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Courage on a plate
Warm up the winter with an array of exotic ingredients — if you dare
BY RUTH TOBIAS

What to do when winter’s got you housebound and the prospect of yet another pizza delivery has begun to seem even bleaker than the weather? Well, it sounds crazy, but it just might work: you could try to cook. In fact, as long as you’re at it, you could forgo the humdrum burgers and noodles in favor of something so exotic it’ll transport you right out of the cold doldrums and into some fantasy clime — at least until dessert. All you have to do is stock up on an array of unusual ingredients such as the ones listed below, and prepare to wow ’em with a wild repast. One caveat: to execute, not to mention eat, the suggested online recipes (for which we’ve provided links), you and your dining companions have gotta have some guts — perhaps literally.

Produce. Beyond the aisles of Stop & Shop, the garden of earthly delights grows exponentially. Whole Foods, for one, glows in the roots and tubers department. Here you can snap up some lotus root ($5.98/pound), the long underwater "trunk" of the water lily; try it batter-fried and stuffed with ground pork (recipes.egullet.com/recipes/r175.html). Or you can shoot for taro root ($1.49/pound), the potato-like tuber notorious in poi, but much more pleasing in a dish like taro-and-garlic-chive latkes with sour cream (www.recipesource.com/fgv/vegetables/04/rec0427.html). Then there’s the sunchoke, or Jerusalem artichoke ($2.98/pound); you’ll find several recipes for these nutty, knobby little guys on www.epicurious.com, including one for an elegant, silky cream-of-sunchoke-and-celery soup.

Seafood. Concerning aquatic edibles, Asian markets like the Super 88 can come as a revelation to your average Anglo-American, accustomed to sterile displays of neat fillets all but unidentifiable as dead fish. Here, eyes, gills, scales, and distinct odor tell the messier and much more fun truth. Shells roughly resembling pencil cases contain razor clams ($2.75/pound); the elongated bivalve makes for striking fritters and also marries well with the piquancy of ginger, garlic, chilies, and fermented black beans in a stir-fried mélange (www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/stirfriedrazorclamsw_70384.shtml). Periwinkles, sold by the bagful ($1.89), are cute little cousins of the snail. You can simply boil them in their shells and serve them with toothpicks to extract the meat, along with drawn butter for dipping (thus making an excellent case for the existence of aphrodisiacs), or you can aim for the lusciousness of an entrée like periwinkle-and-fennel risotto (www.tqf.com.au/Files/2001927155614.asp). And you can prepare frog legs ($5.50/pound) just as you would chicken. Meanwhile, those of you who are just gunning to whip up any concoction involving the cock testicles, duck tongues, or pig brains also available at the Super 88 are on your own.

Game. But if you’re game for some game, you’ve got company at Savenor’s. The specialty grocery keeps a veritable menagerie of meats on hand — primarily the tenderloin cuts, which Ronald Savenor tells inquiring customers "to cook at a high heat quickly; you can grill them, but I think pan-frying’s actually the most effective." His advice applies to farm-raised mountain lion ($35/pound), which you could also grind and add to chili served up with eggs and tortillas for a heck of a twist on huevos rancheros (www.jerrysbaitandtackle.com/Recipes/MLion/GreenChili.htm). It applies equally to camel ($16/pound), gussied up even further, perhaps, by a shiraz-butter glaze (www.abc.net.au/canberra/stories/s581014.htm). As for kangaroo ($15.99/pound) — an especially popular choice among Savenor’s clientele — if grilled kangaroo kebabs with smoked eggplant don’t strike your fancy, you’ll find several other options at www.justgamerecipes.com. And then there’s rattlesnake ($29.99/pound); barbecuing is traditional, but you can also make like a cowpoke and fry it up with some gravy and biscuits (www.backwoodsbound.com/zsnake1.html).

Where to find it:

• Savenor’s, 160 Charles Street, Boston, (617) 723-6328.

• Super 88, various locations; www.super88market.com.

• Whole Foods, various locations; www.wholefoods.com/stores.


Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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