Thursday, March 19, 2009

sweet, spicy, crunchy and creamy

the other night,
i made a really,
dinner -
hot and tender
brown rice,
chickpea chili
in a roasted
sweet potato
and a crunchy,
sweet and spicy

it was a meal that
i thought would be
a throwaway -
one to satisfy the
ever pressing need
to put dinner on the table.
and truth be told,
i cooked up the pot
of brown rice in
case everything else was inedible.
but the garnet yams
that we roasted and
split open were unbelievably
and the jalapeno-spiked,
tomato simmered
chickpeas were quite luscious,
especially when topped
with a dollop of
yogurt, a squeeze of lime
and chopped scallions.
i was thankful that
the dinner
was successful,
especially because the entire
plate was crafted
around one ingredient.
i couldn't help it.
as i picked up the
nopales cactus paddles
in the store,
i knew that on some
level, i would regret the

not because they're
a lot of work
to prepare,
or because i didn't know
what to expect
from their flavor or texture,
but because i was
committing to something
on a day
that i am not always willing
to commit.

i find it really easy on a
sunday to pick meals for
the week and to stick
to them,
but choosing a meal on
friday for sunday?
that's hard.
you may think that you'll
be in the mood for a
long slow-cook meal,
only to wake up and realize
the sun is shining and
the kitchen is the
last place you want to be.
or you can plan for stir fry
and suddenly find yourself
bored as can be at 3 in the
afternoon, wishing
for a project.

so when i picked up
the paddles, i was worried
that i was stepping into a
trap - a tex-mex trap.

lo and behold,
sunday came and i
just wasn't feeling
but, no turning back.
after complaining and
stalling by making cookies,
i decided they would
be best in alongside
a main meal,
cool and crunchy.

i knew i wanted
and oranges,
and jicama,
popped into my head, too.
and, i found a recipe
for a nopales, jicama and orange salad
in barbara pool fenzl's beautiful
it's like we shared a brain.

her salad was actually served
atop greens and used canned
cactus paddle,
and no avocado, red onions
or jalapeno were in sight,
but it was close enough
for inspiration.

fresh cactus paddles
need to be dethorned,
by using either a vegetable
peeler or sharp knife,
then sliced and double-
blanched to reduce
the somewhat slime-like
interior and tenderize
yum, right?

once you've done
this, their flavor is
similar to a
tart green bean.
but better.
i think this salad
is worth all its
ingredients, but i also
think it's fair to say
that if you can't
find nopales,
fresh or canned,
and don't want to
use blanched green
beans, the other
can stand on their own.

and if you've never tried
jicama, run to the store
for the brown bulb.
its very crisp, almost
like a savory apple.
in all of my time introducing
people to jicama, i've only met
one person who didn't like
the slices
(you know who you are).
they are a great foil
to the juicy sweet oranges
and creamy avocado -
all three of them
benefit from the cayenne
in the dressing.

fenzl says the mixture should
be made just before serving,
and i certainly strengthened
that suggestion by adding
quick-to-brown avocados,
but our next day leftovers
may have been even better.

in the end, i was glad
that i got up on my feet,
found the sweet potato
recipe to round out the meal
and got to work with the
vegetable peeler.
not so bad for a
very pretty sunday
jicama salad with cactus paddle, orange and avocado
adapted from barbara pool fenzl's seasonal southwest cooking
this crunchy mixture was great with the soft sweet potato and chickpeas, but i think it would also be welcome next to a steak, over greens with shrimp as a light main meal or alongside fish. you can change the proportions according to what you like best. also, maybe i'm a glutton for punishment, but i always like to taste my jalapeno before i add the tiny specks to a dish. the one i used here was potent, so i seeded it and only used half. if it had been less in-your-face, i would have used a whole one and maybe kept the seeds. and the original recipe called for 1/4 cup olive oil - i tend to feel that a lot of oil over mellows other flavors in dressing, so i only used one tablespoon. if you don't want it to be so bright, feel free to increase the oil.

2 tbs. fresh orange juice
1 tbs. red wine vinegar
1 Tbs. honey
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
5 grinds fresh black pepper
1 tbs. olive oil
2 cactus paddles
2 medium oranges
1 medium jicama, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch sticks
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/2 - 1 whole jalapeno, finely chopped

in bowl, whisk together first six ingredients; slowly whisk in olive oil. set aside.

using vegetable peeler or sharp knife, carefully remove prickly parts from paddles. halve paddles; cut each piece into 2-inch long strips. cook paddles in saucepot of salted boiling water 2 minutes; drain and run under cold running water until cool. repeat boiling water and rinsing process one more time. set aside.

using sharp knife, cut ends from oranges. stand oranges flat on cutting board and using your knife, peel skin and white pith from oranges, following the curve of the fruit. using sharp knife, cut supremes by removing edible fruit in wedges and the leaving membrane behind. discard membrane.

in bowl, combine cactus paddle, oranges, jicama, avocado, red onion and jalapeno. drizzle with a small amount of dressing, toss to coat. add more dressing, if necessary. serve remaining dressing on the side or
save for another use.


Lisa said...

This sounds really interesting. I've eaten nopales in a salad at the Latin American restaurant in our neighborhood. It's definitely got a unique flavor, but I like it.

brooke said...

i've never had them in a restaurant, but we used them a bunch in school. the nopales are different - in flavor and texture, but i like that they don't taste entirely unfamiliar, you know?