I grew up in one of the most northern cities in North America. Up there winter bleeds into fall and spring, making the equinoxes nearly meaningless for us. I always found these shoulder months to be the most challenging to get through. In October and November it seems the rest of the northern hemisphere is thoroughly enjoying sweater season and fall colours, whereas for us the leaves are gone by mid-September, the first snow fall right behind it. As kids we always had to cover our halloween costumes up with winter coats, boots, and toques, and couldn't understand why the kids on tv didn't. It's the same story for spring. Already this week my instagram account has been blowing up with early spring photos in Europe. It's artichoke season in Italy already! In February! For northern Canadians this is not only depressing it's unfathomable. Up there there won't be anything coming up from the earth until June. There will be snow on the ground at least until April, and possibly well into May. In fact, people don't even start planting their garden until the third week of May, lest their crops be destroyed by lingering frost. My Mum always said February is the shortest month on the calendar, but the longest month for the soul.
It probably won't surprise you that for most of Canada strawberry season is limited to July and August. Thankfully frozen strawberries are available all year round, picked at their peak of ripeness, and a delicious way to get through early spring. (Yes we can also buy fresh strawberries from California any time of the year but those taste more like the ghost of strawberries than anything else).
Strawberries aren't very common in Nicaragua, where I live now, but when I can find them I always buy them because to me they taste like home. This week I made a beautiful batch of strawberry sorbet in honour of my freezing Canadian friends and I would like to share it with you. Crank up the thermostat, put on your shorts and pretend it's summer!
You've got this Canada, home stretch!
Strawberry basil sorbet
yields 2 Litres
If you aren't familiar with sorbet then you might be surprised that the recipe calls for hard alcohol. The reason for this is that alcohol has a much higher freezing temperature than water. Adding alcohol is what keeps your sorbet soft and scoopable. If you want you can replace the basil with fresh mint, or skip herbs altogether for a more classic flavor.
2 pounds strawberries, fresh or frozen, stems removed
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
1/3-3/4 cup lime juice
2 ounces vodka or white rum
1 cup basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well, adjust the lime and sugar levels according to your taste. I personally use the minimum amount of sugar and the maximum amount of lime. It ends up tasting like strawberry lemonade.
Walk away for an hour, allowing the berries to marinate and absorb the sugar.
Pour everything into the blender, blend well., pour through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds. Pour into your ice cream machine and turn it on.
One of my favorite things about visiting new places is discovering new fruit. All food, yes, but fruit in particular. It’s just so… effortless. When I go someplace new the local market is the first place I want to visit, and when I move somewhere new my relationship with my local produce vendor is the one I’m most focused on developing, over and above anything else. You may say that I am obsessed but I know I’m not the only one.
Sapote, Zapote in Spanish, is among my favorite fruit discoveries since moving to Nicaragua. Sapote is a fruit whose flavor profile tends to hang out in the deeper realms of the musical charts. Bassy, mellow flavors that lack tartness in all ways. If I were assigning musical instruments to fruit I would say the sapote is best represented by the upright base. The papaya, for comparison’s sake, the cello. Pineapple, the viola, lime the violin. There you have your string quartet, and you can eat it too.
Cut into a sapote and you’ll detect notes of burned sugar, like a blackened marshmallow. But not just that. It’s floral notes are unmistakable, as though it has been kissed by lavender. Texture wise it is like a perfectly cooked sweet potato that has been blended with a avocado. You can see from the pictures how drop dead gorgeous it is. Plain brown on the outside, yes, but look at the hue of orange. Sunset, in the palm of your hand.
Sapote is a fruit that is very amenable to dairy and coconut-milk based desserts, such as creme brulee, custards, puddings, ice cream and mousses. Just add them to favorite existing mother recipe and away you go. It’s also excellent in smoothies and raw desserts, and I have listed two such recipes down below for you to try should you be fortunate to find yourself in a place that grows sapote. And if you aren't then perhaps it's time you come visit me in Nicaragua, and let me make you a smoothie here!
Sapote Pie or, raw vegan 'sweet potato' pie"
In my opinion this is more suited for breakfast than for dessert, but you can eat it any time you wish.
2 cups ripe sapote, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon agar-agar
1/2 teaspoon oil, such as coconut, or vegetable
1 cup cashews
1/4 teaspoon vanillla
1/2 teaspoon coconut oil
Pulse the ingredients in the food processor until all the ingredients come together to form a ball.
Line a pie pan with parchment. Grease the parchment with oil.
Press the nuts into the the pan.
Fill with the filling, chill until set.
1 cup sapote, chopped
1/2 cup papaya, chopped
1/4 cup carrot, chopped
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup ice
Blend everything but the ice. Once blended add the ice and blend again. If it's too thick add more ice and blend again.
This is a salad I created quickly and without a lot of forethought, as an attempt to add more calories and colour to an otherwise delicious though remarkably light, in both senses of the word, lunch. It wasn't until it was gone that I realized how lovely it was and how much I wanted to share it with you.
While this salad is not a revolution by any means, it does include a couple of small potential revelations for you.
The first being that avocados work beautifully with Asian cuisine. I find that we often limit ourselves by associating them mostly with Latin American fare not realizing how applicable they are to Asian flavors too. One of my favorite interpretations of "guacamole," for example, is: avocado, soy sauce, garlic, and chili garnished with toasted crumbled nori. In lieu of corn tortillas I serve it with brown rice crackers or chips.
The second revelation is that avocado is not just an excellent component in salad, it is also a unique way to add more substance and creaminess to dressing. Introducing an avocado into your vinaigrette will transform it from a thin summer dress to a cozy winter cardigan. Your diners are comforted, not smothered. Sated, not stuffed.
If you're wondering if all this avocado is overkill the answer is that it is not. To begin, the fat in the avocado allows you to use less oil than you typically would. More importantly, the avocado disappears into velvet, it's flavour and colour overtaken by the other ingredients. All that remains is je ne sais quoi.
"What is in this dressing?" They will ask you. And this, my friends, is always good. Mystery.
shaved avocado peanut salad with with avocado soy dressing
salad, serves 4 as a side dish
2 medium sized avocados
juice of 1 lime
3 roma tomatoes
handful toasted peanuts or cashews
Peel the avocados, and slice them on a mandolin. If you don't have a mandolin you can use a peeler, or a knife. The point is just to get them as thin as possible. And do be careful., the softeness and slipperiness of avocados makes them a little bit resistant to shaving. But be firm with them and they will behave. Drizzle with lime juice to prevent browning and move on.
Slice the tomatoes as thin as you can with a serrated knife.
Peel the cucumbers, then slice on the mandolin or with a knife.
Slice the scallions on a bias as thin as you can. This is a great practice in patience, and an excellent knife drill for yourself. How fine can you go?
Assemble all the vegetables on a platter in layers, garnish with nuts and scallions. Serve the dressing on the side.
1 medium avocado
1 2" piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, cut in half
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
fresh chili, optional, to taste
1/4 cup coconut oil
Blend the avocado, ginger, garlic and lime juice in the blender. Add the soy, honey, chili (if using) and blend until creamy. With the blender running, drizzle the oil in slowly to emulsify. If the dressing is too thick you can thin it out with water. Adjust the seasoning and voila.