Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sauteed Salsify with Garlic (Page 574)

RECIPE #1090

  • Date: Saturday, January 23, 2010 -- 7pm
  • Location: Berkeley, CA
  • Kitchen: Our Temporary California Home!
  • Dining Companions: Matty and Josh G
  • Recipe Rating: B+

I have been looking for salsify since the day I started this project, more than four years ago now. I was worried about my ability to find a vegetable I had never even heard of, more or less seen in a store. After a couple years the salsify recipe became a joke. We referred to the salsify as the unachievable dream. Our friend Phil suggested that salsify made a better verb than noun, as in, "I'm going to salsify that burrito." That fine suggestion made salsify part of our standard lingo, but I still couldn't locate any. Recently I got serious about finding the salsify. I tried, without luck, to order it online. I could order salsify seeds, but no actual grown salsify. Every time I saw a root vegetable I didn't recognize at a market I would get all excited -- perhaps it was salsify! -- but I had no luck. The Book suggested a substitute -- if I could't find salsify I could use scorzonera instead. That made me feel like The Book really didn't understand my problems. My brother's girlfriend Ellen assured me that salsify isn't that hard to find in California, so with renewed hope I started hunting for it in Berkeley. But after visiting 4 different grocery stores, I still hadn't found salsify. So, I wasn't too optimistic the day I went to Berkeley Bowl. Granted, Berkeley Bowl is known for their produce selection, and in particular they are known for carrying obscure produce. But still, at that point I had all but given up on the salsify.

So there I was, pushing my way through the crowds in the produce section of Berkeley Bowl, when I saw it! Salsify! There it was, on the shelf, imported all the way from Belgium. When my eyes landed on it I gasped. The people near me turned to see what was so shocking. I carefully picked up the salsify and looked at it with wide eyes. This project wasn't hopeless! It would be possible for me to someday finish! I had found the salsify! Hoorah!

To be entirely honest, at that point I didn't care whether the salsify was delicious or inedible. I was just so glad to be able to prepare it and check the recipe off in The Book. I peeled and sliced the salsify, letting it sit in lemon water so it didn't brown. I cooked the salsify in boiling water until tender. Then I cooked garlic in butter and oil in a skillet and I added the salsify and cooked for a few minutes. I seasoned with salt and pepper. That was it! After all the effort to locate the salsify, the recipe was incredibly easy. And how does salsify taste? Delicious! Supposedly salsify tastes like oysters, hence it's nickname: oyster plant. I thought it tasted more like an artichoke heart however. It also had a texture not totally unlike that of an artichoke heart. I liked the salsify a lot, but the preparation didn't seem ideal. This dish could have supported more flavor -- perhaps just a bit more garlic would have done the trick.

I am so delighted to have found the salsify! Now if I could only locate shad roe, quince, pea shoots, zucchini blossoms, etc... Luckily those things are not as hard to find, I just need to be careful not to miss them when they are in season! Give me a holler if you see any of them at a market so I can be sure to start looking!

This recipe isn't online.


Jessica said...

That's hilarious! I've heard of salsify and never heard of the substitute! I agree, sometimes these cookbooks don't understand the real issue.

Teena said...

Yeah I still have never seen the substitute!

Anonymous said...

I had the opposite problem here in the UK. Sone turned up in my organic vege box and had no idea what to do with it! I have tried a few recipes and also experimented a bit. I quit liked a creamy garlic pasta dish I made with it, though like you say it is a subtle flavour and needs sone oomph to bring it out.

Just on my way home to try it sauteed and served with black pudding and mint pea puree, a bit like you would with scallops.

Will in London

Anonymous said...

I had this as a child and recently re-discovered it. You can buy canned online from Belgium, but getting fresh is very tough--even in Chicago's farmers' markets. It reached its height of popularity in the 1700s and has virtually become unknown. Yet it is delicious. I am going to blog about it on my food blog,

Teena said...

I'm glad to hear that it is more popular in the UK -- it is very tasty!

I didn't realize it was popular in the 1700s. I wonder why it fell out of fashion!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. I was thinking of growing salsify around N.Cal.

BTW, pea shoots are pretty easy to find at places like Ranch Market 99 or other larger Asian supermarkets, throughout much of the year. They're oftentimes found pre-packaged in large bags.

Teena said...

A friend of mine also recently recommended Ranch Market 99 for pea shoots! That's good to know -- I found them at Berkeley Bowl, but they were tasty and I would be happy to make them again.