory Sunday morning breakfast, still warm and fresher than from any bakery, but also will take care of breakfast for the next few days. Individually wrapped in cling-wrap, they will last for up to three days - a convenient breakfast on-the-go.


Below is a recipe for blueberry muffins with lemon zest. They bake to be just the right size, without giant muffin tops. Blueberries may also be replaced with other berries you may have on hand: blackberries, raspberries, currants, etc.


Adapted from Eating Well, Lemon-Raspberry Muffins (July/August 2007 issue)

Blueberry Muffins with Lemon Zest
(For 12 Muffins)

You will need:
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a pinch more
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, positioning the rack in the middle of the oven. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with a fluted paper liners. In a small bowl, toss blueberries with a pinch of flour and set aside.

2. In a large bowl mix 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Combine lemon zest and sugar in a small bowl and mix into the flour mixture, until well-blended. In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk, canola oil, egg and vanilla extract until well-blended and the oil has emulsified with other ingredients. Fold the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon, until just combined. Fold in the blueberries.

3. Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups. Bake until golden, 20-22 minutes (at 20 minutes they will be perfectly moist). Let cool in the pan slightly then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or cool completely and then wrap each muffin in cling-wrap to help preserve and keep them moist; they will keep for up to three days.


Chicken Soup for the (Gluten Free) Soul

Monday, May 2, 2011

It's a cold rainy day. The fog makes the green of the grass look so vivid. Somehow I managed to contract a mild cold. I haven't gotten sick all season, so I was overdue for one. The sky is gray, and the dampness seems to chill to the bone. I crave chicken soup. There are some chicken drumsticks in the freezer, and I realize I have all of the ingredients.


The desire to have homemade soup overpowers any lingering feelings of fatigue induced by the cold. So I make the soup.


This is an easy recipe for chicken soup which I learned to make from my mom. In this recipe I used rice instead of noodles. I didn't want to be weighed down by noodles, I also don't like the way noodles tend to exponentially expand in size with time in the soup. The rice does not take away the wholesomeness and the healing (even if imaginary) qualities of the soup, which has the added benefit of being gluten-free.


Gluten Free Chicken Soup
(Serves 6)

You will need:
Small whole chicken, or about 2 lb chicken legs (bone in)
1/4 tsp of salt
1/4 cup uncooked white rice
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 small yellow onion or bulb onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf and/or a dash of dried herbs (e.g. oregano, chives, etc)
Salt, pepper to taste
2 tbsp fresh dill and parsley, chopped

Place chicken in a stockpot, fill with water so that the chicken is fully covered and bring to a boil. When the water boils, turn off the heat and pour off the water, rinsing the chicken (pouring off the initial "stock" helps reduce fat content). Refill the pot again 2/3 full with fresh water and on medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt and the rice, stirring with a wooden spoon. When the water starts to simmer again add celery, carrots, parsnip and onion. Wait for the soup to simmer again, then add bay leaf and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Let the soup cook, covered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all of the vegetables are soft. Taste the soup and re-season if needed. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with dill and parsley. Serve and enjoy.

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