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Highlights from the General Topics and Cookware boards. Food trends, food products, and burning questions.

Kohlrabi – Raw!

Most recipes call for cooking the bulb-shaped veggie kohlrabi–roasting, mashing, simmering in soup, and so on. It’s delicious however you do it, though perhaps not ideal for the summer palate. But Kohlrabi’s great raw, too–even older, larger bulbs that may seem too fibrous to munch uncooked. Only the outer layer of the bulb is fibrous, explains Aaron; many people peel off just the skin, but you need to remove the fibrous layer beneath the skin as well. The heart of the bulb will be tender enough to eat raw.

You can make kohlrabi into a slaw, or use it as you might jicama (though it contains much more water). Or try this Indian finger food prep–especially refreshing if you chill the kohlrabi before preparing it, notes Jupiter: Chop peeled kohlrabi into matchstick-size pieces, squeeze lemon or lime onto them, generously sprinkle with cayenne, and toss. Perfect with a cold beer (best with a light brew like lager or pilsner).

Board Links: mole pastes?

Chowhounding 101: Indian Food in the U.S.

India is a vast country with numerous regions–and regional cuisines. Each of India’s 28 states is like its own country, with its own cooking style.

The Indian food served in the U.S. is mostly divided into the food of the North or the South. There are commonalities, like basmati rice or reliance on vegetarian dishes. (The test of a good Indian restaurant is how well they prepare vegetables.) Spices, condiments, sauces, and bread are equally important, and the variety will seem dizzying.

Boogiebaby has supplied a terrific listing of dishes to get you started:

North Indian:
Dal Makhani–black lentils cooked with kidney beans and butter
Chicken Makhani–chicken in tomato/butter sauce
Palak Paneer–Spinach with Indian cottage cheese
Aloo Gobi–Potato and Cauliflower
Bengan Bharta–mashed eggplant
Raita–yogurt with cucumber (usually, could be other types as well)
Saag Gosht–Lamb cooked in spinach
Bhindi–okra/ladyfingers
Malai Kofta–vegetable dumplings in cream sauce
Shahi Paneer–Indian Cottage Cheese in a cream sauce
Biriyani–Veggies, chicken, or lamb slow cooked with basmati rice, onions, and sometimes nuts and raisins

South Indian:
Dosa–rice/lentil crepe
Masala Dosa–dosa stuffed with spiced potatoes
Sambhar–lentils cooked with tamarind and veggies
Upma–semolina cooked with veggies
Uttapam–pancake type with tomatoes and onions
Rasam–tamarind water with spices (good for digestion)
Idli–steamed rice/lentil patties
Vada–fried rice/lentil donuts
Coconut chutney–served with dosa, idli and vadas

Board Links: Please educate me regarding Indian cuisine

Beans, Beans

The British love their baked beans–in particular, Heinz baked beans with tomato sauce, in the blue tin. Unlike American Boston baked beans, they’re not sweet.

They’re served with the typical English breakfast, and as a topping on buttered toast (even better, place a fried egg with grated cheese on top of the bean-topped toast). You’ll see them spooned over a baked potato, too. You might want to add some water to the beans to make them soupy.

A nice accompaniment is brown HP Sauce, another British staple. Heinz beans and HP Sauce are available in shops that sell food from the UK.

Board Links: English beans on toast?

The Many Lives of a Vanilla Bean

Vanilla beans are expensive, but you can reuse a single pod and still extract lots of flavor. Here’s the proper sequence to make the most of the declining results:

First use:
Scrape out the beans for a potent wallop of vanilla.

Second use:
Steep the seedless pod in a liquid (e.g., milk for ice cream for custard, juice or wine for poaching fruit). Then rinse thoroughly and let dry on a countertop.

Third use:
“Store” the pod for a while to produce a subtle hint of vanilla: in your sugar jar to make vanilla sugar (perfect for baking or sprinkling); in a bottle of maple syrup; in your vanilla extract (to pump up its flavor); or in a mason jar of bourbon, brandy, or rum (the more pods the better) to create your own homemade vanilla “extract.”

Board Links: Use or toss this used vanilla bean?

The Iceman Cometh

Well, that’s settled: The best way to have lots of good-tasting ice is to buy it by the bag. If you have the freezer space, keep a spare bag for iced drink emergencies. Keep the rest in a covered container, or in large ziplocs.

Making your own ice using filtered water (like Brita) may help the taste, but there’s always the risk of it picking up off flavors during the freezing process, from other items in the freezer.

Janet says an ice-making refrigerator is worth the money. Maytag has a model with a water filter in it that really makes a difference.

Board Links: Buying bags of ice

Best, Tightest Clips for Bags ‘O Chips (And Other Stuff)

Closing opened bags of chips, cereal, and crackers extra-tight is of paramount importance to those who value crispness. The problem is that most so-called “chip clips” sold in the supermarket really don’t do the job.

Many Chowhounds head to the office supply store for large binder clips, which are “super strong, super cheap, and they look decent,” says Dommy. They come in handy for all sorts of kitchen uses (tightly sealing milk cartons to preserves freshness, folding and closing plastic packages of beans, rice, pasta, etc.). You can clip a “freeze date” note to packages in the freezer (val anne c).

