Every now and then, Frank (my husband) likes to set me a cooking challenge. Since I love to cook, I enjoy this a lot. Sort of Iron Chef Ottawa, without any competition. Frank buys what he figures are weird and wonderful ingredients, and I make a meal out of them. The rules are that I can add whatever I like, but can’t omit any of what he picked out. Yesterday he chose the following: wonton wrappers, a celery root, a papaya, some jalapeno peppers, a can of water chestnuts, a can of lily buds, and some stewing beef.
I really wasn’t sure about the lily buds (I’ve never tried them before), but I was familiar with everything else. I let the list of ingredients marinate in my head overnight, waiting for inspiration to strike.
Today I hauled out the food processor and began. First I made a papaya relish (papaya, green onion, jalapenos, a squeeze of lime and a clove of garlic all pulsed together into a slightly chunky sauce). Then I cleaned out the processor bowl and shredded the celery root and a small white turnip. Mixed them together with a dressing made of mayonnaise, lemon juice, a little salt and pepper, and a bit of milk to thin it out to the proper consistency — voila, celery root slaw.
I shredded up a little green cabbage and fried it together with the lily buds (which were very salty and otherwise pretty tasteless), some Tian Jin preserved vegetable (salty, garlicky dried cruciferous veggie of some sort) and some chopped pickled ginger (the sushi kind) and a bit of hoisin sauce. Once everything was soft and wilted, I stuffed the wonton wrappers with it, and fried the wontons in a lightly oiled pan. I figured that the freshness and sweetness of the papaya relish would be a nice foil to the salty, fried wontons. I braised the beef in a little water and Worcestershire sauce, and added the water chestnuts near the end of the cooking time. Served with some brown rice, it was all pretty good, if I do say so myself.
What I’d do differently: I don’t think I’d bother with the lily buds again; they added salt and a little texture, but I would go with fresh bean sprouts — cheaper and probably healthier. I’d undercook the beef a bit; I left it too long while waiting for the rice to cook, and it was a tad chewy. I’m not a big beef fan and don’t cook it very often, so my inexperience was against me here. I’d add more pepper to the papaya relish — these particular jalapenos were much milder than some others I’ve had from the same grocer. A little more heat would have brightened up the flavour. On the whole, though, I was pleased with how everything turned out. Frank seemed to be, as well, and is looking forward to having leftover wontons with relish for supper tonight.