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Fruits and veggies can play many roles


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POSTED: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chinese restaurants in the heartland usually have to dish up broccoli or spinach in place of gai lan or choi sum, whereas Hawaii cooks face the opposite problem. Ordinary Swiss chard or kale can run you $1 a stalk, while European greens such as Belgian endive or radicchio can suffer from quality issues, when you can even find them.

In most cases you can substitute one leafy green of similar flavor and texture for another, Asian or European. The peppery bite of arugula can be mimicked with watercress, mustard or dandelion greens, escarole, endive or radicchio. These last three salad greens, related forms of chicory, share a slight bitterness and chewy texture, and can usually substitute for each other.

With greens that are to be cooked, it's important to distinguish between the tough, strong-flavored ones that need to be stewed a bit, like collards, kale, turnip and mustard greens, and the tender, fast-cooking ones — spinach, Swiss chard and beet greens. You can substitute gai choy, bok choy or choi sum for the former, and yin choi or ung choi for the latter. Use gai lan for broccoli rabe (rapini), though it is less bitter.

So-called winter vegetables can be quite expensive in Hawaii: parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, beets and their more exotic stand-ins, kohlrabi, celeriac and sunchokes. Again, you can try substituting one for another (except for beets, which stain), bearing in mind that turnips tend toward bitterness while rutabagas, celeriac and parsnips are sweet. Potatoes or sweet potatoes can also be used. For raw root vegetables, try substituting gobo (burdock) and/or carrots instead.

Water chestnuts mimic the crunch of sunchokes, lotus root and jicama; so does daikon, somewhat, though it is more bitter.

For mushrooms, shiitake or plain old button can stand in for Portobello, unless the giant caps are being used for their size. Try enoki for oyster mushrooms.

It's tempting, given the price difference, to sub green bell peppers for red, yellow and orange. But the former lack the sweetness of their more fully ripened sisters, so your best bet is to alter the ratio of green to colored. Likewise with olives: You can sometimes substitute one for another from the olive bar, but the dish won't rate if you use plain black olives out of the can.

And finally, tomatoes. Anyone who has grown up on garden-fresh tomatoes can testify to the difficulty of searching out a substitute in Hawaii. If zesty tomato flavor is called for, try Pomi brand, in the box. For stewing, canned whole tomatoes are often better than fresh.

Make your own substitutions

The following recipes are from Epicurious.com. In the first, use any combination of endive, watercress, arugula, baby spinach or other salad greens, but be sure to include fennel. The garnish could be sliced almonds, walnuts or other nuts.

Fennel, Watercress and Endive Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts

1 cup balsamic vinegar
7 medium heads Belgian endive, halved, cut lengthwise into strips
1 fennel bulb halved lengthwise, cored, cut lengthwise into thin strips
2 bunches watercress, trimmed (about 5 1/2 cups packed)
1 Granny Smith apple, cored, quartered, sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan cheese shavings

Boil balsamic vinegar in small skillet over medium-high heat until reduced to 1/2 cup, about 5 minutes. Combine greens and apple in large bowl. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar and garnish with pine nuts and Parmesan. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving (not including Parmesan cheese shavings): 180 calories, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 12 g sugar, 3 g protein

This summertime dish is perfect for potluck, as you can use whatever is fresh and in season, such as asparagus, peas or baby spinach. For grape tomatoes, substitute fresh or roasted red and yellow bell peppers, diced. Try another type of smoked or mild-flavored cubed cheese. And instead of pine nuts, substitute sliced almonds, sunflower seeds or even edamame. You can omit the olives, cheese or nuts — just don't omit all of them.

Orzo with Tomatoes, Feta and Green Onions

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or other citrus)
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
6 cups chicken broth
1 pound orzo
2 cups red and yellow grape tomatoes, halved
7 ounces feta cheese, in half-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 cup chopped fresh basil (or other fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, mint)
1 cup chopped green onions
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, and honey in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring broth to boil in heavy saucepan. Stir in orzo, reduce heat to medium, cover partially, and boil until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain and transfer to a large bowl, tossing to cool. Mix in tomatoes, feta, basil, and green onions. Add vinaigrette and toss; season with salt and pepper. Toss in pine nuts. Serve at room temperature or cold. Serves 8.

Approximate nutritional information, per serving (not including salt to taste): 470 calories, 26 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, greater than 1000 mg sodium, 48 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 4 g protein