Pickled Ramps, Japanese and Korean Flavors

Pickled Ramps Recipe, Japanese/Korean Style Top

Even before I open my eyes in the morning, when senses are at their dullest, the first thing I’ve been noticing lately is the pungency of ramps. I’m not sure whether it’s my breath, clothes, or skin pores, but I’m guessing that pouring a boiling red pepper broth over wild leeks is enough to trump Febreze freshness.

Did it sound like I was complaining? I’d pickle a truckload of ramps in this way if I could. The smell isn’t anything that Axe and Listerine can’t fix anyway.

The sweet, sour, and spicy pickling brine retains the crispness of the ramps from leaves to bulb. Most of the heat comes from shichimi togarashi, an aromatic Japanese seasoning comprised of seven ingredients. The particular blend I used, one of many variations, had orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, red peppers, sansho (better known as Sichuan peppercorns), ginger, and seaweed.

As fiery as the Korean crushed red pepper (gochugaru) looks, it’s actually rather sweet. It gives the pickling brine a menacing kimchi-red hue even if it barely adds any heat. Any of the milder ground red peppers, such as unsmoked Spanish paprika, will do in a pinch.

View Pickled Ramps Recipe, Japanese and Korean Flavors »

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Sautéed Ramps in Guanciale

Ramps Guanciale Saute Recipe

I swore that if I failed to post at least one recipe for ramps this season, then I would deport myself to the nearest city with a Chinatown (because a Filipino needs a local source for patis – see blog name). Ramps are the stinky wild leeks after which Chicago was named after all.

The local food-obsessed (or is it food-obsessed locals?) go nuts over the pungent spring seasonals for its unusual blend of familiar flavors. The purplish white bulbs taste sharply of some sort of onion, garlic, and scallion mutant hybrid. The leaves have a peppery bite reminiscent of arugula, but spicier.

My neighbors probably hate me for stinking up the entire building the past few days but I’m okay with that. Ramps have cured my fear of purple and green foods.

A quick saute in the rendered fat of guanciale, Italian cured pork jowls, is my favorite way of preparing ramps. I remember Mario Batali talking about guanciale in an Iron Chef America battle. He had this cheesy look on his face as he whispered sweet-nothings about the Roman specialty, which naturally steered me into thoughts of illicit goings-on between Batali and his house-cured cheeks. With Batali’s o-face in mind, I tried browning a few ounces of guanciale to a crisp in its own fat, just to see what the big deal is. Let’s just say I’m never going back to bacon.

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Lamb with Fava Beans and Green Almonds

Moroccan Lamb with Fava Beans and Green Almonds Recipe Top

This ancient Berber dish is prepared around March or April in Morocco, when both green almonds and fava beans are seasonally available. The lamb is slow-cooked with ground mace and finished with the almonds, the beans, and a generous helping of sauteed onions.

I know next to nothing about traditional Moroccan cuisine and the recipe looked simple enough, so why not? I was more interested in cooking with green almonds, though, because I have only tasted it raw.

After a brief simmer, the almonds reminded me of crunchy green beans, which went rather nicely with the creamy favas and fork-tender lamb. The broth, with nothing but mace and onions, had a surprisingly deep flavor, but not so strong that it overpowers the almonds and favas.

View Braised Lamb Recipe with Fava Beans and Green Almonds »

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Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream

Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Recipe

Even if the recipe name sounds like a few rounds of word association, there’s nothing disjointed about the flavors in this ice cream. Fresh strawberries are mashed with sugar to draw out its nectar and folded with cheesecake ice cream. The rich custard base is blended with cream cheese and lightened with lemon zest and juice.

It has to involve some form of graham crackers to be called a cheesecake, so I baked small rounds of graham cracker crust and served the ice cream on top.

Let’s make this fun and keep the word association going. Take a look at the most recent entry and think of any word that comes to mind. Please leave a lovely comment (preferably G-rated) and add the word you have just thunk (can be NC-17). Let’s see where it goes.

I’ll start: sandwich.

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Green Almonds in Cucumber Gelée

Green Almonds in Cucumber Gelée Alinea Recipe

In this relatively easy recipe from Alinea, green almonds are embedded in cucumber gelée and topped with sweet, spicy, sour, and salty elements. The crisp almonds, soft jelly, and four contrasting ingredients fully engage the senses and palate like nothing else.

Green almonds have an edible crunchy shell with a pronounced sourness, so add a pinch of salt and you can make a light snack out of it. It has a fuzzy exterior that feels and looks like the surface of a tennis ball. Try your luck finding green almonds in Middle Eastern groceries around springtime.

We’ll need the young almonds found within. The nuts, at this point in its prepubescent life, will have a thin outer layer encapsulating a semi-liquid center. It has a grassy taste and refreshing quality to it.

I made the following substitutions for the sweet, spicy, sour, and salty elements (this should give you an idea of how confused eclectic my pantry is):

  • Sweet: Thai coconut sugar instead of crushed sugar cubes
  • Spicy: Basque espelette pepper instead of cayenne pepper
  • Sour: Indian amchur powder (from unripe mangoes) instead of citric acid
  • Salty: Filipino rock salt instead of Bali sea salt

View Green Almonds in Cucumber Gelée - Alinea Recipe »

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