Others rely on old-fashioned clothes pins–either the standard or French types–to clamp bags shut.

Swedish-made Twixit! clips are hinged plastic clips that come in various sizes. They clamp tight and create an airtight seal on bags, ranging from chips to bread, to frozen fruits and veggies, standing in for twist-ties as well as chip clips. They’re microwave and dishwasher safe. Caitlin McGrath is lost without them. Order a set of 27 Twixit! clips online.

Board Links: any good chip clips?

Chow 101: Vinegar

There’s a range of vinegar out there. Hounds survey the options.

Rice vinegar, made from fermented rice, is mild and slightly sweet. It’s used a lot in Asian cooking.

Balsamic vinegars can be exquisite (and exquisitely expensive). The fancy ones are aged for years in barrels, and are syrupy and sweet. Industrial balsamics are good all-purpose, dark-colored vinegars.

Minus 8 vinegar is made in Canada from grapes picked at -8 degrees centigrade. It’s expensive and hard to find. You can sip this stuff alone like an aperitif, but it’s good with foie gras, and fruit. You’ll find some recipes on their web site.
Champagne, sherry, and red or white wine vinegars are very nice.

Look for “verjus”, a sour liquid made from unripe fruit (mainly grapes). It comes in red or white, and is used like vinegar. It’s light and has the advantage of not clashing with wine (as vinegars do).

Asian markets are a good source of inexpensive vinegars. Try a brown rice vinegar or one of the red vinegars. liu says they all have different personalities.

A few drops of a light vinegar will bring out the flavor of a good olive oil, notes Richard.

Board Links: Balsamic Vinegar

The Perfect Lemon and Lime Squeezer

You must buy yourself a hand-held enameled cast aluminum citrus squeezer, say hounds. These things are quick, efficient, handy, inexpensive…everything you’d want from a kitchen gadget.

Here’s how they work: there’s a cup into which you fit a half lemon or lime, and two long handles which push together with a lever action, pressing a reamer down on the fruit and literally turning it inside out, extracting every bit of juice, while leaving seeds and pulp behind.

These gizmos are sold in color-coded sizes (i.e., a small green ones for limes, larger yellow for lemons), but chowhounds overwhelmingly agree that the yellow version is all that’s needed for both fruits (indeed, some limes are too big to fit the lime-sized squeezer).

They’re sold at many cookware and housewares stores for around $11-13. Mexican grocers often sell less-expensive, non-enameled versions.

Link to buy.

Board Links: Cast iron citrus squeezer -do they work?

Orange Flower Water

Orange flower water is an intoxicatingly aromatic infusion of–you guessed it–orange blossoms in water. It’s produced largely in Lebanon and France. Used judiciously, it adds a wonderful je ne sais quois to food and drinks. Here are some ideas for how to use it.

Try adding a little orange blossom water to your favorite iced tea, for a lovely aroma, suggests Jupiter. Jim Leff notes that orange blossoms are an essential ingredient in Moroccan-style mint tea.

Marsha shares her recipe for a version of Ramos Gin Fizz with orange flower water: For 2 drinks, mix 1.5 oz fresh lemon juice, 2 tsp powdered sugar, and 2 tsp bar sugar well in a shaker. Add cracked ice, and the following, in this order: 3 oz gin, 1 egg white, 4 oz milk, and 10-12 drops orange flower water. Shake very thoroughly, and serve in fizz glasses.

Orange flower water goes wonderfully with fresh fruit. Splash a little on a citrus salad (along with some fresh mint), or add to simple syrup for drizzling over fruit.

Orange flower water also lends a subtle, haunting flavor to custards–try adding a couple teaspoons to ice cream, panna cotta, or rice pudding recipes.

In baking, orange flower water is especially good added to the syrup for baklava (Jupiter); and in brownies with orange zest and cinnamon (eaters will never guess the “mystery” ingredient, says Fleur).

Claudia Roden’s “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food,” includes a wonderfully refreshing salad of green lettuce and sliced oranges, simply dressed with olive oil, fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juices, and a bit of orange flower water.

Orange flower water can often be found at specialty and Middle Eastern groceries, or order online.

Board Links: Orange Blossom Water

Herb Butters

Herb butters are great for flavoring vegetables, fish, meats, summer corn–anything that might be enhanced by a pat of butter and some fresh herbs or garlic–in other words, most everything!

Preparation is as simple as mixing softened butter with a bit of minced fresh herb leaves and chilling (or forming into a log, wrapping well, and freezing, so you can slice off a pat or two whenever you want). You can use a single herb–tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley, etc., depending on what you’ll be serving it with–or combine two or three. Here are some variations.

Garlic paste is a great addition, but be sure to use a light hand, says rtmonty.

Lemon butter (use the zest and some juice), lemon garlic butter, or lemon garlic parsley butter (julieswan).

Mrs. Dash (an herbal salt-free seasoning) whipped into soft butter. Note: this needs to “age” a bit, says LisaAZ.

Shallots, fresh lemon juice, and parsley make a very traditional combo. If you want to deemphasize the shallot flavor, mince and soak in wine vinegar for 15 minutes, then rinse and let dry on paper towels before incorporating (Karl S).

rtmonty also likes to add few anchovy fillets along with one of the herbs.

Board Links: Herb butters–need your suggestions