Variations on a theme – and our second winner!

If you’re here to see who won, you can cruise down to the bottom of the post … or just stay with me a moment while I muse on the idea of variations. I’ll be brief, since as Alana so perfectly put it – June is the month that pulls in all directions

Let’s start with this, then: see those pretty white things up top? They are Hakurei turnips. Also called Japanese salad turnips,  they’re crisp, sweet, juicy… and the tops are fabulous too. This past week, I had twelve – twelve! – bunches to play with. 

And yes, I said juicy. I was skeptical too back when I first saw the note from Teresa, one of our CSA farmers. But that is the perfect word for them. They have a mild bite of bitterness – more like a radish than like your standard-issue turnip – but the overall effect is actually juicy, with a mouthfeel that bursts sort of like a good plum. Seriously! As Teresa said, “endless possibilities…” So, we’ve had some variations this week, and a big bowl of sliced Hakureis with some of the beatjacked sauce/dressing/margarita mix? Yes, that’s a great place to begin.

People often tell me that my boys look alike. Kindly old store clerks at Ace, the balloon guy at the Farmer’s Market, friendly moms at the playground – they all say pretty much the same thing, and it’s some variation of “Wow! They look so much alike!” I tend to immediately protest, at least inside, because to me they just don’t. Or, they do, sort of, but mostly they look so much like themselves that they cannot possibly look like each other (or me, or Kyle, or their cousins, or all those other people everyone says that they look like).

But then I remember my friend Regan, who once commented casually at book club that she wasn’t sure her twin boys Henry and Jack were identical, since they had never had their DNA tested to confirm it. We all looked at her dumbfounded, and said in unison “But they’re impossible to tell apart!” She shrugged. “They don’t look alike to me.”

So, sometimes, some of us see variations on a theme where all others can really see is the theme itself.

But if we look more closely, the differences are usually apparent. Jacob’s eyes are a mysterious grey-blue, Lucas’s an explosive hazel. Jacob’s hair is platinum, Lucas’s is gold (and ultimately, if history tells us anything, they will both be as brunette as their once-tow-headed mama). Jacob’s smile is joyful and often serious, while Lucas’s is impish and gleeful. And while yes, they both have their dad’s enormous feet, their toes are shaped slightly differently … No really. Can’t anyone see this but me?!

* Yes, he is wearing a croquet wicket around his neck … he does this regularly, and calls them ‘headphones’ … :)

If you have a hard time telling these three recipes apart, I can’t blame you. But look closely:   lemon versus lime, a touch of mint, a splash of fish sauce, the type of noodle, chicken or fish … they are little differences, but they add up to big variations.

Oh, and the ice cream? That is definitely a variation worth trying. And while you’re straining the sauce, you might want to go ahead and scrounge up a shot of tequila … :)

Three Of A Kind

Yum Woon Sen, sort of
One of the moms at our preschool co-op is Thai. She brought a (more authentic) version of this dish to a parent meeting and at the end I was not the only mom who scrounged around for a dixie cup and took some extra home! It was delicious – remarkably fresh and bright tasting. She emailed me the recipe, and I made a few tweaks. The biggest one was omitting the dried shrimp, because I don’t normally stock that in my pantry and couldn’t find a small enough packet to justify buying it for one dish. I semi-compensated with a splash more fish sauce. Each time I make this, the taste is a revelation – bright, citrusy-sour, with a background of saltiness and umami. And yes, a definite similarity to our sauce from last time. Love those variations!

5-6 sprigs fresh cilantro, leaves rough chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce plus a little splash more
1-2 limes, zest and juice (you want at least 3 tablespoons juice)
1/2 medium white onion, sliced very thin
1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 cup sliced Hakurei turnips
1/2 cup chopped Hakurei turnip stems (see photo) or baby celery

12 ounces prepared glass noodles (or, my current favorite, kelp noodles)
1/2 pound ground chicken breast, cooked (or protein of choice – the original recipe called for ground pork)

For top: sriracha sauce, roasted peanuts
Optional: greens, such as baby spinach or arugula, baby head lettuce, etc.

