Sunday, June 12, 2011
Spring Rolls with Kale, Leeks, Fennel, Avocado, Orange and Mint
This week's trip to Andy's Fruit Ranch* was less than productive, as the produce looked pretty sad. Apart from some beautiful, fat lobes of ginger and a some nice leeks there wasn't much going on, so I had to suffer the produce section of Jewel. There's always quite a bounty there, but most of it is industrially-farmed crap, pretty and waxy on the surface, plump and perfectly formed for packing in crates but with the flavor and aroma of wet cotton. I've never bitten into anything from the Jewel and had my mind blown the way I have from about any farm stand or a good week at Andy's. Their shit is "that'll do I guess" caliber and never better. This week's that'll do items were a serviceable avocado, a pithy navel orange, a bunch of kale (how can you fuck up kale, it's awesome) and some fennel. I found a female fennel again, possibly a cousin of Latifa since she had a similar sass and ample caboose.
After splitting and washing the leeks I chopped them into fine shreds and wilted them in some olive oil. When they were soft, I added the kale, chopped into ribbons, about an inch of the ginger and the fennel bulb, both cut in julienne. I added salt, a couple sliced cloves of garlic and a splash of white wine, then let everything cook down into a dense green stew. When everything was tender I added the zest and juice of a lemon off the heat. I prefer not to cook lemon into greens, but rather use it as a dressing, as cooked it tends to synthesize weird overtones and seems less astringent. Vinegar seems to suffer this less, but because I intended to use orange in the rolls I didn't want to complicate the acidity by using both vinegar and citrus, which always tastes weird and like poison to me. I've never had poison. Wait... the salty lemonade at the Indian place Heather took us last summer, that was poison and it smelled like a dirty vadge.
I let the greens rest and cool in a bowl, and tried a sip of the pot liquor. Jesus I love the liquor you get from cooking greens like this. If they bottled it I'd drink it like Fresca. Devin needs to come up with a cocktail based on this shit, he'd be bartender-famous, which is like internet-famous but with a slur, a lean and a little wobble. "Fuckin' Devin man best fucking kale pot liquor caipirinhas, best ginger lemongrass daquiris, best chef pants... I love that guy..." I zested the orange and cut a bunch of supremes, and added the zest and byproduct juice to the greens.
I made the rolls by laying down a little carpet of mint leaves and fennel fronds, then laid in the greens with a slice of avocado and a couple of supremes of orange, which have a kind of natural agrodolce effect and an interesting texture. The avocado wasn't as tasty as I had hoped, but the buttery texture and oily richness were really good, and the colors looked smart through the translucent skin.
The rolls were good on their own, but the interior astringency hit your mouth before the avocado richness, and tended to make the initial sensation a little hard on the mouth, so I made a dipping sauce to make the initial impression a little gentler. The dipping sauce was pretty simple, some mustard, mayonnaise, soy sauce, Siracha and toasted sesame oil.
The best thing about using a spring roll wrapper is that it allows neat pairings of flavors and mouth effects. If a plate had all these elements on it, you'd need to construct an elaborate Alinea-style eating regimen to get the full effect of the ingredients. "What chef would like you to do is take the spoon in one hand and the forchetta in the other." They would totally call it a forchetta like that wasn't an asshole thing to do. "With the spoon, pick up some of the sauce, then nestle the fennel frond and lay a mint leaf on top of it. With the forchetta, move some of the greens-and-fennel onto the spoon, then stab the avocado and orange slices together, and in a kind of one-two motion, chef would like you to get the contents of both the spoon and forchetta in your mouth before biting down. Enjoy."
Eating one of these rolls did pretty much exactly what I wanted. The sauce opens your palette, then you taste the greens and feel the bite of the acid, then both the richness of the avocado and the texture and agrodolce effect of the orange kick in, have a party, get drunk on pot-liquor caipirinhas and fuck on the sofa. Finally the minty quality of the herbs lingers in your mouth as a denouement for a while. I just said denouement like it wasn't an asshole thing to do. (v)
*Should totally be the name of a gay bar featuring Devin's pot liquor caipirinhas.
Posted by Steve Albini at 12:09 PM