G! Eats: What Do You Do With THAT!?
Food seductress Chef Ilona Daniel walks on the wild side with new and usual finds popping up in the produce aisle
During a recent trip to the grocery store, I couldn’t help but marvel at the selection of exotic produce options now readily available. Lots of odd-shaped, wildly coloured fruits and vegetables from around the globe. As a chef and food lover, new and different always means exciting flavour adventures.
As I cruised the produce aisle, I found myself almost instinctively reaching for a bunch of Chinese Long Beans. They were so pristine I couldn’t resist taking them home with me! While unloading my latest find at the checkout, the woman behind me blurted out with great curiosity, “What do you do with that, dear?” I happily explained the ins and outs of Long Beans to my fellow shopper.
As I walked back to my car, it donned on me that this woman was probably not the only one who was wondering about the curious produce finding its way into local shops and how to prepare it. The new wave of immigrants to the Gentle Isle, in addition to the growing interest in “foodie” food has ushered in these palate-expanding opportunities to spice up the monotony of the weekday meal. Here are three easy to process and cook ingredients packed with flavour you can easily slip into your trusted standby recipes.
Chinese Long Beans
For these overachieving beans, size is everything! The average size of a Long Bean is 10 – 12” long and they just happen to be relatives of the black-eyed peas (sans Fergie, naturally). You want to buy beans that have a smooth skinned appearance and possess that “asparagus snap” quality to them.
The real winning feature about the long bean is its quick cooking time. Better still, you can use kitchen scissors to cut them. They are, without question, best served in a stir-fry. They take under two minutes to be cooked to perfection. I’ve even added them to traditional stews and spicy curries of all kinds with great success. In fact, they make a surprisingly welcome addition to potato salad. Use these pencil thin beans within three days of purchase for optimal freshness.
Chinese Broccoli a.k.a “Gai-Lan”
In the spirit of furthering our Far East taste adventures, Gai-Lan is a must-try. This cruciferous vegetable looks like broccoli’s less beefcakey brother. Gai-Lan tastes exactly like broccoli, if perhaps with an even richer broccoli flavour. Its long, slender stalks and somewhat leafy tops are another authentic addition to your stir-fry.
To prepare, I prefer to peel the thin layer of the stalks as it makes for a more enjoyable mouth feel. After peeling, you will want cut the stalks on a bias a few centimetres long. The stalks take slightly longer than the tops to cook, so remember to keep them separate. Add the stalks when there is about three minutes left of cooking time, or when you add your favourite stir-fry sauce. The Gai-Lan tops wilt wonderfully in about a minute and a half or at the same time you would add bean sprouts. Beef stir-fry is my go to with Gai-Lan; their symbiotic earthy swagger will leave your taste buds very satisfied.
For an alternative to broccoli with cheese sauce, substitute with Gai-Lan instead. It makes for a more visually interesting side dish, and is sure to spark dinner conversation. Gai-Lan will last up to five days in your vegetable crisper.
Pepino Melon a.k.a “Sweet Cucumber”
With South American origins, this slightly sweet melon with whispers of autumnal squash works incredibly well with grilled proteins and dishes with some kick to it. As its namesake suggests, pepino melon’s cucumber nature is truly an inviting textural foil to the rich charred flavours of grilled proteins. To select the perfect pepino, the key is in its purple zebra-like stripes. When they’re a dark rich purple, it’s go time! If you can’t find a perfectly ripe melon, leave it on the counter for a few days much like you would do with an avocado.
To prepare, peel off the outer skin, scoop out the seeds, then slice and dice to meet your needs. You can eat this mini melon as is, or if you’re looking to make a meal of it, add slices to a mixed green salad with some toasted nuts, raspberries, topped with a citrusy vinaigrette.
A fun way to experience the pepino melon is to use it in a salsa for grilled pork or fish like halibut or salmon. Add some red onion, cucumber, red pepper, cilantro or basil, lime juice, olive oil, and a kick of your favourite hot sauce or chili peppers. Spoon atop the charred bounty to awaken the subtle nuances of the melange and you’ll instantly feel like you’re in a far off place…even if it’s only in your mind!
If you are finding preparing meals to be a little bland or blah these days, I challenge you to give these seemingly unusual ingredients a spot on your dinner table. Sure, change can be intimidating, but you just might find a walk on the wild side is just what your mealtime needed.
Food seductress Chef Ilona Daniel keeps it fresh and fabulous in all realms as Executive Chef to the Lieutenant Governor and G! Eats Resident Foodie.
Food images – Photo credit: Meredith Morrison