Friday, December 19, 2008

As The World Turnips

Spicy Braised Turnips with Leeks

Until today, I would have thought of "leftover turnips" as something Harry Potter's relatives would make him eat while he was still living under the stairs, but that's what I have for lunch and, frankly, I'm quite excited by this.

Mom once said that if not for the Irish side of the family, I might never have tasted a turnip. I think this is true for turnips in general; unless you grow up eating them, they will likely remain one of the enigmatic root vegetables you see at the supermarket, but never buy. Indeed, when I brough a turnip up to the register once, the cashier asked "What is this thing?"

As of recently, I had only eaten turnips once a year at Thanksgiving, and they were prepared essentially the same way as mashed potatoes. In cooking, a turnip behaves something like a juicy potato. They're usually pretty mild, but have a unique flavor that holds up under the well-spiced treatment here. While this simple dish was entirely improvised, I got the idea for it from a local Afghani restaurant, to date the only restaurant where I've seen turnips on the menu. It seems that turnips are most often eaten where things in general are pretty rough, but the Irish could have learned a thing or two from the Afghanis. You might have heard more people nowadays saying "Mmm, turnips!"

Spicy Turnips

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp ginger, minced
2 tsp garlic, minced
2-3 leeks, sliced to 1/4"
2-3 turnips, in 1" cubes
1-2 tbsp spice mix*
1 cup vegetable bouillon
2 small pickled lemons, chopped (see post titled "Morocco Love")
2 tsp sugar

Sautee the garlic and ginger in oil briefly, then add the leeks and cook until lightly browned. Add the turnips and cook for 3-5 minutes, until they begin to brown, then add the spices and stir. Add enough bouillion so that the turnips are not quite immersed, and lower the heat. Let cook until the turnips are tender and sauce thickens, probably about 20 minutes. Add sugar to taste if the turnips seem bitter. Serve over rice, preferably basmati or some other nutty, flavorful rice.

*I used something called suya seasoning, which is an African spice mix made with powdered peanuts, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and salt. You probably have most of these spices in your kitchen even if you can't find an African or Afghani spice mix. You could also use any number of Indian curries, but of course the flavors will be entirely different depending what you use.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Saucy Squash with a Kick

Beef and Peppers with Spaghetti Squash

I often grab lunch at a food co-op manned by my university's most militant vegetarians. Sometimes they come up with something really tasty, but as I ate their variation of this dish, I couldn't help but think "You know what would make this even better? Meat!"

Different recipes will advise you to roast the spaghetti squash for anywhere from 30minutes to an hour. I think 30-40 minutes should be fine for a small squash. Cut it in half, remove the seeds, rub it in oil and turn the halves open-end down on a cookie sheet for roasting. Then scrape out the long, spaghetti-like fibers with a fork. I crumbled some queso fresco, a mild farmer's cheese, over the squash before topping it with the beef and peppers in their rich, spicy tomato sauce.

It would be easy enough to omit the beef and keep things vegetarian. And I also suppose this dish is quite low-carb, though I can't abide by low-carb diets. It's healthy, colorful, and made quite a nice presentation. If you don't count the cookie sheet, it's also a one pot meal, and was ready to eat in under 45 minutes. With all these points to recommend it, I suggest you try making some yourself. Mine didn't even last long enough for me to take a picture once it hit the table.

Beef and Peppers with Spaghetti Squash

1 spaghetti squash (allow 1/2 squash per person)
2 tbsp oil
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
1 lb stir-fry beef, in slices
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp basil
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp aleppo pepper (or 1/4 tsp cayenne)
1/4 cup queso fresco (or ricotta cheese)

Roast squash for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees. While the squash is cooking, sautee the garlic in oil until golden brown. Add the peppers and onions and sautee until lightly browned, then add the beef. Let the beef get only slightly brown so as not to overcook it, then add the tomatoes, paste, red wine and other seasonings. Add sugar to taste if needed. Fresh basil will also improve this dish if you have it. Cook the beef until just pink at the center, or until the red wine has cooked into the dish. Once the squash is cooked, it will yield to a fork- the flesh will break into fibers resembling spaghetti. Arrange the flesh on a plate and sprinkle with the cheese, then pour over a generous helping of beef, peppers and sauce.