Spring gently drifts in, bringing with it a stream of festivals, holidays and sporting events accompanied by a crop of tender shoots and other traditional foods celebrating rebirth, rejuvenation, freedom, the national pastime and the Earth’s bounty. Inquiring culinary minds want to know about spring’s best offerings. Here are the answers.
• What’s the diff between green and white asparagus?
While green asparagus is exposed to sunlight to produce its rich emerald color, its albino sister is buried under soil where it undergoes the process of etiolation (light deprivation), which prevents the production of chlorophyll producing virgin white stalks. These are milder tasting, and more tender than their green counterpart. They’re also higher in calories as the sugar content is spiked. Both have a mother lode of antioxidant- rich vitamins A and C, stress-relieving B, along with potassium and calcium to dial up bone health.
But ultimately, green trumps white, as it contains anthocyans for cardiovascular protection. White is also higher maintenance and needs a peel before cooking, while green can be steamed, roasted, marinated or chomped on raw without the necessity of peeling.
• Are peppermint and spearmint interchangeable in savory and sweet dishes?
These ubiquitous culinary herbs are grown in assorted climes enlivening cuisines globally. Although doppelgangers in appearance with bright green, jagged, spear-shaped leaves, spearmint and peppermint are not created equal.
Spearmint has more bite to it with a distinct aroma, while its peppermint cousin is sweeter with a milder disposition. The latter also contains menthol; a breath of relief in cool drinks (ice teas, sparkling waters) that stamp out fires from spicy foods.
And since it’s the mildest of the pair, it works best in desserts (chocolate mint cheesecake, crème de menthe parfaits, mint brownies), chutneys and relishes, sprinkled on peas, spuds and carrots, and blended in lassi (Indian yoghurt drink).
The mighty spearmint is ideal as a rub for roasted lamb and chicken, blended in hearty sauces or jellies or as a riff on pesto swapping out basil for the tangier herb. Kudos to mint for also putting the skids on indigestion. Minty mojitos anyone?
• When did eggs become a symbol of Easter?
The egg is Mother Nature’s precious package and has been revered as a symbol of creation, fertility, rebirth and Easter celebrations since ancient times. The Romans, Chinese, Egyptians and Persians, who had yearly rituals of exchanging gorgeously, decorated eggs during the Spring Equinox, honored it in rites of spring.
Decorating eggs has been a custom since the days of Edward I of England in 1290 when royal records showed that 18 pence were paid for 450 eggs gold-leafed and colorfully painted by hand for Easter gifts.
• Are spring onions the same as scallions?
Delicate scallions are the slender cousins to the more bulbous, zippier spring onion, which true to its namesake, is available only in the spring season while the other can be found throughout the year. They can both be used chopped fresh in salads, thinly sliced as a garnish for soups or Asian noodle dishes, and tossed in stir fries, but the larger more sturdy spring onion stands up better than scallions when roasted or braised. Remember with the stronger flavored spring onion, more is less. This zesty pair of warriors also burns carbs and put the skids on inflammation.
• What’s the latest ballpark trend in hot dogs?
While you can still relish a classic ballpark wiener like the Dodger Dog and the Fenway Frank, the latest hot dog craze at the stadium is triple by-pass on a bun. The Cincinnati Red is a deep-fried dog wrapped in bacon, topped with chili and fried salami. Other carnivorous-lovers’ creations at assorted stadiums include such toppings as pulled pork or shredded brisket swimming in barbecue sauce.
• Is it appropriate to serve roasted lamb at the Passover Seder?
This year, Easter merges with Passover week, although some ritualistic and celebratory foods collide. While many families enjoy roasted spring lamb for their Easter Sunday meal, this tradition harks back to the inaugural Jewish Passover Seder (dinner). The sacrificial lamb was roasted and served with unleavened bread (matzo) and bitter herbs called maror, so the Angel of Death would “pass over” their homes and spare their first-born male.
When many Hebrews converted to Christianity, the custom of eating lamb during Easter survived generations. Today, many Jewish families forgo serving lamb since it’s reminiscent of the ancient Paschal sacrifice.
The Kitchen Shrink’s Lamb Ragu
1-pound ground lamb
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1/2 red pepper, diced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-cup tomato sauce (adjust to desired consistency)
Sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Method: In a skillet on low, sauté garlic and peppers in the olive oil until tender. Add the lamb, sauté until cooked thoroughly. Blend in remaining ingredients and simmer 15 minutes. Ladle over egg noodles, and garnish with fresh mint sprigs.
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