by Ellen Kelly
WHAT TO EAT IN JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
This may seem like a motley crew of ingredients, but on the prairies, January and February are tough months for fresh local produce. We still have fruit and veg that keep well, like apples, onions, squash and potatoes. Citrus fruits are in season where they grow and mercifully make their way to us over the winter months. Thankfully, our booming greenhouse industry has improved to the point that it supplies us with tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce that actually taste like something. Winter is the time we see the largest variety of citrus fruits, but LIMES especially perk up our often dreary winters. Authentic Latin American and East Indian foods are impossible without them. And, sadly, Key lime pie and limeade just wouldn’t exist at all. A favourite tartare-style spread includes tuna and avocado, both good pairings with lime juice. Brush a 6-ounce ahi tuna steak with olive oil and sear on high heat until browned on both sides and opaque in the centre, about 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool and then cut into 1/2-inch dice. Dice a large peeled, pitted avocado and add to 1 finely minced serrano pepper, 1/3 c. chopped cilantro, 1/3 c. finely chopped shallots, 1 T. roughly chopped capers and 1/4 c. freshly squeezed lime juice. With a fork, gently mix in the tuna, season with salt and pepper and cool for an hour or so before serving with sesame crackers.
The world of alliums is vast, from leeks and scallions to shallots and garlic, but it’s the papery-skinned dry ONION, whether originally from Italy, Maui, Bermuda, Rio, Vidalia or Walla Walla, that is the real workhorse of the kitchen. This underground bulb is universally treasured for the alchemy it brings to virtually every cuisine around the world. What stew, soup or chili would shine without the addition of this flavour essential? But the onion can serve as an innovative edible container as well. I almost always have frozen ratatouille on hand, which means, with very little effort, an exceptional dinner entrée is mere moments away. Cut 2 large-ish onions (peeled and trimmed) in half and scoop out the centres. Place onions, cut side up, in a baking pan in water halfway up the sides. Cover with foil and bake for about 40 minutes at 400°F until fork tender. Drain well and set back in the wiped baking dish. Fill each “cup” with ratatouille and top with crumbled feta cheese. Cover and bake again for 15-20 minutes in the same 400°F oven, or until completely heated through and cheese is melted. This works equally well with leftover stew or chili topped with any cheese you like.
And, of course, we have BANANAS. As ubiquitous as bananas have become today, imagine the delight North Americans experienced when they first encountered this odd looking and exotic tasting fruit in the late 1800s. After you tire of banana bread marathons, try something different… banana fritters. In a bowl, mix together 1-1/2 c. flour, 2 t. baking powder, 2 T. powdered sugar, 1/4 t. salt, a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg. Into a measuring cup, measure 2/3 c. milk, add an egg, 1 T. rum, and then beat well; mix into the dry ingredients. Mash 3 large ripe bananas with 1 t. lemon juice and fold into the batter. The batter should just mound slightly on a spoon, so add a little milk if it’s too thick or a little flour if it’s too thin. Heat about 2 inches of canola oil in a heavy pan to 370°F. Scoop up a spoonful of batter and carefully push it into the hot oil with your finger. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook the fritters 3-4 minutes before turning, and then cook for another 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon to paper towels and then put into a warm oven (200°F.) while you continue to cook the rest of the fritters. These are lovely as an elegant dessert served warm with crème fraîche and warmed maple syrup or you can dust them in powdered sugar and eat them standing at the counter.
Illustrations by Eden Thompson
BUY: The little brown patches sometimes found on limes don’t affect the flesh (it’s called scald), but avoid limes that have dried or shrivelled skin. Choose bright green, smooth skinned fruits that are heavy for their size. TIPS: If it looks like your limes are going to go off before you have a chance to use them all, just freeze them whole. When you need the juice, defrost them slowly in some warm water. Obviously you won’t be able to use the zest, but the juice will be just fine. DID YOU KNOW? Limes need a warmer climate than other citrus fruit. Mexico is both the world’s biggest producer of limes and the biggest, per capita, consumer.
BUY: Look for onions that are heavy for their size and have no soft spots, blemishes or moistness. TIPS: Store in a cool, dry dark place. Don’t store with potatoes; onions will cause potatoes to sprout sooner than they would normally. DID YOU KNOW? Sulphuric compounds in onions cause tearing, but apparently freezing them for 20 minutes before chopping will help. My advice, just work quickly and don’t touch your eyes before you wash your hands and it’ll be over before you know it.
BUY: Avoid fruit that has blemishes, split skin or mouldy stems. I recommend buying bananas fairly green and ripening them at home. The Cavendish variety common to us is more easily bruised the riper it becomes. TIPS: The banana is a fruit that actually develops more flavour when it’s ripened off the bush. They ripen inexorably at room temperature, but if you’re in a hurry, pop them into a perforated paper bag. If you want to slow the ripening, put them in the fridge; the skins will turn brown, but the flesh will remain unchanged. DID YOU KNOW? There are hundreds of varieties, but we rarely see more than two or three. Occasionally you’ll find small stubby red bananas and short yellow bananas called apple bananas – they’re delicious and fun to eat.
Ellen Kelly is a chef and regular contributor to City Palate.
CITYPALATE.ca JANUARY FEBRUARY 2018
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