Mix the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Taste and adjust seasonings: it should be sour, a bit salty, and not too sweet. Add the turnips and turnip stems and mix well. Add the cooked chicken and mix well. Add the prepared glass noodles or kelp noodles (if they are ‘nested’ cut through them a few times with a knife before adding, to break up the long threads).  Mix everything well, taste, and add more lime juice or fish sauce if needed.

This works well served on top of a big bed of tender baby greens or lettuce, although that is not traditional. Top with sriracha and freshly roasted peanuts.

(You could also add Thai chilis right to the sauce in the first step, if everyone you are cooking for likes the same heat level!)

Minty Lemon Tuna and Turnips, with noodles or toast

I know the proposed combination of tuna and turnips is enough to have possibly prevented some readers from going any further. But if you’ve come this far, you’re in for a treat: this is actually quite good! If you want to use what Jacob calls “real tuna” go ahead (canned tuna, by the way, is actually not fake tuna, as you’d perhaps expect, but “salad tuna”). I know canned tuna is something some people avoid. But both my boys absolutely love it, so I give it to them a couple of times a month, always for lunch since their daddy is definitely not a fan. We use Wild Planet Skipjack because it is sustainably caught, low mercury, and it is packed “as is” (no added water, oil, etc).

I eat this tuna salad heaped on a piece of toast (see Emmy’s bruschetta to tartine timeline here – I’ll stick with calling it toast!). J and L like it mixed with a bowl of noodles. Either way, the lemon and mint are great with the tuna … and, actually, with the turnips too :)

(Now … doesn’t this look familiar?)

3 sprigs fresh mint, leaves rough chopped
1-2 lemons, zest and juice (you want at least 3 tablespoons juice)
1/2 medium white onion, sliced very thin
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Splash of white balsamic vinegar
Small glug of canola oil

1 cup sliced Hakurei turnips
1 can Wild Planet Skipjack Tuna

2 cups prepared noodles (the guys love Thai-style rice noodles, or egg linguine)
(Or, 1 piece toasted ciabatta or similar)

Mix the first six ingredients to make a dressing. Add the tuna and turnips, toss to coat.

Serve on toast, or mixed in to a bowl of noodles.

The Beatjack Sundae (and a boozy bonus)

Make the Baby Onion sauce from the last post. Let it sit for at least ten minutes “extra” time. Once it has been melding for at least twenty minutes, strain it through a colander, letting the juice go through the colander into a bowl while the onions etc sit in the colander. (Those onions will be marvelous on a sandwich! Yum, lucky you).  You should have at least three tablespoons of liquid in the bowl – if not, add another squeeze of fresh lime juice. Into the bowl add a half teaspoon of super-fine sugar. Mix very well. Taste, and adjust salty/sugary ratio to your liking.

Serve over a bowl of your favorite vanilla ice cream, with a sprinkle of fresh ground black pepper and some slivered toasted almonds.

(and if you happen to have any of the strained, sweetened sauce remaining – an ounce of tequila and a couple of ice cubes will take care of it!)

* * * * *

And finally, of course, our second winner! Tara, from Got It, Ma!, who shared her grandma’s heirloom-quality chocolate cake recipe. Tara always makes it to-the-letter (of one recipe or the other!) and according to random.org she is the winner of Ann Le’s wonderful Little Saigon Cookbook. Tara, email me your contact information [inheritthespoon(at)gmail(dot)com] and I will get it out to you straight away! Thank you so much to everyone who shared their recipes, stories, and thoughts … and stay tuned, since I’m announcing the next fabulous cookbook Monday night. Hooray! :) 

5 thoughts on “Variations on a theme – and our second winner!

    • Thanks Daisy! I think the photo is kinda strange (why does meat always look so odd in my pictures?!) but it is delicious, smells great, and is actually really pretty with the green-and-white color scheme it has. I hope you like it! I am planning to try your radishes in butter, which also look amazing.

      • I don’t think it looks strange. It think it looks delicious!

        Meat is hard to photograph. I think the hardest thing are sandwiches. Or pasta. Pasta can be hard to photograph well.

        I can’t wait to try it! Will definitely let you know how it goes. I hope you get to try some radishes in butter too. They are addictive!

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