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Everyday Exotic

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Eager to explore all the exciting new produce at your local market? Bon Appétit’ s new cookbook shows you the lay of the land.

One of the joys of the modern moment is the access we have to so many out-of-the-ordinary fruits and vegetables: The produce aisles are just overflowing with trays of persimmons, baskets of jicama, mounds of unusual potatoes, and heaps of roots like kohlrabi, celeriac and parsnips.

Unfortunately, the exhilaration of this bounty can quickly turn to despair if you don’t know how to turn these fresh, lovely things into food for your family.

But what if you had a book on a kitchen shelf that contained a recipe for nearly every fruit, vegetable and legume in the store? Wouldn’t that be energizing, in a particularly modern way?

That’s exactly what Bon Appétit magazine’s latest cookbook is. Titled The Bon Appétit Cookbook (John Wiley & Sons, 2006), it contains more than 1,200 recipes and even comes with a coupon that’s redeemable for a year’s subscription to the magazine, giving you access to a few hundred more ideas on how to make those great-looking, if unfamiliar, whole-food ingredients into meals.

Barbara Fairchild is Bon Appétit’s editor-in-chief and has been an integral force in the magazine since 1978. She explains that the key idea at her magazine is one of participation: that their readers should be able to participate in the bounty of today’s farmers’ markets and supermarkets and not be mere spectators.

“Our magazine is for people who want to become involved with food, and not just read about it,” she says.

“We recognize that these days, more often than not, when you go to a supermarket you see something gorgeous – incredible heads of fennel, a beautiful array of mushrooms, a great piece of fish. You see something and you think: I have to buy that. So you take it home and look for a recipe – and that’s exactly where this book comes in, so you can be ingredient-driven in your cooking and truly seasonal.”

Being ingredient-driven and seasonal seems more important than ever in the summer, when fruits and veggies are in their prime, and barbecue season invites experimentation. Kohlrabi, for instance, is a mild, sweet root that is related to the turnip. It’s in season from mid-spring to mid-fall and is rich in potassium and vitamin C. That’s all well and good, but as far as your next picnic is concerned, a more relevant fact is that it makes great coleslaw – as in Bon Appétit’s Kohlrabi Coleslaw with Paprika Dressing.

Jicama is a crunchy root vegetable that is much beloved in Mexican cooking, and it makes a fast and fabulous first course in Jicama, Spinach and Pineapple Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette, reprinted here.

Even if your market is picked clean, Bon Appétit offers new ways of looking at pantry staples, with recipes such as Chickpea Salad with Parsley, Lemon and Sun-Dried Tomatoes.

Sometimes it seems that if you want to have more great food in your life, you simply need more recipes. “In fact,” said Fairchild, “with 1,289 recipes, to be exact, I guarantee that whatever you find in your local market, we’ll have at least three or four things to make with it.”

This recent uptick in the sheer number of ingredients available to us on a seasonal basis reflects a country that’s becoming ever savvier about its foods. “I don’t buy into the theory that people are cooking less and are less interested in food,” she says. “If anything, I think they’d like to cook more, and learn more techniques, and learn about more ingredients. We all love checking out trendy, noisy restaurants, but in the end, being home with your friends and being around the table is still the most appealing kind of evening. The great conversations, the great convivial spirit, that all happens at home. When you think of all the revolutionary things that have happened the last five or 10 years in terms of our foods and cooking, it has all resulted in so much more being available to a home cook.”

And if you know how to use that “more” to your advantage, you’ll be eating very well, indeed. So let the architects and interior designers go on believing that less is more: When it comes to adding new fruits and veggies to your life, more is most definitely where it’s at.

 

WEB EXTRA!

Chickpea Salad with Parsley, Lemon and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Six servings

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbs. cumin seeds
  • 2 15- to 16-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed, drained
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. dried crushed red pepper

Combine oil and cumin seed in heavy, small saucepan. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally. Cool completely. Combine remaining ingredients in large bowl. Add cumin oil and toss to blend. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made one day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.)

WEB EXTRA!

Fennel, Watercress, Radicchio and Parmesan Salad

Four servings

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tbs. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbs. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed (for ease of crushing and clean-up, crush them in a plastic bag)
  • 1 large fresh fennel bulb, trimmed, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bunch watercress, thick stems trimmed
  • 1 small head of radicchio, thinly sliced
  • 1 4-ounce piece Parmesan cheese

Whisk oil, 2 tbs. grated cheese and fennel seeds in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Toss sliced fennel, watercress and radicchio in a large bowl. (Can be prepared eight hours ahead. Cover dressing and salad mixture separately. Refrigerate salad mixture.)

Using vegetable peeler, shave cheese piece into strips. Rewhisk dressing to blend. Toss fennel, watercress and radicchio with enough dressing to coat lightly. Add cheese stripos and toss to blend.

Serve, passing remaining dressing separately.

WEB EXTRA!

Kohlrabi Coleslaw with Paprika Dressing

Four servings

  • 3 tbs. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs. Hungarian sweet paprika*
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp. prepared white horseradish
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 large kohlrabi, trimmed (leafy tops reserved), peeled, cut into large pieces
  • 1 large carrot, peeled, cut into 2-inch lengths

Combine vinegar and paprika in small bowl. Whisk in oil. Mix in horseradish and sugar. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Using medium shredding disk, shred kohlrabi, then carrot, in processor. Transfer vegetables to medium bowl. Thinly slice enough reserved kohlrabi leaves to make 1 cup; add to bowl. Toss with dressing. Let coleslaw stand at least 30 minutes and up to one hour before serving.

*Hungarian paprika is more pungent than the American version. You can find it at specialty food stores, but if it’s unavailable, regular paprika will work, too (the flavor will just be less intense).

Recipes excerpted from The Bon Appétit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild (John Wiley & Sons, 2006).

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl is a Minneapolis-based food and wine critic. Nominated five times for James Beard Awards – the Oscars of the food world – she received two awards for her restaurant and wine column in the Village Voice–owned newspaper City Pages. Her work has been included in the Best Food Writing anthologies of 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005.

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